Is prescription steroid cream the answer to treating eczema?
Before you go down that road, let me share Chi Pei's story with you. She wrote extensively about her journey from having 80% of her skin itchy and flakey (at its worst), to now living itch-free, with just a bit of residual rash. You will find by reading this that steroids actually did worse for her in the long run. She's not alone. She'll share the resources that helped her find help, including a Facebook community of other steroid-sufferers.
Here's her eczema and steroid story:
CP: I developed eczema as a result of a gut bacteria imbalance / candida / leaky gut, which was most likely caused by stress, poor diet, and sleep. This causes the immune system to malfunction, hence why eczema is an autoimmune condition.
What were your first symptoms of eczema?
CP: The first thing that happened was that I developed a chemical sensitivity to a synthetic fragrance ingredient found in many everyday things (Febreze, candles, lotions, etc) that then caused rashes to break out on my face and hands.
Was topical steroid cream recommended for treatment?
CP: I started using steroids, which was about 8 years ago. After two years, I finally took a patch test with an allergist and discovered my chemical sensitivity, which my doctor said tends to happen to people in their late twenties and will persist for the rest of their lives. So I had to learn how to avoid that chemical. I was fine for a while once I'd learned that.
What was the chemical sensitivity ingredient that the allergist found?
CP: it is something called cinnamic aldehyde, used very frequently in synthetic fragrances, such as most air fresheners. I don't think the particular substance is an important as the fact that it's led me to realize how toxic most of the products we use in our homes and on our bodies truly are and how our bodies are constantly defending us against toxins. My goal today is to use products that are as natural and high quality as possible and with the fewest number of ingredients.
You mentioned to me that you hit some pretty bad eczema before you learned about avoiding toxins. What triggered it?
I hit a period of extreme stress which was exacerbated by gut imbalance and this led to widespread eczema rashes across my body. That's when I started using steroids more and more, both oral (prednisone) and topical steroids. Every time I went to a traditional doctor, that is what they prescribed, and none of them could tell me what was causing my system-wide autoimmune response/inflammation, except for that it was my 'genetics.' While I know that is a component, the fact that I've got it under control today tells me that a lot of education around eczema/skin rashes/contact dermatitis still needs to happen, instead of going for the quick "fix" of prescribing steroids.
What side effects from the topical steroids did you have?
CP: Steroids don't actually resolve anything but instead push inflammation deeper into the body. Because our skin absorbs what we put on it, the steroids then start to affect other bodily organs and the integrity of the skin. At a low point, I went to a dermatologist here in NYC, and she went overboard prescribing me head to toe steroid creams (she literally prescribed a tub of the stuff) and was told to also take bleach baths. I very much believe that is what did it for me. My skin went crazy just a few months later. Since I was familiar with eczema, I knew this was something different. It took me months to figure out what had happened after many internet searches of my symptoms.
What was your eczema prevention plan?
CP: I was also lucky to find the following resources that let me know that I was not alone and that healing would eventually happen, even if it was years down the road:
Interesting article and book from steroid sufferers:
What lifestyle changes did you make to treat the steroid side effects?
CP: Today, two years after I stopped using steroids, I feel more hope than ever that I will be able to live a better life free of itching. I still have rashes on my hand, face and thighs, but to a much lesser degree. At my worst, about 80% of my body was itching and flaking constantly. If you decide to join the facebook forum, you will see thousands of people suffering from this, and I know that the psychological trauma will probably never go away for me. I would often spend months at home just so I wouldn't have to face others or wear clothes that would make me itch or sweat that would sting my rashes. Today, I am obsessively careful about what medicines I take and what I put on my body. Thank you for making a "clean" zinc cream, because as you will see on the facebook forum, zinc cream is an often recommended product to help sufferers soothe their oozing rashes.
Do you follow an eczema elimination diet?
CP: For long term healing, I work with a naturopathic doctor out of Los Angeles who only uses natural herbs and remedies to balance gut bacteria. Every year I take a food sensitivity blood test to determine which foods cause inflammation for me. For example, I will probably never be able to comfortably eat dairy, eggs, beef or soy. However, through healing my gut, I can probably reduce my sensitivity to certain legumes, almonds, and shellfish. I also take a stool test to determine if I have an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast. If I do, then my doctor works with me to cleanse my gut through diet and herbs. All of this work with my doctor has made a world of difference and lets me know that immune sensitivities and the resulting eczema can be solved without steroids.
Are steroids something you think should ever be recommended?
CP: Without a doubt that I would never ever tell anyone to use steroids. It is a substance I will be avoiding at all costs for the rest of my life.
Thank you so much, Chi-Pei, for sharing your story.