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Sometimes: Remember Eczema Doesn’t Define You

Image source

The weather in Hong Kong has been rainy, rainy, rainy and the past few weeks have seen several scary thunderstorms. The change in weather hasn’t helped my eczema at all. I find I gravitate to this blog when my eczema gets bad and when it gets better, I move on to pretty and happier things, like my Pinterest, which I add to daily, as well as a home interior and food blogs (you can take a look at some of them, I’ve added a blogroll section).

I’ve been looking back to the beginnings of this blog and I’m trying to remember how I managed to stay so upbeat about the skin condition. I feel the worst in the summers (I think… or maybe it’s in the winter during a super dry spell) because the heat means there’s no covering up my skin. It’s embarrassing. And I always want to question the Gods, WHY, WHY, WHY do I have to have eczema? I get jealous of other girls, who are natural and pretty and seem to put in zero effort to maintain their looks. Lack of sleep doesn’t make them flare up or break out. Too much of sweet / spicy / salty / flavoured / insert-allergy-triggering-foods-here foods don’t cause them to break a sweat, and their skin certainly doesn’t angry just because they forgot to moisturize once or twice. I feel awful about myself and that my body can’t handle the same stress.

It’s the first question I ask when I’m fed up of trying to ignore an itch, wishing the whole itchy drama would stop or figuring out an appropriate fashion combo to cover up my rashes. WHY do I have eczema? But the thing is – it’s a question that everyone asks at some point. Why do I have to be fat? Why do I have to be short? Why did I have to get cancer? Why am I unpopular? Whatever the problem is, you can be sure that someone has it.

The truth is that life isn’t perfect – for anyone. And often times it’s just important to remember and appreciate the things you DO have – I appreciate that I have a good job, that I’m able to travel the world and soak up different sights and cultures, that I don’t have any other major health problems, that I have great relationships with my family and friends. Sometimes, when your eczema gets you down, you just have to remember – life doesn’t actually suck so bad. It could be much worse.


Still on Chinese Medicine

01 Chinese Meds
The stuff looks potent! Two cups a day, after meals.

02 Chinese Meds in a pack
Powdered form, so much more convenient.

It’s been a long break and I’m slowly easing back into the blogging world.  Life has been busy – changing jobs, family “stuff”, travelling for work etc etc.  My eczema has flared up a few times since, and last month I had the beginnings of an eczema attack on my face.  I bought and attempted to slather a ton of Physiogel AI on my face.  It didn’t get better.  The lower part of my face was starting to swell and I immediately called my dermatologist, freaking out.  There goes another HKD2000, my God he’s expensive!  A round of antibiotics, Aerius and Pepcidine (to be combined with Aerius) later, my face recovered and I had beautiful skin for about two weeks. I did a bit of travelling, suffered from jetlag (i.e. lack of sleep) and the eczema is back!

I haven’t stopped taken Chinese medicine (except when it would have overlapped with Western meds). The practitioner I’m with now is very good and I generally feel better after taking the medicine. I had to go to London last week and couldn’t take my usual vacuumed liquid packs, so instead, I got the powder. Much more convenient but I can’t help to think the medication is more potent when boiled straight from the herbs.

P.S. I’m not a doctor, so please don’t go running off and buying whatever meds I mentioned! I just wanted to share what my doctor prescribed and how I reacted to it.

Eczema Back with a Vengeance, Thanks Dan Ryan’s

Way too salty lasagne.

Very good brownie with vanilla ice cream.

I knew I couldn’t expect my week-long eczema free bliss to last (oh super smooth skin, how I miss you!), but I didn’t think it would come back so vengefully! I can honestly say it was easily the worst eczema nights of my life. I’m going to have to shake my fist at Dan Ryan‘s! Here’s how my night of terror went:

7:30pm – Dinner at Dan Ryan’s. The potato skins and brownie + ice cream were fine, delicious even. The lasagne was way too salty and it felt off even as I was eating it. I’ve had bad experiences with Dan Ryan’s mains before (not eczema-related) but I hadn’t been there in so long that I guess I just forgot. I managed to get through a third of the lasagne, decided not to waste the rest and asked for it to be packed.

