Hello, Eczema!

Summer is not technically my favorite season, though I did consider it to be for a while (because of my birthday, obvs). Don’t get me wrong—I love swimming and sunshine and the ocean and fireflies and late nights and thunderstorms and stunning sunsets and fresh garden veggies and a million smoothie bowls and ice cream for dinner. But I cannot stand the humidity. I’m not really a fan of the heat either, but the humidity is what really kills me. This summer, the weather has driven me especially crazy because my eczema has been acting up more than usual. I haven’t talked much about it here, but eczema is something I’ve dealt with for most of my life.

The earliest memories I have of my problematic skin are my mom dressing me up in tights and frilly dresses, and me hating every second of it. The tights irritated my legs—they itched and itched and itched to no end. My mom’s pear-scented lotion did nothing to soothe my discomfort. In fact, the lotion often made the irritation worse. My parents assumed I was just being fussy, as I often was, and figured it wasn’t really an issue to worry about.

I joined a recreational soccer team not long after we moved to New York, and then a travel team (and then another, and another, and another). The more I played, the more I loved soccer. Soon, I found myself standing in front of the big, white goal, trying to block shots by any means necessary. Despite the bruises and scrapes, the turf burns and weird tan lines, the long drives and longer practices, the sprained fingers and neon-yellow-cleat-kicks to the face—I loved that sport. But I found myself constantly bothered by how itchy my legs would get underneath the shin guards and socks. When my team dribbled the ball to the opposite goal, I stood in my eighteen yard box and tried to use my cleats to scratch at my eczema through the shin guards.

Once the red, blistery, burning rashes began to cover my legs, I made my first visit to the dermatologist. I was diagnosed with eczema, a common skin condition marked by itchy, dry, rough, flakey, inflamed, and irritated patches of skin. Some of the common triggers include: chemicals found in detergents and cleaning products, scented soaps and lotions, wool, synthetic fibers, sweating, temperature changes, and stress.

I wore special cotton sleeves on my legs to keep the sweat from building up underneath my shin guards. I soaked in lukewarm oatmeal or Epsom salt baths. I slathered my skin in boring, scentless lotion, or special steroid creams when necessary. I wore long pants whenever I could because I was so embarrassed by my red, flaky, oozy skin. I cried all the time because my legs itched or burned or I was just tired of looking at them.

The eczema followed me through all eight years of my soccer career, even spreading to my hands (thank you, smelly goalie gloves). But when I stopped playing soccer before junior year of high school, the eczema disappeared soon after. I was still prone to the occasional flare up in cold, windy, or humid weather, but I thought I got lucky and had outgrown my bad skin—as so many people believed I would.

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My transition to college was stressful. I moved away from home for the first time. I was hundreds of miles away from my friends. My roommate and I hardly talked. We moved into a different dorm after three weeks because of a leaky ceiling. I hadn’t made many new friends, and I was worried that I wouldn’t find a place for myself at my school. And then, about a month and a half into the semester, my eczema flared up worse than I’d ever experienced. My hands and fingers were covered in thousands of tiny blisters and flaky, red skin. I could hardly type or wash my hair in the shower. I was embarrassed to take notes during class or eat at the dining hall. I stuffed my hands into my pockets or hid them in gloves, even though it wasn’t quite cold enough to wear gloves. No amount of lotion or cream helped, and the stress my eczema caused only made my skin worse. Luckily, my dermatologist prescribed a new steroid ointment that helped clear up my skin.

Of course I recovered from that very severe flare up, but my eczema still lingers to this day. It even showed up on my lips at the beginning of the summer! I still haven’t found what works for me all the time. Some days it’s Epsom salt and colloidal oatmeal cream, other days I have to cover my hands in steroid ointment and wear cotton gloves to sleep. If I get too stressed, or the humidity is too high, or I wash too many dishes in the sink… Hello, eczema! So much for outgrowing it, huh?

I’m generally not embarrassed by my eczema anymore, and I openly talk (and complain) about it with friends and coworkers. However, I do still get frustrated and overwhelmed when my skin flares up and interferes with simple tasks. Obviously I don’t have it all figured out, but I didn’t share this story because I feel sorry for myself, or I want anyone to feel sorry for me. I wrote this post because, as a kid, I didn’t know that people struggled with eczema the way I did. Because I spent years hiding my skin so other people wouldn’t have to look at it. I wrote this post because eczema sucks. I haven’t outgrown it, and I may never outgrow it. But maybe my story will remind some eight- or eighteen-year-old girl that she’s not alone.

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