Accepting My Eczema

How I accept my eczema and the 8 specific questions I ask myself to help manage my eczema flare-up.

Right now, do you feel confident in your own skin? Do you harshly examine little blemishes? Or do you choose to rejoice your freckles or wrinkles? Today, my skin looks great, but that’s not always the case. There are times when I’m really embarrassed by my skin. Or I’m frustrated by my inability to prevent my eczema from flaring. A couple months ago, I experienced a new form of eczema around my nose and mouth. Luckily mask wearing fashionably covered this area of my skin.

Living with eczema is exhausting, itchy, and emotionally draining. Until recently I didn’t frame my eczema or systemic nickel allergy as a chronic condition. The reality is there’s no cure for either. Eczema is chronic. I’m reminded of this fact when the mysterious inch on my inner right elbow, or I’ll notice dry scaly red flakes on my face. Fortunately my eczema flare-ups are less frequent since eating a low nickel diet. Yet, the emotionally taxing toll eczema can cause is difficult to avoid.

Even when my nickel allergy and eczema is asymptomatic, it occupies my thoughts. I wonder if it’s lurking underneath my skin, waiting for my stress levels to spike, for the scale to tilt towards nickel overload, or the various other potential reasons. My nickel allergy and eczema does not define me, even if it definitely impacts my choices. The low nickel diet and lifestyle is more of a habit than a choice these days. I plan to eat low nickel or I choose to eat something higher in nickel and deal with the consequences. When in new circumstances or surroundings, like traveling or going on vacation, my daily routine is disrupted which requires heightened awareness of possible nickel contact and limited access to low nickel food choices. 

There are also so many different types of eczema. Generally, my eczema is either contact dermatitis and atopic dermatitis. However, this past winter I randomly started experiencing a different type of eczema. It appeared as inflamed, scaly, and red dry skin around my nose and mouth. Literally my symptoms started appearing out of nowhere for no reason. When I eat something higher in nickel, usually my eczema flares-up around my eyes, on my eyelids, above my upper lip and around my neck. Since this new eczema around my nose and mouth is different from all of my typical symptoms, I speculated if it possibly could be from wearing tight handmade face masks, that are so effective they make my face sweat when I walk and talk outside in the cold weather. I also wondered if the cause could be a side effect of another medication. Lastly, I questioned whether it could be related to something I ate, stress related, or the dramatic seasonal weather changes. The possibilities for why I was experiencing this painfully itchy and embarrassing facial eczema seemed endless. 

Christy hiking on a very cold snowy day, wearing sunglasses, a face mask, hat, scarf, and very warm coat.

Luckily, I had an appointment scheduled with my dermatologist, who diagnosed my nickel allergy in 2009 with a skin patch test. Within minutes of showing him my skin and recent photos, he diagnosed the inflammatory rash and prescribed me some antibiotics. He said the medical community doesn’t really know what causes this type of eczema, but women experience it more than men. In the end, I should have scheduled an appointment with him sooner, instead of speculating the cause and feeling frustrated. The course of antibiotics did their magic, so I no longer have red scaly and inflamed skin around my mouth and nose, it’s all gone!

It’s really difficult to pinpoint or identify the root causes of our eczema. This ongoing process, which can sometimes be fruitless, causes an emotional toll, or consumes more of my mental energy than I would like to admit. Even when I feel like I’ve got this, I know what works and what doesn’t work, I need to tune into what’s really going on in my body or my thoughts. The external symptoms are challenging as well. Someone who cares will notice my inflamed skin and ask me about it when I don’t know the answer or feel shame. In those moments, I’m reminded that I need to care for my whole self, including my skin. And in this particular situation, I was reminded that sometimes caring for myself is seeking medical attention.  

