Winter is not my favorite season of the year. Summer is Number 1, followed neck-and-neck by Spring and Fall. I’ll take Winter, there are some great things about it, but one of them is RAIN, and we ain’t getting any.
I found out, your body dries out horrifically as you get old. My skin has always been scratchy and itchy, every few years I get a really bad case of excema. I usually figured out later, what caused it, but that doesn’t really matter once you have a rollicking case of it, everything irritates it once it gets going.
When I read a list of “triggers,” I felt like rolling back into bed. Not only wool, but polyester? I already knew the latex in elastic, like the bands in all underwear, was bad for me. When I was a little kid, I’d get a rash that looked exactly like the elastic band on my skivvies. It would raise up and burn like hell, and my grandma would hear me scratching in my sleep, and come in and put some sort of salve on it. She went through salves one after the other. The rash would get puffed up and infected – cause farm kids get dirty, that’s a fact. And we scratch inappropriately, right through our starchy dresses and underwear, no matter where we are. I was a mess of bloody sores all the time. My feet got so infected at one point, I had to use crutches. We didn’t know about the latex in my tennis shoes, the doctors were clueless. They told my gramma and my mom I needed to bathe MORE, and use STRONGER SOAP!
The rash would come and go. It drove my mother nuts for weeks, then it would suddenly dry up and go away, as if it had never come. In high school when I was forced to swim in PE I got it wherever my swimsuit or swim cap touched my body – we didn’t realize, the excess chlorine in the school pool was making it really bad. My mom, the teacher, the doctors remained clueless.
I didn’t get a diagnosis of “excema” or “dermatitis” (really bad excema) until I was in my 20′s and I had health insurance through my job, and my family doctor had retired, so I went to a new guy. I had it so bad my hands were cracked and bloody. This guy told me, so matter of fact – oh, it’s excema. He asked me if I had a baby, which is a common trigger, since you are constantly touching pee’d diapers, washing stuff, including your hands. No, I worked at a film processing lab, handling freshly processed film. Oh, that was it he said – the ammonia, same thing as baby pee he explained. Ammonia is not good for anybody’s skin. He told me, take a week off your job, don’t shower or wash your hands. I told him that was out of the question, so here’s what he suggested – get gloves! And, he said, put produce bags over your hands, fasten them with a rubber band, when you take a shower. Wash your hands as little as possible he said.
Problem was, he didn’t tell me about latex being a trigger, so I went out and got what was available then – Playtex Gloves! Yeah, the rash spread all the way up to my armpits, so I went back. This time he apologized – yes, he said, latex is a common trigger! Oh boy, no kidding. When my mid-wife wore latex gloves during the delivery of my first child, I was left with rashes in the perfect shape of finger and whole hand prints all over my body. They itched for days.
This time he also gave me some “experimental” medicine, he had a whole box of samples given to him by a salesman, this stuff called Tinactin. Holy Miracle Cure BatMom! It worked in a day! I was in shock! I hoarded that box of tiny samples for a couple of years, because it never appeared on the shelves and no doctor ever offered it to me again. A friend of mine who was at UC Davis studying to become a pharmacist told me they never got approval, there had been some problems. Never found out what.
So, I was left on my own with this stuff. I learned to try to avoid the triggers, and to act fast as soon as I felt that initial burn. I still have bad outbreaks, including one that started about the end of August this year and drove me nuts until about a week ago when I finally figured out what was triggering it and how to handle it.
The last outbreak was caused when I got into a hot tub containing bromine as a sanitizer. Most pools and hot tubs use chlorine, like I use in our big plastic pool at home. I’m real careful with the chemicals too, test test test. But you know, public hot tubs, they dump it in. I had learned to deal with chlorine, don’t use too much and shower afterward - but this bromine stuff gave me a burn up to my neck, on all the usual places – armpits, neck, forearms, the fronts of my legs. I found out, excema hits you hardest in places where blood circulation is not premium. Wow, did I ever get a bad rash. I hadn’t had one this bad in so long, I kind of forgot how to deal with it.
