Chelsea Miller is a model, fitness junkie, and outspoken advocate for changing the way we talk about health and curvy bodies. She writes about working out, health, her skincare obsessions, and more on her blog, Watch Her Glow.
Growing up, my body was covered in scaly, itchy, dry skin. It was not a pretty sight, and even in 100° summer weather, I would wear long sleeves and jeans to hide it. My parents eventually took me to a doctor, who diagnosed me with eczema and prescribed me a steroid cream. The cream certainly helped, but as an adult, I've learned that it was only masking the symptoms that were caused by an underlying problem.
The Tipping Point
Some people say you can grow out of eczema, but that wasn't the case for me. For about six months a year, I would suffer from scaly, itchy, and dry skin on my hands and feet. I used to try to deal with it, but this year was the worst it had been in nearly 15 years. On a few occasions, I even had to have makeup applied to my feet on professional jobs. I always felt the need to explain my rash to makeup artists, nail technicians, and anyone who happened to catch sight of it. I felt like I needed to tell them it wasn't contagious. Not only was it embarrassing, but the itching was so intense that it was waking me in the middle of the night and keeping me awake for hours at a time. The added stress and lack of sleep certainly weren't helping my situation, so I began my journey to finally get to the root cause of my eczema.
Where to start
I knew going to a traditional doctor would mean another topical cream, so I decided to seek out a naturopath, who taught me that though the exact cause of eczema is unknown, it is a form of inflammation, which is the body's response to a perceived threat. Skin issues also tend to stem from your gut health, so we approached the problem in three ways.
First, she prescribed me homeopathic drops to treat any possible overgrowths in the gut and also suggested a probiotic and Triphala to help with regularity. Next, she suggested I do an elimination diet to identify any possible food intolerances. And finally, I added some daily supplements to my diet to support skin health, including vitamin D and omega-3, and I started eating more healthy fats daily, such as coconut oil and avocado. To address the symptoms (aka the intense itch), I did Epsom-salt soaks before bed and acupuncture. (Side note: My acupuncturist treated both the itchiness and my gut health.) All of these things seemed to help my skin almost immediately.
Eating whole foods and avoiding sugar on its own will help improve anyone's gut health, but I also needed to combat food intolerances that may have been throwing off the balance in my gut. In came the elimination diet, which was definitely the most difficult part of the process. I ate only beans, lentils, sprouted grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts for two whole months (over the holidays, to make matters worse). At the time, I was also vegetarian, so my diet was highly restrictive.
Initially, I experienced a lot of bloat and gas, but that eventually faded. It started to get easier to stay on track, but not having sugar was killer. About a month into the diet, my eczema showed little to no improvement, and I was ready to give up. But after speaking with my doctor, who said it would take a bit longer to get everything out of my system, I refocused my energy and pushed through. Luckily, at about five weeks, I finally started to notice an improvement.
I can eat again!
Hallelujah! It was time to add certain foods back into my diet to test my body's reaction to them. And man, did I have a hankering for eggs. This process was long, but it was also really important. I could add one food at a time in its purest form, but I had to wait three whole days and keep an eye out for any sort of reaction before I could add another.
Through this process, I learned that I have an intolerance for gluten, corn products, and highly processed foods that are high in sugar. I didn't have an extreme reaction when I ate these foods, but my skin did break out into a slightly itchy rash. This told me that these foods caused inflammation in my gut, which triggered a reaction on my skin. For example, when I ate some Girl Scout cookies, my skin immediately broke out on both my hands and feet, and it took a couple of weeks to clear up.
I realized I needed to decide what was more important to me: a healthy gut and clear, healthy skin or a moment of pleasure with a Girl Scout cookie. This is not to say that I won't ever eat a cookie again, but I pay closer attention to ingredients (a short list of ingredients is better than a long one), and, if possible, I'll make them myself.
One surprising benefit
I'm going to give a little TMI here: my digestive system has never been regular. But after going through this whole ordeal, I can finally say I'm pretty consistent. This process taught me to pay closer attention to the signals my body is sending me, and it also helped improve my overall health by focusing on my gut. I didn't realize how often I felt bloated or uncomfortable after I ate until I did the elimination diet, and I'm now more in tune with the messages my body sends me.
For more eczema-relief recommendations, check out our editors' favorite products below.
Dove Sensitive Skin Body Wash is a good option for people with eczema because it's creamy and gentle. It's sulfate-free and easy on your skin's microbiome.
This article was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.