Midnight – I’m about to sleep. At this point, I’ve been itching for two hours since I got home from dinner. My skin is dry and flaky but luckily no rashes had popped up yet. I take an antihistamine, add an extra layer of moisturiser and drnk two more glasses of water before I sleep. I feel like I have my eczema-prevention routine down, right?

3:30am – I’m so itchy I could die! I am woken up from an intense itch. I’m already having a nightmare and scratching, so I’m half awake at this point. The itching is so intense that the shoulder area actually HURTS, like a fresh wound being exposed to oxygen. I get up and drink some more water, just trying to bear with it. I only get about 15 minutes sleep when the pain wakes me up again. It feels like something is burning, and it’s itching at the same time. I turn on the light, FRUSTRATED. I’m also mad because I need the sleep – it’s been a long week already and I know my body needs to catch as many minutes of sleep as it can.

3:45am – I get up and turn the light on to look at this monster. WHAT is happening to my body? Why is it itchy AND painful? There’s nothing on my skin, it’s barely even red. I try and take a picture of it with my phone in my sleepy state. It looks fine, but sore when I touch it though. Close my eyes and drift off for about 10 minutes when it itches again. I apply some steroid cream on it.

4am – The steroid cream is not working! Check Twitter to see what’s happening and Tweet about this disaster. Almost decide to take part in Modcloth’s I Spy Thursday giveaway to distract me from the itching, but I can’t concentrate! I should be focusing on trying to get back to sleep anyways.

4:15am – I think I’m okay, time to turn the lights back out. Except that it’s not okay. I can’t even take my hand off it because it hurts less when my hand is applying pressure on my shoulder. Drink more water and clip my nails.

4:30am – FRUSTRATED. Nothing is working and I NEED to sleep! I grab an ice pack to freeze the skin – it’s one of my last resort remedies to immediately relieve itching (it doesn’t last though). I fall asleep like that, with a towel-wrapped ice pack under my armpit and finally manage to make it to 7:45am. Was obviously very late for work this morning.

What a disaster. What do I think caused it? I’m not too sure. My best guess is the food. My lack of sleep throughout the week probably set up me such that the E monster would be easily triggered, by anything. I’m thinking it was the salty lasagne, specifically salt, MSG and the tomatoes. I’m usually fine when tomatoes are cooked and not raw, but when you’re body isn’t at it’s strongest, I guess even unusual triggers will get to you. Spanish food tonight with friends, I’ll just try and eat less to avoid making it worse. Maybe I’ll just chow on some plain bread instead.

How was everyone’s eczema this week?

Do I Need a Humidifier in the Office?

My colleague’s humidifier in the office.

Fall has most definitely arrived in Hong Kong. The temperature has dipped and last week, we had a few days of super heavy rain. Since Wednesday, the air in the office has been so, so, SO dry, which is unusual. Even the humidity shown on the weather forecast was still between 65 – 85%. Anyways, I could feel my skin shrivelling in the office on Wednesday afternoon, much like a raisin. (If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you’ll remember my frustrations).

I was dry, then so dry I was prickly, then I started to itch. Then tried to scratch inconspicuously in the office, hoping no one would notice. Small bumps started forming and I knew if I didn’t do anything about them they would turn into hive-like patches. So I spent the afternoon in the office applying moisturiser after moisturiser (because I have a lot of moisturising alternatives in the office). I ran back and forth, back and forth to the bathroom to splash on water before moisturising, but it didn’t seem to work. My skin still felt so tight, like I was being stretched over a glass jar and held in place with elastic. My colleague, who also has eczema (I only found this out on Friday, and was surprised she even mentioned it, considering we don’t know each other very well), has a humidifier near her desk and after this past week, I’ve decided I might get one too. I also break out when my face is dry so the humidifier would kill two birds with one stone.

But how do I pick one? According to some advice by Marcie’s Mom, dust mites can thrive in humid environments, so it’s best to pick one where you can control the humidity level. My two main concerns are with size and brand. There’s not much room near my desk so it would have to be very small if placed on my desk or on the floor. I’m also very skeptical about buying from brands I’ve never heard of before, especially as it means there is no warranty or service centre. Here are a few I’ve been eyeing – the Japanese ones are really pretty!

