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-degree summers, I was wearing long sleeves and jeans to cover it up. My parents eventually took me to a doctor, who diagnosed me with eczema, and I was prescribed a steroid cream. The cream certainly helped, but what I know now as an adult is that we were only masking the symptoms that were caused by an underlying problem.
The Tipping Point
Some people say you grow out of eczema, but that wasn't the case for me. For about half the year, I would have to suffer from scaly, itchy, and dry skin on my hands and feet. I used to just try and deal with it, but this year was the worst it had been in nearly 15 years; I had to have makeup applied to my feet on a few occasions on professional jobs. I always felt the need to explain my rash to makeup artists or nail technicians or 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 also 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. What I learned from my naturopath is 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. The second action was to do an elimination diet to identify any possible food intolerances. Lastly, we added some daily supplements (to support skin health), vitamin D, an omega-3, and more healthy fats such as coconut oil and avocado to my daily diet. To address the symptoms (the intense itch), I did Epsom salt soaks before bed and acupuncture. (Sidenote: My acupuncturist actually worked to help with my gut health as well as directly treating me for the itching.) Both of these things seemed to help almost immediately.
Eating whole foods and avoiding sugar on its own will help improve the health of anyone's gut, but we also needed to combat any food intolerances that may have been throwing the balance of my gut off. 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, and it was over the holidays to make matters worse. (At the time, I was vegetarian as well, so this was highly restrictive.)
Initially, I experienced a lot of bloat and gas, but that eventually went back to normal. It started to get easier to stay on track, but not having sugar was killer! About a month into the diet, I was ready to give up because I had little to no improvement to my eczema. After emailing my doctor telling her I wanted to give up, I refocused my energy and pushed through. She said that it would take a bit longer to get everything out of my system. Luckily, at about five weeks, I finally started to notice an improvement.
I can eat again!
Hallelujah! It was time to add foods back into my diet to test my body's reaction to them. And man, was I having a hankering for eggs. This was a long process but also one of the most important parts. I could add one food at a time in its purest form, but then I had to wait three whole days before I could add another and keep an eye out for any sort of reaction.
What I found is that I personally have an intolerance to highly processed foods that are high in sugar, as well as gluten and corn products. I didn't have an extreme reaction, but I would break out in a slight rash with itching. This told me that these foods caused inflammation in my gut which triggered a reaction on my skin in the form of a rash. I had some Girl Scout cookies, and my skin immediately broke out on both my hands and feet, and it took a couple of weeks to clear back up.
So 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. And not to say that I won't have a cookie! But I pay attention to the ingredients, and I try to keep the list short and, if possible, make them myself.
One surprising benefit
I'm going to give a little TMI here. I have never been a regular bathroom-goer. I can finally say I'm pretty consistent since going through this entire ordeal. This process taught me to pay closer attention to the signals my body was trying to send me but also helped to improve my overall health by working on my gut. I didn't realize how often I felt bloated or uncomfortable after I ate until after 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.
Managing editor Sarah Yang uses this lotion every day because it helps in between her eczema flare-ups and doesn't contain fragrances or dyes to irritate her sensitive skin.
Anyone with eczema should check out Eczema Honey. The brand makes products specifically for people with the condition. The line includes creams, lotions, soaps, and sunscreen.
When you're dealing with itchy skin, all you want to do is scratch it, but it only makes the problem worse. This cream contains hydrocortisone to control the itch, and it also has hyaluronic acid and ceramides to moisturize.
An ointment can be so helpful when you have eczema. We love Doctor Rogers's Restore balm because it not only relieves eczema symptoms, but it can also be used for general dryness, chapped lips, burns, scrapes, and even tattoo healing.
You can use this eczema cream all over your body. It contains colloidal oatmeal, shea butter, glycerin, and niacinamide.
If you get flare-ups on your face, this balm that's formulated with colloidal oatmeal and sweet almond oil can help. It's recommended to use twice daily or as needed to relieve symptoms.
A bath can help relieve the irritation. This one contains colloidal oatmeal and is fragrance-free. Soak for 15 to 30 minutes and then pat dry.
When you have eczema, washing your hands can get tough because it can really dry out your skin. This foaming hand soap is gentle but still an effective cleanser.
This fast-absorbing cream contains colloidal oatmeal, shea butter, and ceramides to relieve itching, moisturize, and protect the skin barrier.
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.