Rebecca Fearn: when unexpected eczema flares up

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Rebecca FearnUp until a year or so ago, eczema was not something that affected me or my life, and was always “somebody else’s problem.” There have been many beauty launches I have attended in the past where fellow beauty journalists have shared their reluctance to test out a new skincare product because of their eczema – and I couldn’t really relate. That’s not to say I didn’t feel for them; “it must be awful not to be able to try out new things and enjoy that part of your job,” I used to think to myself, thanking my lucky stars I didn’t have this problem.

And then, sort of out of nowhere, eczema happened to me. Sporadically over the past year, I have experienced random, seemingly unexplainable flare ups of eczema on my chin and neck. I quickly began to relate to my peers who suffered, and started to realise what it was like to work in beauty and have sensitive skin. My face was no longer invincible no matter what percentage of retinol, vitamin C, or acid I threw at it. “Thanks, this looks amazing,” I would say at skincare launches, as I slotted an amazing new exfoliating AHA/ vitamin C serum/super high percentage of retinol into my bag, miserably knowing full well I would have to pass it on to someone else to try, or wait a few weeks until my bumpy, itchy chin had cheered up.

“women can develop eczema with hormonal changes, especially during pregnancy”

The fact that I had never expected to get eczema at age 26 does not make me naive. In fact, most dermatologists agree it is normally a condition you develop pretty early on in life. “Eczema generally develops before the age of five,” confirms Dr Dennis Gross. However, unfortunately, we’re never entirely safe; “women can develop eczema with hormonal changes, especially during pregnancy,” Dr Gross continues, also noting that environmental factors such as weather changes, as well as different foods, can also trigger the symptoms. Tracey Wilmot, Director of Education for Murad Skincare, adds that “city living is also a problem for many, with pollution being a trigger for skin conditions such as eczema.”

Fortunately, my flare ups of eczema are fairly mild and never last longer than around a fortnight. They also don’t happen that often, and I’ve only had about five in the past year. For this reason, I know I’m pretty lucky, and that many people with eczema suffer much, much worse than I do. But as I’ve touched upon, it can be pretty hard to do your job in beauty, testing all sorts of lotions and potions out on your skin, when your face simply cannot tolerate being tested on. For example, my last eczema breakout happened while I was writing a freelance piece for a digital publication about using dermatologist-strength skincare. Due to my eczema, I could not continue the “experiment,” as my skin was reactive to all of the products I was testing.

However, those that suffer with my level of atopic eczema can usually shift the symptoms by stripping back their skincare routines in order to get them back on track (I do however stress that if you suffer from severe or repetitive bouts of eczema, you should definitely see a dermatologist before deciding on how to change your routine or the best course of treatment to take). While this means staying away from certain skincare products or ingredients (Dr Gross recommends avoiding anything drying or with alcohol, as well as leaving the acids, retinols, and exfoliants in the bathroom cabinet for now), you can still use some of your favourite skincare brands and products.

“Keep your skin well hydrated by using a richer moisturiser which contains super-hydrating and anti-inflammatory agents”

The most important thing I have learnt is that less is more. Sticking to a nourishing cleanser like The Organic Pharmacy Carrot Butter Cleanser, and following with a soothing milky tonic and super hydrating hyaluronic acid (I like the Pixi Hydrating Milky Tonic and Mizon Hyaluronic Acid) has worked for me. And of course, you’ll need a brilliant moisturising cream or lotion. “Keep your skin well hydrated by using a richer moisturiser which contains super-hydrating and anti-inflammatory agents,” recommends Wilmot. “Look for ingredients such as avocado, sunflower and olive fruit oils for optimal hydration and liquorice extract to reduce redness and skin irritation.” The Murad Hydro Dynamic Ultimate Moisturiser contains avocado, sunflower and olive oils, and is super gentle on skin thanks to its natural ingredients; a total god-send for eczema.

If you stick to a simple, pared-back routine, keep skin ultra hydrated, and avoid harsh chemicals, strong ingredients, and highly fragranced products, you can usually shift the symptoms of mild eczema in a week or so without much difficulty. Because of this, I’ve learnt that despite my random flare ups, I can still enjoy some of my favourite beauty brands – I just have to do so responsibly.

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