If anyone has any humidifiers they would recommend, do let me know!

via Gizmine.

Outer space robot humidifier via Min Woo Lee (not available yet?).

via Bionaire.

Wooden humidifier via Moco Loco


Honeywell humidifier via Amazon UK.

5 Tips to Prevent an Eczema Flare Up During Halloween

Hand made burgers for my Hamburglar costume!

Because most of the weekend was spent prepping my costume at the last minute, at a wicked Halloween party (excuse the pun, I just had to throw it in!) and muchos sleeping in, I’m skipping this week’s Weekend Snapshots. Instead, I thought I’d share some useful tips (that I also used!) to prevent an explosive eczema flare up around this scary and festive day!

1. Make Sure Your Costume Doesn’t Irritate Your Skin

Fabric Choice
You know the drill – 100% cotton is the most commomly recommended fabric for sensitive skin and eczema. A lot of retail costumes, the kind you can buy online or at a costume store) are made from relatively cheap fabrics that can easily irritate the skin. I rented a Poison Ivy costume for a party last year and the dress was made from polyester and acrylic fabric, with a wool-like texture that was really scratchy. By avoiding head-to-toe costumes from the store, you’re making sure s little skin as possible is irritated by these fabrics. If you really need to go head-to-toe, DIY the costume if you have time. That way you ensure you’re choosing cottons or other gentle, non-irritating fabrics. I dressed up as Hamburglar this year, complete with a DIY hamburger tie and an itchy red patch of eczema on my shoulder. I deliberately chose a sleeveless tank dress to avoid fabric coming into contact with my shoulder area. I added a cape, so I could easily cover up my eczema under strong light, or pull back away from my shoulder in the dark.

Sweat can also trigger and irritate eczema, especially if you don’t wipe or wash it off immediately. If you know you’re going somewhere warm or indoors, avoid head-to-toe costumes in non-breathable fabrics like polyester, nylon or acrylic, especially for hand eczema. Avoid costumes that require gloves, or choose cotton or other breathable gloves. Polyester gets me itching every single time.

2. Be Careful with the Face Paint

On Twitter this weekend, someone asked about wearing makeup during a flare up. It’s probably not a good idea, and if makeup is a bad idea then face paint is probably a worse idea. A big nono! Unlike makeup, most face paints are not hypoallergenic so don’t irritate your skin any further by slathering it on. (Not all makeup marked hypoallergenic are guaranteed to be irritant-free either). You might want to rock a ghastly white Casper or bloody Walking Dead face-do, but your skin will be glad if all you put on is an eye mask, Batman and Robin-style. If you insist on makeup, determine if your skin is going through a flare up or major sensitivity and adjust accordingly. Maybe you want to swap your white face paint with a (hypoallergenic!) foundation that’s three shades lighter. A thin line of blood-red lipstick from the corner of your mouth to your chin gives the blood effect for any terrifying zombie look.

3. Control Your Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol can be a major trigger when it comes to eczema and this should be your golden rule at any party. Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s, St. Patrick’s Day – it can get a little crazy at these parties and sometimes there’s a bit of peer pressure to drink, get drunk and go through a terrible hangover together (yep, even when you’re not in high school anymore… I don’t understand why either). If you’re eczema is bad, limit yourself to one or two drinks and keep alternating between alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks throughout the night. My friends are used to me drinking very little, but if I don’t feel like explaining my trick is to go for ginger ale every time; in the glass with ice, it actually looks very similar to a Redbull + Vodka. Always remember to stay hydrated and drink at least 0.5 – 1 Litres of water before you go to bed.

4. Go Easy on the Chocolate

There are a number of studies that show sugar plays no role in atopic dermatitis but it’s still commonly believed to be a factor that affects eczema. I’m all about published scientific research but my personal experience contradicts these findings. Sugar, especially refined sugar, increases my skin inflammation. If you notice the same thing about your eczema, don’t munch on a whole bowl of trick-or-treat goodies at once!

5. Sleep in the Next Morning

Anytime your body is fatigued or stressed, your immune system is compromised. Sleep obviously plays a huge role in this. If you know you’ll be staying out late, be sure to sleep in and get in those much-needed hours of snooze. Reminding you to sleep seems like such a silly tip but it’s one that I overlook all the time (and so end up itching!)