Unfortunately we often judge ourselves way more harshly than anyone else. My internal critic may fixate on my outward appearance to the point that I ignore my nagging itchy skin. What can we do in these situations, especially when this conditioned or learned behavior tears us down and doesn’t benefit us? How can we reframe our self doubt and self criticism and instead revel in the beauty of our appearance by recognizing how far we’ve come. Conversely, maybe you’re newly diagnosed and starting to relearn how to live life with a nickel allergy.

With chronic issues like nickel allergies or eczema, it can be difficult to reframe the condition because of it’s chronic nature. If we had a stomach ache, we’d probably not judge ourselves, but take it easy, drink lots of water, and eat bland foods. I wouldn’t sabotage myself by eating acidic or spicy foods when my stomach is upset. Similarly, that’s how I try to think about my eczema. When I have a flare-up or experience other internal symptoms, judging myself or my symptoms isn’t useful, but can cause stress and make my eczema worse. Instead I try to proactively recognize the steps I need to take to feel better. I ask myself the following eight questions to help manage my eczema flare-up:

  1. Do I need to wash the affected area or shower (sometimes again) to eliminate the potential allergen or irritant? 
  2. Do I need to hydrate my skin with moisturizer or a prescribed medication to reduce the swelling?
  3. Am I dehydrated or would drinking water help me feel better?  
  4. Do I need to use different cookware or eat different foods?
  5. Should I pull out my food journal to try to identify if there was something I recently ate?
  6. How’s my self-care practice or have I engaged in something creative?
  7. Would making a change in my internal environment, such as changing my sheets, or dusting and vacuuming be beneficial? 
  8. Is it time to schedule an appointment with my doctor or dermatologist to seek answers by trained medical providers? 

Even though I’ve been here before, I don’t always know what my own needs are in the moment. My experience always teaches me the importance of intervening early and not ignoring the problem. 

I hope you and I can continue to recognize our internal and external beauty, whether or not we’re experiencing an eczema flare-up or if we lack confidence in other areas of our lives.

What tips or strategies do you do to take care of yourself and your skin? Share your experience by submitting a comment in the section below.

  1. Hi Christy…
    I’m Pegah. I learned about my SNAS 5 month ago and since then my whole life changed… I searched about it A LOT! I read a lot of scholar articles and websites… And everytime your weblog was one of the search results… 🙂 it really feels good to read your articles here… I think I had Nickel allergy for over 10 years but it was not bothering me like now… maybe 3-4 times a year which were gone after using some medication each time… but some months after I came to Korea I had continuous and worsening eczema… that was when I had the patch test and realized my nickel allergy…
    For me, keeping the low nickel diet has been the most difficult part… I had to leave the dorm so I can cook low nickel foods for myself. In the dorm there was not much I could eat(since we didn’t have kitchen there)… even now that I can cook myself, I feel sad because ALL the foods I used to enjoy turned to be high in nickel… it’s hard mentally and I’m sure you understand what I mean…
    for several months I tried really hard to avoid all foods that are high in nickel which is super difficult in korea!! Because almost all the foods are high in nickel. Although I followed a very strict low nickel diet I was still itchy after each meal… which made me depressed… my efficincy decreased and I have so many works piled up to finish now… I thought it isn’t worth it… so what if I just eat something that makes me happy and I can feel that I’m normal?
    That’s what I’m doing now…
    when I feel depressed I just go for some chocolate icecream or pizza or coffee and then accept the consequences… if I’m going to be itchy anyway why not enjoying some yummy nickel heheh
    still I try to avoid Korean cuisine… I don’t know how much I can go on with this routine but as for now the only thing I’m sure is that my mental health is as important as my body health if it is not more important… I can’t live a depres life…
    Sorry for the long story…

