My Adult Eczema Helped Me Rediscover My Resilience

Growing up, I felt embarrassed going to school on days where my “eggs” were showing, a shorthand my mother gave to my eczema. I wore long sleeves and long pants even on warm days — not only to prevent myself from scratching an unbearable itch, but to avoid laughter and comments from other kids about the redness, bumps, and discoloration on my brown skin. 
Most children are expected to outgrow their eczema, so I never thought the skin issues I had as a kid would follow me into adulthood. But lately, my skin’s sensitivity to hot water, scented lotions, and perfume — a few of my favorite luxuries in life — has proved otherwise. I’m one of the 10 percent of people in the United States who has eczema, a chronic skin disease that disproportionately affects Black and brown people
After years of not treating my eczema and accepting I might just have very dry and crackly skin, I recently suffered from a widespread itch. It affected my skin all over, from my scalp down to my legs. It kept me up at night. What most concerned me was the hyperpigmentation that accompanied the itch, so I visited a dermatologist for the first time in more than a decade. My doctor delivered the news I suspected but did not want to hear: my eczema was back. 
Eczema is a non-contagious inflammatory skin condition that makes patches of your skin feel itchy, dry, and scaly. It can affect almost any body part including your extremities, trunk — chest, abdomen, pelvis, and back — face, and scalp, explains Annie Gonzalez, a Latine board-certified dermatologist based in Miami. 
Eczema can be genetic; environmental allergens such as pollen, mold, pet dander, dust mites, fragrances, and tobacco may also cause the condition. Additionally, dry, cold air, or very warm climates sometimes create conditions where the skin could become irritated and inflamed. 
“One common mistake Latines who suffer with eczema make is delaying seeing a dermatologist for a proper diagnosis and management,” Gonzalez says. “This can be due to lack of access to specialist care or not trusting the healthcare provider, especially if they don't feel they are properly and culturally trained to understand them.”
Now in my late 20s, recognizing the symptoms of eczema on my own hasn’t been as simple as it was when I was under the care of my mother and a pediatrician. I admittedly put off seeing a dermatologist for a decade for two reasons: the anticipated financial burden and the fear I wouldn’t find a dermatologist who understands melanated skin concerns. 
At the dermatologist’s office, I learned the small hyperpigmented, itchy, and raised patches of skin on my chest, hands, stomach, and legs were actually a result of eczema flare-ups. The doctor noted these could stem from overusing fragranced products and scented detergents. This news devastated me because my Dominican mother taught me to love the smell of sweet and floral fragrances in all my self-care products since I was a kid. I painstakingly replaced fragranced tub-side staples (such as Sol De Janiero’s Brazilian bum bum cream and the matching body scrub) for fragrance-free alternatives, including Eucerin’s eczema relief cream and First Aid Beauty’s KP bump eraser body scrub. 
Turns out, slathering on fragranced products is one of the biggest mistakes Latines with eczema can make, says Janelle Vega, a Latine dermatologist at Mayoral Dermatology in Coral Gables, Florida. 
“When you have eczema, the skin barrier is compromised, making irritants that would normally not affect intact skin become an issue for eczema patients,” Vega says. “I’m talking about fragrances, soaps, and other seemingly benign ingredients, which are terrible for eczema patients.”
Eczema can present differently in patients with skin of color, Vega explains. It often looks more brown, purple, or gray in color for Black and brown Latines, instead of the typical red patches seen on fairer skin tones. 

The return of my eczema has meant rediscovering that resilience I developed as a kid. My new habits protect not just my physical health, but have allowed my mental health and overall well-being to flourish, too. 

Zameena Mejia
“Latine patients are more likely to suffer from pigmentation issues after their eczema resolves,” Vega says. “The skin can heal with lighter or darker skin tones depending on their own tendencies, and this becomes a cosmetic issue for the patient that often bothers them more than eczema itself.”
When I was younger, my eczema was more severe and affected my forehead, arms, hands, and behind my knees. My mom worried about taking me outside during the warm spring and summer months in New York. Her anxiety about my eczema doubled when we would travel back to our home in the Dominican Republic because that’s when I was the most prone to flare-ups. 
I loved running and playing in the sun, but the sweat and sting of fragranced bug repellents and sunscreens on my skin was a recipe for triggering my eczema. What would start as a small itch would turn into a large patch of raised bumps that spread across my skin. Because I scratched, my skin would crack open and heal in discolored tones that didn’t match the rest of my skin. 
Although Latines have a lower rate of eczema than Black and white people, Black and Latine people experience eczema more severely due to numerous health, environmental, and socioeconomic factors present in childhood and adulthood. Among children with eczema in the U.S., research shows Black and Latine children tend to have more severe disease than white children and are also more likely to miss school because of it. 
Research also shows that systemic divestment in communities of color, redlining, and the wealth gap between Black and Latine communities compared to white communities can prevent generations of Black and Brown communities from breaking out of the cycle of poverty. As a result, our communities feel the burden of atopic diseases such as eczema disproportionately. 
Missing grade school wasn’t an option for me or my single working mother. I relied on topical steroids creams my doctor prescribed to make it through the day, even though we were told I could only use them for short periods of time. Though they provided some relief, it’s no easy task to ask a kid to focus on learning and socializing at school while dealing with an intolerable discomfort around your body. It was mind over matter. I was forced to develop mental resilience in order to prevent making my eczema flare-ups worse. Thankfully, this was a skill I’ve carried into the present day.
With expert advice from a dermatologist to rely on, I now understand the immediate steps to take to decrease my eczema symptoms. I made the easy swap from typical fragranced laundry softeners and detergents to fragrance-free ones for my clothing and linens. For special occasions when I want to smell nice – hey, no one’s perfect – I spray just one spritz of perfume in the air and walk through it. Or, I place it on a layer of clothing that’s far from my skin. I’ve also drastically overhauled my body care routine. 
“Many people may not realize this, but your skin regimen begins in the shower,” Vega says. 
In addition to taking short, lukewarm showers, Vega recommends choosing a body wash that’s gentle, nourishing, and soap free – non-soap cleansers are usually free of sodium lauryl sulfate, a chemical responsible for that foaming effect we’re used to in soap that can irritate skin. Choose fragrance-free cleansers with moisturizing ingredients, such as colloidal oatmeal, to soothe dry, itchy skin. My current go-tos include Dove eczema-prone skin care body cleanser and Cetaphil flare-up relief body wash. 
After showering, Gonzalez suggests using a towel to pat yourself dry and following up with a fragrance-free moisturizer rich in ceramides. I like CeraVe’s daily moisturizing lotion because it melts into the skin and doesn’t feel too thick. Lastly, I lock that in with a fragrance-free body oil, like the one from Moringaia’s. I also give my scalp a break from my fragranced hair care products with Kristen Ess’ fragrance-free daily cleansing shampoo and shine enhancing conditioner. 
The journey toward healing eczema looks different for everyone based on which type of eczema you have and the severity of it. So, what works for me might not work for you, but don’t feel defeated. Adjust which products you use according to what makes your skin feel at ease and work with a dermatologist to determine your personalized treatment plan. I’m proud of myself for seeing a dermatologist before my symptoms grew out of control. 
The return of my eczema has meant rediscovering that resilience I developed as a kid. My new habits protect not just my physical health, but have allowed my mental health and overall well-being to flourish, too. 

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