Yeah, no showering, not with soap anyway. That was too hard to get around at first. I showered less, but that seemed to make the itch worse. Boy, it feels best standing under a hot shower – until you get out! And, I couldn’t figure out what kind of junk to put on it. The last time I had a bad outbreak I found an ointment at S&S market that worked really well – Country Comfort diaper creme. It was made of things like olive oil, beeswax and goldenseal. It was greasy, but it worked. Unfortunately, while S&S still carries other products by Country Comfort, they don’t have that exact creme anymore, and that was the only one that worked. I was really stymied this time, the rash kept getting worse, and I didn’t know what to put on it.
I hate it when you have a problem like this, you know it’s common, but you can’t get a doctor who knows anything about it. At first they even seemed clueless to the latex gloves, I had to be really insistent every time I went to any health care giver, including dentists. One guy even told me I was crazy, there was no such sensitivity! The next day, I had red marks everywhere he touched me, and the sides of my face and my lips were red, swollen and sore. When caregivers would consent to wear them, they complained that the nitrile gloves didn’t fit right, too slippery, bitch bitch bitch. I finally found a dentist who was sensitive too – he realized it as soon as he started wearing the nitrile gloves, at my request, and wow – no more red swollen hands at the end of the day! Now you notice, a lot of health care givers don’t even use latex at all. Duh, you dumb fuckers. Ask me again why I can’t make myself respect a doctor at face value.
So, this time I knew I was on my own. As usual, the rash would start to heal, then break out again. Once it gets going, things that wouldn’t normally bother me make me itch like crazy. Going to the store and walking through the detergent aisle, having to wear a sweater or coat, going to the mail box in the wind – every day, the rash would start out in kind of a remission, then by 4 pm it would be a roaring red ring around my neck, armpits, anywhere my clothes rubbed on my body, or my body rubbed on itself.
What I finally found was, I had to just grease up from head to toe. I always use a body oil made of olive oil and almond oil after showering, but I was afraid to use it on the raised red rash. One day in desperation I just smeared it on. Holy Crap! Ever find a cure for something that’s been bothering you, and it’s so simple it just kicks you in the head? I started slathering on my body oil after showering, my skin just sucked it up. You might think it would leave your skin greasy, and it does feel that way for a few minutes after you step out of the shower. But it really absorbs right in, especially during this dry time of year.
But, it only works when you’re wet, so whenever I’d get really itchy, I’d take a quick cold rinse, and then slather it on. I could do it in less than five minutes before I knew it, and my skin started to clear up. Then I found out, I can use a salve that I usually reserve for my hands, which always get dry and cracked and itchy. Burt Bee’s makes a lot of salves, but I like the one they call “Burt’s Hand Salve”. It’s made of olive oil and beeswax and had lots of skin friendly herbs in it. It’s just a tin of grease, and you rub it in, and before you know it, the greasy feeling is gone. My skin is so dry now, it just sinks right in on my forearms. I put it on my neck and back and shoulders, wherever my skin feels dry. I’ve been following this regimen for a week now, and I think I got my rash licked.
I love Burt’s Bees, but if you buy it locally, it may seem outrageously expensive. I paid $6.99 for my first two ounce tin of Burt’s Hand Salve, but when I went back for a refill at Raleys, it was almost 10 bucks! Whoa! I started being stingy with it because it was so expensive, then I found Lucky Vitamin. They charge about 8 bucks, I can live with that. Even the way I use it, a tin of that stuff will last forever.
You should really check out luckyvitamin.com. They carry a huge variety of home and health products, from “alternative” brands like Seventh Generation and Burt’s. I get almost all my household goods through them. Here’s the thing: not only are their prices almost always at least a couple of dollars below retail, they have FREE SHIPPING on orders over $49. When you buy in bulk like I do, it’s not hard to come up with $50 worth of goods. For delivery right to your door. And, they have more brands, and more items from those brands, than Raley’s or S&S or Chico Natural.
Excuse me if I’m so happy I will crow about it, but this is just another instance of taking responsibility for your own health.