What other tips do you have to share? I’d love to know! Happy Halloween!

I’m a big fan of DIY costumes!

Mini Flare Up

eczema arm

It’s been over two months since I reviewed my skin state, yikes. This blogging schedule thing is hard to get down when you have a busy full-time job, and I wonder how other bloggers handle it.

This is what my eczema looks like now. I wore a strapless dress and my colleague immediately expressed concern over the rashes on my forearm. “Did you hurt yourself?” he asked, “it looks like a bad bruise.” Eek. No, that’s my eczema!

Yesterday, our new contractor came to reinstall the cupboard doors our first contractor had botched up. I could smell the paint as soon as I stepped out of the elevator, before I even got to the door of my apartment. I seriously hoped the house smelled better and that no paint fumes had remained to trigger a flare up.

No chance. The fumes were weak but definitely still there and there was dust everywhere.

I walked in and immediately opened every single window in the apartment as wide as I could, and opened all the cupboard doors to air the house. I thought I was smart and would have gotten rid of the smell. Still, three hours later, the mildly itchy dry patches on my arms turned into angry red. I was moderately itchy but more disturbing was that the dry, raw and increasingly red skin was getting painful. I immediately grabbed a wet cloth and began wiping up the dust. Sigh.

Before I went to bed, I popped an antihistamine and just moisturized like crazy, hoping it would be better by morning. It is not!

The paint on wardrobe doors.

My forearm.

back of my knee
Back of my knee

back of my knee
Back of my knee

back of my knee
Back of my knee

My shoulder. You can see the last picture I took of it

I Can’t Stop Sneezing in the Morning

bathroom sneezing

Over the past year, that’s pretty much been my morning routine. My alarm wakes and even before I can open my eyes, I can sense something disturbingly uncomfortable building in my head, towards my nose and then:

a choo
a choo!

I try to turn over to try and snooze a little longer but either my nose is too runny, the roof of my mouth is too itchy or I’m jolted wide awake after multiple sneezes, such that my attempt to snooze is far removed from me. Dang it.

I think the sneezing is a symptom of allergies (to what though, I’m not exactly sure), and I think the allergies are linked to a weak(weaker? weakening?) immune system that’s linked to eczema. After all, hay fever, asthma and eczema are all part of the allergy triad.

Read More…

3 Types of Gloves to Prevent Hand Eczema

We recently moved to a new apartment and luckily for my hands, I packed a lot less than I have in our previous moves. Nevertheless, I still paid extra attention to glove up and protect my hands from the dust while I was packing. It was everywhere – at the back of shelves and closets, and from the cardboard boxes.

I get hand eczema easily. Anytime I touch something remotely dusty or dirty, which is almost completely unavoidable in a super busy and dusty city like Hong Kong, I start itching. Usually it starts off as a minor itch, and minutes or hours later, little water-filled pustules develop.

Dust is a major irritant that triggers allergic rashes, a flare up in the case of eczema sufferers and itchy patches (allergic contact dermatitis or atopic contact eczema) in people who don’t suffer from eczema. Rashes develop when the skin is in repeated contact with irritants, which are mostly chemicals and can come from a variety of sources: detergents, skin care products, metals and medications. It’s actually how I first developed hand eczema. Initially, my flare ups were restricted to the insides of my elbows and the backs of my knees, and occasionally on my inner wrist. A few years ago, I started doing the dishes without wearing gloves and the detergent led to recurring hand eczema that won’t go away!

So for the big move, here’s how I protected my hands. It worked out pretty well, I must say!

1. Clear Plastic Gloves.
These gloves are great for anything! They’re plastic and ultra thin so I often use them for mixing things when cooking (kimchi, dough etc.). I also use them when doing hand masks overnight. When it comes to moving, they’re great for packing little things like papers and trinkets into boxes but they’re not sturdy enough for lifting heavy books or boxes. They’re also non-breathable so it’s not a good idea to wear them for lengthy periods of time. You’re more likely to get sweaty hands which may exacerbate your eczema.

