My name is Helen Piña and I'm a 30-something mostly-functional itchy Texan with eczema (AKA atopic dermatitis), seborrheic dermatitis, contact dermatitis and tons of skin allergies, most importantly a fragrance and composite mix allergy. This last one is basically an allergy to a super long list of plants, so things like essential oils are a big no-no.
I call myself "the itchy and scratchy show" on good days and loathe my skin on bad days. In other words, I try to stay positive, but there are definitely bad days. I'm a marketer and keep myself feeling inspired and happy by surrounding myself with my favorite people, the beautiful outdoors and good colors. Helping others is important to me, which is why I have this blog. I want to help other eczema sufferers feel better emotionally and physically. I'm not a doctor and I don't play one on TV, but I have tons of eczema, skin allergy and treatment stories that I hope can at least help you feel like you're not alone, and maybe even offer you tips you hadn't considered.
My Skin Story
The Young Years - Mild
I was born in 1982 in Texas. As a kid, I had dry skin. Nothing too bad. As a teenager, I definitely had eczema and probably skin allergies. Most ingrained in my memory is my super bad irritation on both underarms in high school. It was like bad acne. It made me unable to shave, but, as a teenage girl, that wasn't something I was willing to accept and painfully tried a few times. Enter my first eczema wardrobe choices: I had to avoid sleeveless shirts. Looking back, I'm almost positive I was having an allergic reaction and just didn't realize it. Most likely I was already allergic to fragrance and was reacting to my deodorant.
The College Years - Moderate
My arms got better and I went to college (go Longhorns!) in 2000. I had eczema on my face, mainly around my lips, something I'd had for years. I was already using prescription and steroid creams. I have a vivid memory of being at a camp my freshman year and talking about how much I loved Desonide, a skin steroid. Oh the regrets I have from my excessive lathering of skin steroids on my face when I was younger. Because steroid creams thin out the skin and should be used moderately, I often wonder if my face will suddenly look 20 years older because of the damage I did to myself.
Early 20's - The Big Bang
There's no denying the emotional and physical difficulties my body was experiencing in my early 20's. I was working tons in a retail management job and overnight shifts had my body worn out. This didn't pair well with the unhealthy relationship I was in. A tipping point was reached and at about 23 my skin basically exploded with anger. Yes, it was my body telling me to stop. But even after I did stop, my skin never really turned back. Today, my acupuncturist tells me that time of my life was so difficult that my body never recovered from it. Like a secret unhealed wound that needs to be treated in order for my skin to get better permanently.
Back to 23: my face was a mess. I would have flare-up spots and they would be so thick with eczema that they looked more like scabs. My spots were mainly near my eyes, top of my cheeks and around my mouth. People would often ask me if I got into a fight. One of the most frustrating things for me at that time was how little people understood eczema. Even today, people understand acne, but they don't get eczema. Folks expect dry patches of skin, but that is mild eczema. Severe eczema looks really rough. No I didn't get into a bar fight; my skin is attacking me right now. But thank you for asking.
Mid 20's - Allergy Testing Kicks-Off
2007: the year my allergy tests started. "Let's start with what you're not allergic to," says my allergist when she was reading my test results. Not a good sign! I was allergic to everything under the sun, it seemed. I started allergy injections and did my first food diet. I was 25, didn't eat well and was working lots of hours (no longer retail; had moved into marketing). So when I had to exclude tons of foods, I just didn't eat. I ended up losing a lot of weight within a month and I realized I was unintentionally doing a crash diet. I didn't see a correlation between food and my skin, plus my skin had not been too bad for a few months, so I quit the food allergy diet and stopped the allergy injections after losing my insurance for a few months. I wouldn't start them again for over five years.
For the next few years I had mild to severe eczema on my face until I got patch tested by my dermatologist and found out I had a fragrance mix allergy that was causing contact dermatitis. Fragrance - the ingredient that is in almost every product, even the ones that are unscented. I immediately stopped using fragrance products, including my Herbal Esssence shampoo and conditioner. Within a week, my face completely cleared up! It was unbelievable. My face hasn't been as bad ever since.
I did a few more tests with my allergist (note: allergist and dermatologist allergy tests are different) and the food list got a little smaller each time. My dermatologist says food allergies rarely cause eczema in adults and I tend to believe her, even though my allergist and acupuncturist are adamant that food reactions cause eczema. Still figuring that one out.
Early 30's - The Itchy Period
30-33 have been the itchiest years of my life. My eczema changed in 2013 when I was 30. It moved from my face to my body. I am grateful that I can hide my bad skin easier, but it's still difficult. From itchy, hot, red skin in select areas (neck, inner elbows) to my entire body, excluding my face, my eczema has been the worst since my early 20's. I don't know what triggered it (I rarely know!), but it's been consistently moderate to severe for two years now (2014-2015).
In June of 2015, I started doing acupuncture because my allergist and dermatologist were unable to offer any more help. By then, my itchy, painful skin had taken over my life. My allergist put me on Silerex herbal pills and started treating me once a week. After three months, my skin healed! It felt like a miracle. I did change my moisturizer and started avoiding dairy, which could have caused the improvement, but I'd done those things before and they never worked that well in the past. I'm pretty confident that the acupuncture and herbal pills have helped my body be more receptive to treatments. In the next three months, I had a few flare-ups, but they stayed minimal to moderate and didn't last more than a day or two. At three months, however, my eczema symptoms came back and didn't go away after a few days, in fact they got worse. With only three months of healthy skin, I had grown accustomed to having normal, healthy skin and I couldn't have been happier not having intense itchiness.
My eczema goal is to keep it under control by monitoring what I eat and do. I try to pinpoint triggers and avoid them as much as possible. It's not easy, but it's absolutely necessary. I refuse to let eczema take control of my life permanently.
I'm starting Itchy Pineapple at 33 and at the end of 2015. From here, I tell the rest of my story with this blog. Thank you for reading this and I hope I can help!