  2. Hi Pegah,
    Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. I’m glad my website has been a useful tool in your research. Glad to hear you’re now able to cook your own foods, it would be really challenging to try to eat a low nickel diet without the ability to cook your own foods. It would also be hard to live in Korea where soy is such a staple.
    It can take a long time for the body to adjust to a low nickel diet and not react. Eczema symptoms can also take a long time to resolve, I’ve heard chronic itch itself can take 18 months to resolve in some instances. All of this and more takes a toll on our emotional, mental and physical health, which is totally normal and there is research about the mental health challenges for individuals with eczema. Here’s a link to an article from the National Eczema Association. Balancing our dietary needs and overall well being is definitely an ongoing struggle.
    Some individuals with systemic nickel allergies find more success using a point based system, as mentioned in Joanne’s website, and may be beneficial for you. She also has an app called the nickel navigator. Her data does show different types of food grown all over the world. 
    Warm regards,

    1. Thank you, dear Christy 🙂
      I’ve looked at the links. very helpful. thank you… 🙂 <3
      to be honest, reading the comments on the posts here made me feel much better. I felt very lonely facing the fact that not only people around me but also doctors do not know about SNAS, it was really bothering me… but then I saw I'm not the only person who went through all of these… we can all understand each other… thank you for being the link between us 🙂

      1. Thank you Pegah, I completely agree and that’s one of the reasons why I started this blog. There are a couple private Facebook groups that you may find helpful if you use that social media platform.
        Warm regards,

  3. Hi Christy, I have found your articles very helpful since there’s very few people who know about this and know how to handle this nickel allergy. I’ve had a scratch test at the allergist and found out I had a nickel allergy. I have been to both allergist and dermatologist and both gave me a list of foods that I shouldn’t eat. There are foods in one list that’s not on the other list. So it becomes very confusing and frustrating as to what I can have. I feel there is nobody I can talk to that can relate to this nickel allergy., so when I came across your link I felt a sigh of relief.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Sue,
      Thanks for your comment and appreciation for my website. Glad it’s been helpful for you as you navigate living with systemic nickel allergies. I have found the various nickel lists helpful, they’re at least a great starting point. However the best tool available is using a food journal and identifying what you can or can’t tolerate and what triggers may be impacting your eczema more than others – especially since eczema is an individual condition that can impact us all so diferently.
      Warm regards,

      1. Hello,
        Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I was just diagnosed 2 weeks ago. I get a rash on the back of my neck and shoulder’s when I’m stressed. I always knew I couldn’t wear costume jewelry and look for hypoallergenic jewelry to wear. When you are diagnosed with a systemic nickel allergy you are truly overwhelmed and you feel like you are the only person who deals with it. Now that I know I can watch what I eat when I have a flare up or make note of what I ate when a flare up happens . Nice to know there is a platform where you can share experiences and get feedback and suggestions. Thank you so much!

        1. Thanks for your comment and appreciation Kathy! So glad my website has been helpful for you as you navigate living with a nickel allergy.
          Warm regards,

  4. Hello! Thank you for the informative site you’ve created! One thing that I’ve struggled with that no one seems to mention is that what we have been taught about a heart-healthy diet seems to be in total conflict with a nickel-free diet! As someone with family history of heart issues, cancer and diabetes, this feels like s total conundrum; like I need to choose between my heart and my skin! Any thoughts you can share on this would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Hi Monique,
      Thanks for your comment. The challenge is finding a dietician who is knowledgeable about the low nickel diet and your other dietary needs. It is possible to develop a balanced diet, though it may look different than what is considered healthy. For some living with nickel allergies they’re able to reintroduce foods that are moderate to higher in nickel after eating a low nickel diet for several months. For others, they’re able to eat higher nickel foods after using nickel free cookware.
      Warm regards,

  5. This is interesting!!! Because I was researching a Nickel free coconut oil! I knew there are products with nickel in it because my boyfriends friend told us to stop eating coconut oil. He works at the largest US supplier of coconut oil and told us that they add Nickel to it to control its melting point! In an attempt to continue using coconut oil for its actual health properties I searched nickel free coconut oil and thus came up. I’m surprised to find out that it seems to either be natural occurring too. I will keep researching!!! But be aware that the inconsistencies in the reactions might be the products themselves !

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