Clear plastic gloves.

2. Cotton Gloves.
I love, love, love these cotton gloves. The soft and breathable fabric offers really good protection, as long as you’re not touching anything extremely dirty or dusty. I use them before I put on rubber dishwashing gloves (so yes, I double glove). When it comes to packing boxes, they’re seriously great for anything. If I need to be touching something extremely dusty or damp, I’ll slip on the plastic gloves over these cotton ones.

I also love that the cotton gloves come in black and white. Makes working in them a lot more fun!

201109 Sept 01208
Double up and slip the plastic gloves over the cotton gloves for extra protection.

3. Construction Gloves.
I’m not really sure what these are called; we just call them construction gloves because they’re what construction workers in Hong Kong wear to protect their hands. The weaving is wider but they still offer decent protection from dust and they’re great for heavy duty lifting. They’re quite thick so I don’t double up with these.

Constructions with wider weaving.

Extra Tip: Wear a Mask If there is Too Much Dust.
Unfortunately, while I managed to protect my hands from the terrible dust, it was still getting to me through my nose. It was flying everywhere! By the time a third of our stuff as packed into boxes, I was sneezing like crazy. I couldn’t stand it anymore and quickly grabbed a surgical mask so I would stop inhaling the stuff. Eczema is in the allergy triad with hay fever and asthma, and a weak immune system (most allergy sufferers) coupled with inhaling dust can easily trigger a flare up. The mask worked wonders and I stopped sneezing as soon as I put it on.

A mask prevents from inhaling dust; stopped my sneezing completely!

Did the gloves work?
Yes! However, while I didn’t develop hand eczema, I still suffered a mild flare up – I had an issue with sweating because it was a sweltering week at 36 degrees, and not just around my arm pits either. I was wearing a tee and shorts so I could feel the dust up against my body too. Oh well, there’s really only so much you can do when there’s dust flying everywhere and I’m already thankful I didn’t get hand eczema. Pick which battles to win and keep fighting! (For future reference, I might try wearing ultra thin long-sleeved cotton gear when I’m packing.)

What tips do you have for preventing hand eczema?

Eczema in the News: August 2011

There’s been a good share of eczema in the news this month: general tips, “scientific” discoveries (can’t call them scientific unless I quote a journal paper) and interesting tidbits. Take a look at some of the most interesting eczema news stories below!

Eczema News August 2011

1. Great albeit generic tips. Eczema sufferers should have these skin care rules memorized by now!

2. Previous studies claim that crucial antigens that protect against allergies are passed on to newborns through breastmilk. New studies show that might not be the case. Fabulous news, if it’s true, because now I can stop blaming my mom. Mom, I love you but why did you give me eczema?!

3. Britney Spears has eczema too? Is this for real? I did a quick search zero search results returned so I’m not buying this. Filed away as: rumour!

4. A camp for kids with chronic skin conditions! I understand that the camp is for kids with chronic, lethal or terminal skin conditions but I’m glad to see that it’s open to kids with eczema too. This is what kids need , a safe environment where they can have fun and avoid awkward stares. Awesome!

Eczema News August 2011

5. We all know that we should moisturize but can it kill you? Because that’s apparently how Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut died.

6. I find this insulting: eczema does not cause drunk driving and certainly no amount of itching would cause someone to drive INTO the store to seek medical attention.

7. The Beat Eczema program counts as news too? This article reads more like an e-book review or promotion to me. I’m still firmly in the “There’s No Cure for Eczema” camp. If anyone has tried this and it works, please let me know!

8. When it comes to eczema, laundry detergent might be the culprit, or not according to this article. Sure P&G, your studies might say that Tide detergent has no harmful effect on skin but that doesn’t explain why I itch whenever I use it. Sorry, but I’m still sticking with my Woolite.

Happy Wednesday!

P.S. Thanks to Sarah at Sweet Life for posting a tutorial on Picnik collages!

Use Deodorant to Prevent Eczema Flare Ups

2011 August 008 home deo 4

Confession: I never used deodorant until last year.

