This Instagram Star Showed How Painful It Is to Have Eczema on Your Face

Everyone struggles with their own body insecurities, and most of us wouldn’t dream of broadcasting them on social media—let alone to more than 135,000 followers. But that’s exactly what Carys Gray, a fitness Instagram star from Wales, did when she shared a photo of an eczema flare-up on her face yesterday.

Gray’s post featured two side-by-side selfies: In the snapshot on the left, her makeup is on point, and she looks, well, flawless. In the picture on the right, the upper half of her face is covered in red patches.

“We all have good days and we all have bad days,” Gray wrote in the caption. “I have a skin condition called eczema and sometimes my skin is happy as Larry and sometimes it has flare ups!!”

RELATED: 10 Surprising Beauty Benefits of Coconut Oil

Eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis) is estimated to affect as many as 35 million Americans. “[It’s] a genetic condition where the skin barrier is not functioning as well as it should, making it more susceptible to environmental allergies, irritation, and infection,” dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, explained in a prior interview with Health. “The skin cannot maintain hydration and becomes inflamed, leading to characteristic red, scaly rashes as well as significant itch.”

In a cruel twist, the mental toll of living with the condition can exacerbate the symptoms. “Stress can certainly impact the disease and make it worse,” said Dr. Zeichner, who is the director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Gray noted that when her eczema isn’t under control, her face is “very blotchy, sore, and I can’t wear any makeup.” She called it a “big insecurity,” and said she struggles with self-acceptance during a flare.

To get our best beauty and wellness advice delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter

The Instagram star ended her post with a reminder that the pictures we see on social media don’t show how people look “alllllll the time.” She hopes her side-by-side selfies will serve as a reality check. “I’m learning to accept myself knowing that everyone has their own struggles and insecurities,” she wrote, “and that’s what makes us unique and special.”

What Is an Eczema Diet?

If you have eczema, I bet you’re willing to do just about anything to soothe your itchy, irritated skin. Unfortunately, many of the topical remedies for this condition offer little relief. But an “inside-out approach” focused on dietary changes may help considerably.

If you search for “eczema diet” online you’ll find a number of different protocols. But the standard approach is to begin with an elimination diet, which entails cutting out foods that may be triggering inflammation for at least four weeks, sometimes longer.

Most elimination diets start by nixing the top eight allergens: wheat; milk and milk products (think cheese and yogurt); eggs; soy; fish; shellfish; tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachios); and peanuts. However, an elimination diet for typically adds additional layers, such as all sugary and processed foods and anything artificial; gluten or possibly all grains; alcohol; caffeine; nightshade vegetables; seeds; and foods that are high in histamine.

Histamine causes an inflammatory response in the body, which is why anti-histamine medications are used for allergy relief. Some foods are high in histamine or trigger histamine release, including avocado, tomatoes, spinach, pickled or canned foods, pulses, nuts, cheese, chocolate, and vinegar.

RELATED: 15 Healthy Gluten-Free Recipes

By this point you may be thinking, “Yikes, what can I eat on this plan?” The good news is that an elimination diet isn’t a forever diet. In the first phase, a number of foods are nixed. But after 30 or more days, the excluded foods are added back one at a time.

If the reintroduction doesn’t result in the recurrence of symptoms, the food may be rotated back into the diet, although possibly not as a daily staple. Some of my clients find they don’t tolerate dairy and gluten well, but can eat chickpeas, avocado, or nuts a few times a week without suffering a flare-up. What works for one person may be different for others.

It’s also important to note that during the elimination phase, what you consume is just as important as what you don’t. Eating anti-inflammatory, whole, fresh foods, and a diet balanced in macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs) is essential. A nutritious diet not only supports immunity and supplies nutrients involved in skin maintenance and healing, it also improves the health of your gut, which is critical for immune function.

RELATED: 14 Inflammation-Fighting Foods

If you’re considering trying an elimination diet, I can’t overstate the value of working with a professional throughout the process. Some of my clients who’ve tried elimination diets on their own wound up with too few calories, or not enough protein or fat. Those imbalances can weaken immunity, prevent improvements, or even worsen eczema.

A dietitian can also help you identify hidden or sneaky sources of things that need to be eliminated. For example, while corn is a plant, it’s categorized as a grain, not a vegetable. So if you’re going grain-free, you need to skip corn too.

Finally, a dietitian can help you meal plan, offer recipes, monitor your symptoms along the way, lend support, and guide you through the reintroduction phase. (You can search for an RD in your area through the the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ online referral service.) An elimination diet is a big commitment. But identifying and managing your dietary eczema triggers has the potential to transform your skin, and your quality of life.

To get our top stories delivered to you inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter

That said, dietary changes are not a panacea. Eczema is a condition I struggle with myself, and even when my diet is spot on, I still get flare-ups. Mine are primarily triggered by stress, a lack of sleep, or both. In other words, diet alone isn’t the only solution.

Bottom line: Because tests for food allergies and sensitivities can be imprecise (I’ve personally had results come back as inconclusive while I was still battling flare-ups), an elimination diet is one of the most effective tools for uncovering precisely which foods are at the root of chronic inflammatory problems like eczema. But a healthy overall lifestyle that includes stress management (through techniques like meditation, acupuncture, and yoga), healthy sleep habits, and positive social support are also indispensable pillars of wellness.

Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and consultant for the New York Yankees.

Losing 45 Pounds Ended One Woman's Eczema for Good

 

Nicolette Fusco was one of the lucky few who had never struggled with acne, oily skin, or other skin problems that often plague teens and young adults. But three years ago when she was 22, her skin suddenly took an inexplicable turn, and she began to suffer from severe recurrent bouts with the skin condition —an umbrella term for various types of itchy, scaly red rashes that can flare up on any part of the body.

