You may have seen Alex and Pui’s story in the national media earlier this year, as it got a lot of coverage across major news sites. If you didn’t, here is their remarkable - and probably pretty relatable to many of you! - journey from severe eczema to clear skin.
Alex Tsui’s skin condition was so bad that he’d wake in his cot with bleeding skin and had to be restrained from trying to crawl. When he was three-months-old, he developed a dry patch of skin on his forehead, which quickly spread. His parents, Pui and Danny, tried everything from coconut oil to peppermint tea infusions, and several over-the-counter creams that didn’t work for longer than a few days, before visiting a GP who prescribed steroid creams.
Pui was breastfeeding so, on the doctor’s advice, she cut out dairy, eggs, wheat and gluten in case allergens were causing Alex’s skin to flare.
One morning, Alex became extremely unwell. He had a high temperature and was crying hysterically as the sore and itchy eczema covered him from head to toe, so Pui and Danny drove him to the out of hours doctors’ surgery. The GP there was so shocked by his skin that he sent Alex straight to A&E. The eczema had become infected and poor Alex needed to stay in hospital for four days, attached to a drip of intravenous antibiotics.
“Doctors also gave him [the steroid] Hydrocortisone and his skin improved for a while, but a few weeks later, it came back,” said Pui. “As anyone will tell you, having your first baby can be a stressful time as it is, but every day was so difficult as he was so upset and in pain and discomfort.”
While other babies his age were learning to roll over and starting to crawl, Alex’s parents had to restrain him from both, as any friction could cause more infection.
“He wasn’t able to learn as quickly or meet physical milestones as other babies his age - we couldn’t let him do things like tummy time as he’d rub his sore face on the floor, and he was desperate to move and crawl like other babies,” said Pui.
“It felt so cruel to hold his arms down physically as he was using his natural instinct to rub his face up against you, or anything he could, to itch. His skin was so raw we couldn’t even kiss or cuddle him.”
Clothes irritated Alex’s skin and he spent months wearing only a sleepsuit, and a simple thing like a trip to the park was almost impossible.
“Going in the car or for a walk was a nightmare as he’d rub his head against his car seat or pram, causing more flare-ups,” said Pui.
“We spent a lot of time in the house. He cried a lot and was miserable.”
Night times are sleepless for many new parents, but as Alex grew, he was able to break out of his swaddle or sleeping bag, and would wake with weepy, bleeding skin from scratching his eczema.
“He’d wear scratch mittens but they weren’t enough. I would either hold him or put my arm across his body in the cot attached to our bed,” said Pui.
“I would be physically exhausted from holding him the whole day to ensure he didn’t infect himself again. A few times I’d wake up feeling guilty that in my sleep, I’d let his arms escape and he’d scratched his face until the skin went weepy.”
After another infection caused by Alex’s scratching, he was prescribed a total of three courses of oral antibiotics within a month, and an assortment of petroleum-based creams, baby antihistamine, a skin wash and steroids.
Pui and Danny believed the steroids had controlled the infection, but said other prescribed creams didn’t improve his skin.
With the help of an eczema programme at hospital, Alex was gradually weaned off the steroids he’d been using for two months, and they searched for a natural remedy that would keep his eczema from returning.
“The creams did nothing to improve the texture and health of the skin and I worried about the long-term effects,” said Pui. “It was also recommended to use steroid cream for every future flare-up, which we were reluctant to do.
“I understood that they had a place in the short-term, but I really wanted to avoid getting hooked on steroids and wanted a more natural long-term solution to keep his eczema at bay.”
One night, Pui was holding Alex to sleep, while desperately searching for online help into the early hours. She found a thread on a mum’s forum, about a product called Skin Salvation. She was intrigued by Balmonds’ story, how it was founded out of director Natalie Balmond’s attempts to find a natural solution for her toddler’s painful eczema, and how Balmonds doesn’t use petrochemicals, parabens, SLS, PEGs, perfumes and colours that can irritate the skin.
“Lots of other mums had recommended it. I ordered Skin Salvation online there and then and tried it on Alex,” she said. “His skin improved within a week. The redness went down, it was less dry and looked healthier. Within two weeks of using it every day, Alex’s skin was really clear. You wouldn’t know he had eczema.”
After dreading Alex hurting himself while crawling, Pui and Danny couldn’t wait for him to take his first steps.
“Alex learning to walk was so emotional,” said Pui. “Seeing him be able to do all the things that he wanted to do as an independent baby, moving for himself, was amazing. We noticed such a difference in him. He was so much happier.”
Alex now has mild eczema on his face alone, but his parents say they are able to manage it with the Balmonds products they have used daily for the past two years.
“We use Skin Salvation every night as soon as he comes out of the bath,” said Pui.
“His body is eczema-free but we still like to keep it healthy and use it more for prevention.”
After a bath, they apply Skin Salvation to his face and nappy area, and on any dry patches on his body. Then they apply Balmonds Bath & Body Oil all over his body.
“I’d recommend Skin Salvation to anyone. Try it, and stick with it for a few weeks,” said Pui.
“I really think it helps to heal the skin, whereas the chemical-based creams are more about covering it up. It’s changed our life. I don’t know what we would have done if we hadn’t found this cream. We might still be on steroids. I put it on now and in a few days, it’s cleared up. Yes, steroids brought the eczema under control - they did the job in clearing up the infection - but Skin Salvation is a long-term solution. Even if he uses it every day for the rest of his life, we don’t mind as there’s nothing bad in it.”
Now Alex, who turns three in September, has enjoyed his first holiday in Portugal, and two happy birthday parties.
“He’s really fun-loving, playful and cheeky,” said Pui. “Life is so much easier now.”
She hopes doctors can be more open to recommending creams like Skin Salvation, which doesn’t contain nuts, soya, coconut, gluten or palm oil.
“Eczema is more than just dry itchy skin. For some, it can be so severe it can affect the livelihood of the whole family,” she said, adding her advice to other parents with a child with eczema.
“Always keep moisturised and continue to do so even after the eczema seems to have healed up, get food allergy tested with a dietician (we found out Alex had a gluten allergy), avoid chemicals and perfumes. And If the eczema starts getting out of hand, don’t be afraid to use steroid cream from the doctor, temporarily, to get it manageable and under control, and then I’d start weaning off and use Skin Salvation.
She added: “Watching him suffer, crying from wanting to scratch and him not being able to use his arms and hands freely was awful. One of the best things now he’s better is watching him playing in the bath, things that other people take for granted.
“He can paint, get his hands mucky with clay. He rides a scooter and balance bike. He’s a happy baby again.”
If you want to try Skin Salvation, you can buy it here.