Seriously, it might sound really gross but anti-perspirants and deodorants are not on the top of drug store lists in Asia (that includes Hong Kong and a bunch of other major cities. Seriously, ask any girl). Restricting perspiration goes against the “natural” Chinese way, which would explain why most women don’t do bikini / brazilian / any-kind-of-down-there waxes. Even Traditional Chinese Medicine dictates it’s healthy to sweat; toxins are carried with sweat and thus released from our bodies (hang on, isn’t that very similar to what Western medicine says…?), so it doesn’t cross our minds to cover up the smell either. I’m not one of those hugely sweaty people anyway. I have extremely dry skin because of eczema and I barely soak a shirt unless I’m working out.

Except my pits.

Which are mildly, mildly damp in the sweltering heat of Hong Kong summers – who doesn’t sweat when it’s 36 degrees and 85% humidity? – but the sweat is odorless and so light, I can just wipe it off with my fingertips, so I never gave my sweaty armpits a thought. Besides, they quickly dry up in the subzero, Artic-like air conditioning that’s in any indoor area, so it’s usually not a big deal for me at all.

Except that my sweaty pits triggered eczema!

My sweaty pits led to the patches on my shoulders, the front and back but not on my pits that you’ve seen pictures of. My pits were mildly damp, so what, I figured. It’s never bothered me before. Except that this time it did. The thin sheen of sweat that stayed on my skin for more than five minutes suddenly led to a small itchy patch. Which I unwisely ignored (note to readers: never ignore even a 1cm-wide rash!). I know that layers of sweat left on skin, even dried layers, can trigger eczema flare ups, so I always try to shower or at least rinse off after playing sport. It didn’t occur to me that a few damp patches would trigger an ecezma flare up.

Unfortunately, as with most eczema patches, the rash grew and spread, and now it’s on the front and back of both armpits. It’s mighty embarrassing, as you can see from the pictures and it means for the most part, going strapless in the summer is a no-no.

Since last year, under the advice of Doc Great Derm, I’ve been using deodorant regularly, especially in the summertime. Deodorant, not anti-perspirant (you can read about the difference here) because I didn’t want to completely clog up my pores, especially with harsh chemicals. The deodorant keeps my pits dry just the same and more importantly, it means there’s no sweat to irritate my skin. I’m currently using Dove’s Original Roll-on Deodorant which really works for me. Here are some tips on how to choose a good one:

Go hypoallergenic and fragrance-free.
As with any creams, lotions and potions we put on our skin, make sure it doesn’t irritate your skin. Floral and fruity fragances smell addictingly lovely, but eczema sufferers know the drill. Fragrance-free please!

Use the roll-on version.
The roll-on kind means you’re only putting on the bare minimum while the spray version covers more area. I’m always iffy about putting anything with chemicals on skin, and that includes make-up, pefumes, you-name-its. Anti-perspirants prevent your pores from releasing sweat, which inherently means some chemical is involved. Using the roll-on to dab on only what you need will ensure only the necessary skin area is in contact with the deodorant.

Go with brands you trust.
That’s just a general rule that I stick with. A bigger, better known brand has better resources for R&D to ensure high-quality products. I know that’s not the case 99% of the time anyways, but call it better marketing and consumer confidence – I probably don’t want a product that was tested in a dinky little lab in some small town with a 10-person population.

Wash it off at night.
If you’re not hopping in the shower at night (eww, I know, but some people do that) at least wipe off that anti-perspirant with a warm wash cloth. You need the deodorant to get the job done but it doesn’t need to be on your skin for longer than absolutely necessary. (But really folks, you should be showering every night before you sleep; clean skin means a clean bed which means fewer eczema flare ups.)

Dove’s Original Roll-on has really worked for me and even though it says fragrance-free, there is a fresh, cotton, baby powder kind of smell to it. In case it’s not available in your area, here are a few others I would pull off the rack and try:

2011 August 008 deo4
Adidas’ Aluminium Free. Nivea’s Pearl Beauty. Dove’s Clinical Protection.

I’m no doctor, but I think using deodorants should cause no problems if your skin is moderately or mildly sensitive like mine. If you have extremely sensitive skin you might want to try a home-made, all-natural option using baking soda. I would love to test it out but I just don’t have the time to whip it together and so far the commercial kind is working just fine for me.