Every summer, the creases of Fusco’s arms and legs would become bumpy, red, and dry, and sweat triggered by the hot weather would irritate and inflame the rashes. A visit to a dermatologist didn’t turn up any reason for the eczema, but it didn’t appear to have any connection to her weight; she carried about 185 pounds on her five-foot-one frame.

RELATED: 13 Things That May Make Atopic Dermatitis Worse

“I was so uncomfortable in my own skin,” recalls Fusco. “I would have dead skin everywhere; it would fall off of my legs and it would burn.” To deal with the eczema, she began covering her body in layers, no longer comfortable in shorts or other clothing that might expose the bumps to those around her.

Fusco’s eczema would continue to plague her for two more years. But in fall 2016, she decided to address her weight. “With the help of Jenny Craig and daily exercise, I was able to lose over 45 pounds over several months,” she says. While not overly restrictive, her diet did call for a major makeover in the way she approached food: no junk food, a heavy emphasis on vegetables, and major cutbacks on meat and alcohol. She also upped her water intake and practiced portion control.

Proud of her weight loss and with summer approaching, Fusco was eager to show off her new shape. Once she was back in body-revealing clothes, however, she realized that it wasn’t just extra pounds she lost; her eczema had disappeared too. 

Could her dramatic weight loss or her healthier approach to eating put the brakes on a severe skin condition? According to the dermatologists we asked, it’s very possible.

RELATED: These Are the Best Moisturizers for Combination Skin

“Weight loss, generally speaking, may improve eczema,” New Jersey–based dermatologist Jeanine Downie, MD, tells Health. “Additionally, her regular exercise also decreased her stress level, which might have improved her eczema as well.”

Southern California–based dermatologist Ava Shamban, MD, agrees. “Eczema is an inflammatory condition of the skin, and treating the entire body with an anti-inflammatory approach does help it,” Dr. Shamban explains to Health. By changing her diet to eliminate junk food and putting a new emphasis on vegetables and good portion control, [she] reduces systemic inflammation, there by helping eliminate her eczema.”

While Fusco’s didn’t change her diet with her eczema in mind, a change in eating is fairly standard suggestion for those struggling with the skin condition, according to nutritionist and registered dietitian Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD.

“If you search for ‘eczema diet’ online you’ll find a number of different protocols. But the standard approach is to begin with an elimination diet, which entails cutting out foods that may be triggering inflammation for at least four weeks, sometimes longer,” explains Sass. “A nutritious diet not only supports immunity and supplies nutrients involved in skin maintenance and healing, it also improves the health of your gut, which is critical for immune function.”

RELATED: How to Care for Your Sensitive Skin

The medical experts we spoke to seem to agree that the changes in Fusco’s diet—more so than the weight loss itself—are likely what caused her eczema to subside. Either way, she’s overjoyed with the results.

“I changed my diet to get healthier and lose the weight I had been struggling with, but the disappearance of my eczema has been a major added bonus,” she says. “All the benefits that have come from making positive changes have kept me even more motivated to continue on my healthy journey.”

The $4 Product That Cured My Child’s Eczema | Real Simple

I spent major cash on special creams and lotions until a nurse friend clued me in to an astonishingly simple cure.

“Mom, look at this!” My 14-year-old daughter thrust the backs of her hands up to my face to show me that the itchy rash that had been bothering her for weeks had now started to crack and bleed. At first, I thought she just had dry skin from the combination of the cold weather outside and the blasts of dry radiator heat inside. But this was clearly something more than a little seasonal annoyance. My child’s skin—once so soft and perfectly smooth—was now starting to resemble the scales on the amphibian man in The Shape of Water.

Our first attempts at soothing the itch were a disaster: My husband gave her the pricey “all-natural” hand lotion he swears by in the winter, but that just turned her already inflamed hands as red as a boiled lobster claw and had her grimacing with stinging pain.

After that, we headed over to a walk-in clinic, where the nurse-practitioner diagnosed my daughter with eczema, an autoimmune skin disorder that causes inflamed, red, itchy skin all over the body, particularly on the scalp, face, elbows, and hands. She recommended we try Eucerin Crème, which worked, but only a little bit. (At least it didn’t make the condition worse, as the other, irritating moisturizers had.)

Next, I took my daughter to a dermatologist, who prescribed a topic corticosteroid cream. Since I hadn’t reached my deductible on prescriptions yet, that cost me a whopping $129. Again, it helped—but just a little bit.

A few days later, we went out to dinner with our friends Brad and Jaimie, who are both registered nurses. I mentioned my daughter’s eczema, and how nothing seemed to be helping, and Brad turned to me and said, “Forget about all those things. Just use Vaseline. It works, I promise.”

Vaseline? You mean the old jar of petroleum jelly that has been sitting in my medicine chest since my kids were in diapers? Hey, at that point I was willing to try anything.

That night my daughter rubbed the jelly on the back of both hands and went to sleep. The next morning I looked at her hands, and they had literally changed overnight. The rough, red irritated skin on her hands had turned back to its normal color, and though I could still feel the roughness of her skin if I ran my hand over it, she was no longer plagued by itchiness. She continued to rub the Vaseline on her hands a few times a day, and within a week, the eczema seemed to be completely gone from her hands.

I did a little research and found that Vaseline gets a 5 out of 5 rating from the National Eczema Association for containing no known irritants to eczema, and that eczema sufferers have been using it for years.

But best of all, it costs roughly $4 a jar (available on Amazon)—$125 less than the prescription cream that worked half as well!—proving that sometimes the cure your grandmother used is the best of all.