[Update at bottom of post] Okay, deep breath. Big confession time. For the past several years, I've struggled with increasing problems of dry, flaking, red skin around my eyes. At its worst, the skin wrinkles up, turns bright red, and pitches little white flakes of skin. At its best, it settles down with the application of the right cream. But the right cream/lotion would only work for so long and then suddenly and for no reason stop working. Application of a steroid lotion seemed to work, but also stopped working and the subsequent flare-up was worse and seemed to have spread. Flare-ups also seemed to occur whenever dealing with extreme conditions-- like in the winter when it's sub-zero and makes my eyes water, resulting in my skin experiencing first the dry air, then the moisture of my tears. The doctor's diagnosis was eczema. He said it will flare-up under changing conditions and that the usual advice is to either keep the area always moist or always dry. Since this was my eye area, he recommended always moist. Thus, I moisturized-- a lot. Some lotions were more helpful than others. But, like I said, they would work for a while and eventually quit working. A few months ago, everything quit working. Nothing would reduce the itching, redness or dry, flaking skin. I even tried allergy medication, which helped take away the itching, but still left behind the redness and dry, flaking skin. It's been a most brutally humiliating experience. I took to wearing glasses to distract from my eyes, but even that wasn't working. Though others tried to hide their reaction to my hideousness, I still saw it. I felt it. I was hideous and I knew it. I stopped going out in public. I started referring to myself as Emperor Palpatine. The reason for this post is that I know I'm not alone. I've spent hours Googling to find answers. All three of my sons suffer from eczema/psoriasis somewhere on their bodies. (Middle has it on his scalp, Youngest has it in his ears, and Eldest has or had it on his scalp, ears, face, arms and legs to varying degrees at varying times in his life for nearly two decades. Youngest was diagnosed with psoriasis and given various steroid creams to use, which had varying degrees of success.) I finally figured out what triggers eczema for me. It all started about seven years ago on my scalp. I went through shampoo after shampoo to no avail. I sought treatment from a specialist because I would wake up at night scratching my head. I tried steroid oils. It was the grossest thing ever-- leave oil on scalp for four to six hours under a shower cap-- and it didn't work. My hair falls out by the handful. Daily. The dermatologist said I had the worst case she'd ever seen. She also said that any treatment would likely work for a while and then suddenly stop working. Check and check. Then, a few years ago, the eczema spread to my eyes. It started in the corners. For the longest time, it was just in one eye. Then both. Then across the top lid, then around the bottom. Then I looked like I had purposely applied red make up over bumpy, wrinkly, flaky skin around both eyes. Last year, the eczema spread to my lips. It happened the week after I was laid off. I was back home after working full-time. So what had changed? Other than my daily environment, nothing. My food and habits were all the same. I immediately suspected my drinking water. At work, all the water was filtered. At home, our water was not filtered. After a week of swollen, peeling, painful lips, I went out and bought a Brita jug. A week later my lips cleared up. I've had only filtered water to drink for the past year and I've had no return flare-ups for my lips. Last year my eyes weren't so bad, so I didn't really think of filtering the water to help them, but a few months ago, when everything stopped working and I was waking up with my eyes swollen shut every morning, I bought a water filter for the whole house. It was installed approximately ten days ago and the eczema around my eyes has significantly cleared up. Even my scalp is improving. Looking back, my eczema started seven years ago, in the same month the municipality took over our community well and put in a purification plant. The water that had previously been filtered by the ground was now having various chemicals added to it, including chlorine. Oh, how I wish I knew then what I know now. The filter we installed is a simple charcoal filter that removed chlorine from the water. I'm not going to list the specific product because I'm not trying to sell anything. There are also charcoal-filter fittings for shower heads and faucets, and while I considered those, I went with the whole home one because it seemed simpler in the long run. (These products can be found at any hardware store.) For the first few days after the filter went in, it seemed like not much had changed. I noticed maybe a slight improvement around my eyes. The eczema certainly wasn't getting any worse. Then, the redness calmed down, but I was still left with a lot of dry and flaking skin. To relieve this, I used simple olive oil (cold-pressed extra virgin) because I wanted to keep my skin chemical free. The oil worked well-- absorbed in but also stayed on the surface-- allowing for both moisturizing and exfoliating. But I did smell like a salad. I am considering using olive oil or coconut oil on my scalp. The scales on my scalp are smaller and less itchy since the water filter was installed, but there is still a lot of dryness and a lot of flaking. I debated putting up this post at all. It's an embarrassing, humiliating, horrifying condition. But since there are so many people suffering with it, if this post helps even one person, it will be worth it. I also debated putting up this post because it might seem like I'm some kind of activist against chlorine in water. I'm not. I don't enjoy E. coli poisoning and don't mean for anyone to get sick from their water. I only mean for people to be aware that the pendulum swings the other way. That people may be sensitive to chlorine over long periods of time. (I never had any trouble with swimming pools, and never had any reason to suspect chlorine as the culprit until now.) I also think eczema has different triggers for different people. I think it's necessary to figure out what that trigger is and eliminate it, not just apply a lotion and hope it all goes away. Carefully examine diet and environment to find the trigger. If you're looking for a list of products to try, I recommend this post by Catherine Lux, a fellow sufferer and my inspiration for being brave enough to post this confession. She's detailed the products she's tried and the ones she's found helpful. (I didn't dare try the manuka honey product. For one thing, there's no supplier for it in Canada. For another, I've had allergic reactions to products made from bee products and didn't want to take that kind of risk.) Read over the comments to her post for further helpful suggestions.
[Update: July 29, 2014: In January of this year, I started looking into the connection between psoriasis and leaky gut. I was looking for causes of leaky gut and that lead me to read Wheat Belly and Grain Brain. I discovered that leaky gut is caused by eating grains. (At least, for me it is.) I immediately cut out grains (I was already not eating dairy) and continued further research. The effect of not eating grains was immediate. But it was not enough to make the psoriasis go away, even after several months. Continued research lead me to The Paleo Mom and something called the autoimmune protocol (or AIP). I started to eliminate more things from my diet, including nightshades, eggs, chocolate and coffee. I noticed an improvement each time I eliminated another forbidden food. The inflammation diminished, the flaking skin became less noticeable, the itching died away. Whenever I broke from the protocol (because I missed potatoes and chocolate-- and eggs are in everything!) I always had a flare-up (and as you might know, the psoriasis spreads during flare-ups. There were times when the skin all the way around my eyes was a mess of red, raw, flaking skin.) Then I read Healing Psoriasis (which I found at my library) and it gave hope that the elimination diet works. (Although the information in Healing Psoriasis is out of date as it allows some grains. It shouldn't. I hope they print an update.) If you want to eliminate psoriasis, follow the AIP. It works. Unfortunately, it will likely have to be a lifestyle change and not a temporary diet. Some of these foods may be added back to my diet, like eggs, after my skin heals, but I'm also prepared to keep them off my plate because I realize now that I have sensitivities to these foods.]
[Update: April 2015: My psoriasis is definitely caused by food. My skin healed immediately once I stopped eating fish and taking fish oil capsules. Ironic, since fish and fish oil are recommended because they're so good for skin. Other foods that definitely cause psoriasis flare-ups: eggs, soy and sweet potatoes. Even a small amount of soy such as soy lecithin in chocolate is enough to cause a break out of red, flaking skin within two hours of eating. So long as I avoid these foods, my skin is clear. There is a cure for psoriasis after all.]