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I’m more in the know now than I’ve ever been
Apparently, it started with me licking the crooks of my arms and my kneecaps.
I was about four or five years old and mum would notice me doing this every so often throughout the day. It was when I started going through spells of incessant scratching of the raised dry patches that she marched me to the doctors. And after a lot of back and forth, I was diagnosed with eczema.
Eczema on Black skin
The problem was that the look of the skin condition on Black skin is completely different on Caucasian skin. ‘Eczema is a type of dermatitis of the skin, which is characterised by really excessively dry skin, and very itchy and skin can be very scaly as well and have some texture,’ says Dija Ayodele, aesthetician and author of Black Skin. ‘In all skin tones, the skin will be inflamed but in lighter skin, you can see the inflammation more because the skin tends to be red raised and angry. Sometimes the skin breaks, which can lead to weeping sores. On darker skin tones there tends to be a discolouration of the skin. Areas that have eczema will look darker, due to inflammation, as well as the melanin in the skin, rushing to the trauma caused by the condition.’
At the time, because most research reported on the condition from the perspective of white skin, a super common diagnosis for children was harder to come by due to a lack of knowledge.
In terms of eczema treatment, my parents were diligent in keeping my skin cocooned from then on. I remember starting to have E45 baths and my mum coating me in cocoa butter and Oilatum. From then on, I don’t remember a time that eczema didn’t play a role in the way that I treated my skin and while I still don’t know the initial trigger, I can now gauge the things that’ll trigger a flare-up and the products I can use to calm it down, no doubt thanks to my job as a beauty editor.
Having eczema as a beauty editor
Being a beauty editor with a skin condition is interesting, to say the least, infuriating to say the most. While skincare routines are much more upfront with the ingredients that are in products nowadays the same can’t be said for makeup. So, there are makeup items that I pretty much have to completely veto because of bad reactions in the past. Eye primers and matte lip stains have to be avoided. I once tried an eyeshadow primer that triggered a month-long flare-up on my eyelids. They were red raw and scaly and the discolouration that the trauma left is still visible to this day. Someone asked me what eyeshadow I was wearing directly after my flare-up and I had to tell them it was the remanence of eczema. Awkward.
When I’m experiencing a flare-up, which I can now narrow down to be triggered by stress, illness, dust, specific essential oils and fragrance, (plus the odd unknown product ingredient), I strip everything back in my beauty regime to gentle formulas. I also remove actives from the line-up to take extra precautions while my skin is healing, all advice that Dr Justine Hextall, Consultant Dermatologist for La Roche-Posay, advocates. ‘Taking simple steps like choosing a gentle and hydrating skin cleanser that doesn’t leave skin tight and dry will be such an important first step,’ she says. ‘Make sure that skin is cleansed after the shower to remove any irritating products such as shampoo and shower gel, which will make a huge difference especially if facial eczema is an issue. If the skin barrier is more sensitive, add a layer of moisturiser to vulnerable areas, such as around the eyes before showering to effectively protect against irritating foaming shower products.’
Reliable brands to help with flare-ups
There are specific brands that I always turn to when I’m in the midst of a flare-up – like I am as I write this – and while they aren’t the most exciting brands, they can be relied on to eventually bring my skin back to neutral. La Roche-Posay, Eucerin, Avene and Sanex all have a special spot on my skincare shelf for eczema emergencies. As Dr Hextall notes ingredients-wise there are ones that should be top of the list. ‘Look for products in moisturisers that help to hold water in the skin barrier such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid and urea. Emollient products such as shea butter and ceramides mimic the skin’s own fats and oils to prevent water loss.’
While I know that eczema is a skin condition that I’ll be dealing with for a long time to come, I also know that my flare-ups are often small and manageable (with the right products). So for the most part I definitely don’t let it get in the way of the most enjoyable part of my job, indulging in beauty!
1. La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5
La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5, £10 | Lookfantastic
This balm is super soothing and works well as a pre-wash balm to protect eczema patches from becoming too dry due to foaming agents in shampoos and gels.
2. Dr. Lipp Original Nipple Balm
Dr. Lipp Original Nipple Balm, £12 | Amazon
I have had a few flare-ups on and around my lips and when I do I plaster on this morning and night. It is a barrier from the cold and from cracking.
3. Sanex Zero% Gentle Moisture Shower Gel for Sensitive Skin
Sanex Zero% Gentle Moisture Shower Gel for Sensitive Skin, £5.99 | Amazon
The most sinfully boring type of wash but it causes no irritation or dryness post-shower.
4. Avène Tolerance Control Soothing Skin Recovery Cream for Sensitive Skin
Avène Tolerance Control Soothing Skin Recovery Cream for Sensitive Skin, £19.15 | Lookfantastic
I opt for this as a moisturiser when I’m having a flare-up on my face and it does aggravate but soothes and helps restore the skin barrier.
5. Eucerin Aquaphor Skin Soothing Gel Balm
Eucerin Aquaphor Skin Soothing Gel Balm, £12.50 | Boots
This thick, emollient balm is what I coat my hands and feet in at night and any patches that have arisen. It’s super thick and oily but it does the job of helping towards healing.