Traveling with Apotic Eczema
I have eczema on my hands, inner arms, and back of legs since childhood. I was always covered in hive, especially when traveling. It’s harder to deal with eczema when you’re away from home. Whether in shower having boiling hot water running on the back of my knees and my inner arms or scratching myself to death that I bleed and cannot stop myself, it feels really, REALLY good for the moment like orgasmic. But it’s SO, so bad to the point where I couldn’t move my own fingers and legs due to dry, inflammable skin. On the top of that, I always wonder what people are thinking so I hide my awful looking skin so people don’t have to see the nastiness. I feel angry and frustrated most of the time.
Behold my usual looking hands – eczema sucks!
I would rather be in pain than itchy any day. No matter how well I describe the experience of having eczema, they will never understand how much it affects me physically and mentally. So I explain it as “like having chicken pox all the time.” I’ve tried hundreds if not thousands of treatments from my dermatologists. Sometimes it goes away temporarily, but it always comes back. I still have no idea what it was but I didn’t care. All I care is to keep scratching it and scratched it, which made it worse. Eczema has had a profound effect on my self confidence, attitude, and social life.
When I took off on a few months backpacking trip to Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, and Shanghai, I was pretty nervous going away without access to medications and favorite lotion. To my surprise, my eczema cleared up in the first week for the first time in my life. Travel does that?
I was thrilled as you can imagine.
My skin was absolutely perfect. I didn’t itch, flare ups and the scars that had been on my arms from previously infected eczema disappeared. However, few months traveling in Vietnam among other countries and I am back to moisturizing and lotioning twice every day AGAIN. I dread the moment I get attacked with itch and scratching all my life every day… again.
I know how heartbreaking it is to have to deal with eczema on a daily basis especially when traveling. It’s nearly impossible to enjoy traveling when you’re constantly itching and wanting to scratch all the time. I’ve struggled with it for many years before finally finding what worked for me and what helped me overcome the symptoms of eczema.
I used to apply steroids to my skin every 2-3 days and eventually switched to using non-steroid, immuno-suppressant which I used also every 2-3 days. I’ve made some changes that have saved me. I rarely flare up anymore and when I do, it’s mild which disappears after using a small dose of non-steroid. I’m writing this because I know those of you who have eczema struggle like I did and may benefit from my own experience. If this post benefits just one person, I will be tremendously happy.
WHAT WORKED FOR ME
Figure out what your triggers are
I didn’t figure this out myself but my girlfriend noticed I get bad flareups in a humid climate. I find this true as the sweat behind my knees and in my inner elbows gets the worst, though my neck sometimes also gets itchy. I learned that it just gets itchy from my SWEAT and it only gets worse if I keep scratching it. According to National Eczema Association, here are the common triggers to eczema:
- Sweat, drool, saliva
- Cigarette smoke
- Metals, in particular, nickel
- Some soaps and household cleaners
- Certain fabrics such as wool and polyester
- Antibacterial ointment like neomycin and bacitracin
- Cocamidopropyl betaine used to thicken shampoos and lotions
- Dry or humid air
- Allergens (seasonal pollen, dust mtites, cats and dogs, mold and dandruff
- Food Sensitivities (peanuts, milk, soy, wheat, fish, eggs, etc)
- Skin Infection (staph or candida)
Once you get the idea what may be triggering your eczema, try minimizing it as much as you can. For example, my trigger is humid air so I try to spend less time in humid places. It’s helped with my skin so far!
Less Dry, Better Skin AKA Moisturizing
Eczema is characterized by high amounts of moisture loss, which means that the skin gets very dry and scaly. If there’s more moisture in the air, less will be sucked out of the body, so having moisturizer and lotion worked best for me. Before using moisturizer, I use water first. I cannot stress how much moisturizing has helped my skin. I use Cerave Moisturizing Cream and PM lotion. I recommend this brand since it helped me so much. If you’re in a country that does not sell this brand, try find some online retailers that will ship. Give this a try!
Prepare & Bring Things You Need
- Make 2x or 3x travel-size bottles of lotion/tubs of cream/Aquaphor and cleanser.
- Take an EMPTY water bottle and fill it up everywhere you go since you’ll need a lot of water to stay hydrated. Huge money saver too!
- Bring some allergy medicine since they might be a contribute to your eczema (some pills of Zyrtec and a box of Benadryl tablets would do).
- Take Aloe Vera or vaseline with you. I religiously apply and reapply it every time my skin is dry.
Make a Daily Skincare Routine
My daily skincare routine looks like this: cleanse my face or affected eczema skin, then pat some water and put some moisturizer on. I also slather my skin with the Aquaphor. Simple! Moisturizer and lotion to keep your skin less dry as possible.
Cover and Protect Yourself
Wear long sleeves and long pants to help with the nasty itchiness of some fabrics like seats or chairs and minimize exposure from dust. On hot day, that can be difficult. I’d just apply lotion and/or moisturizer to keep my skin less dry and itchy.
Make sure to use sunscreen every day that you’re outside. I use a physical sunscreen with the active ingredients being zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Try to find a formulation without fragrance or made for babies. These are the least irritating sunscreens, even though they’re the ones that leave a white cast. In fact, using extra product like Vaseline/Aquaphor/oils will make you a little more photosensitive which means sunscreens are much more important than usual. It’s really really important to put sunscreen on after those ingredients.
Try not to get sunscreens with oxybenzone and avabenzone as the active ingredients — these tend to be more irritating, and I can feel it every time I use them.
Make sure you bathe properly every night. You don’t want to leave the sunscreen on your skin while you sleep, or under any ointments. Colloidal oatmeal is a great option for flaring skin that still needs cleansing. An extra cleanser afterwards would be ideal, especially for your face. Again, only use what works for you.
In the end, I always have a small flareup, regardless of all other factors. My skin absolutely hates change, and once I’ve found something that works for me, I will use it religiously. Traveling really messes all that up, so I always have some problems. If I have any leftover steroid ointment, I’ll take that with me to spot-treat.