There’s nothing more powerful than a good story. Stories are how we make sense of the world, how we reflect and challenge our reality.
One set of stories we don’t hear much in our Instagram-flawless world are those of people with chronic skin conditions. That’s a real shame because those who suffer from eczema and other long-term skin issues can feel horribly different and alone when surrounded by picture-perfect bodies and heavily-filtered selfies.
So Balmonds has published a series of interviews with real people to give a voice to those with troubled skin. We’re going to be exploring how they manage their skin condition, what does and doesn’t work for them, the emotional challenges they face, and their experiences of getting appropriate care. No airbrushing, no sweetening the pill: this is eczema uncovered.
Today we're talking with Ben Scammels, a graphic designer from Brighton, about his experience of living with eczema. We’ve also got a video interview with Ben: you can view it here.
Balmonds: Hi Ben! Can you give me a little bit of background to your eczema story? Did you grow up with eczema?
Ben: I've had eczema since I was a child; my dad had it quite severely so I figure it’s hereditary. When I was younger I used to get flare ups on the back of my knees and inside of elbows and hands and as I got older it developed in different places and changed seasonally. I’ve had times where my skin is OK and times when I have all body inflammation and quite bad outbreaks.
What products have you used?
It’s always been what a GP recommended, so mainly steroid creams and a moisturizer like e45 or aqueous cream. More recently, as I’ve steered away from steroids and standard moisturisers, I’ve started to use more natural products, change my diet (avoiding sugars, dairy etc) and I’ve even tried CBD oils (orally and on my skin). I’ve also finally been referred to a dermatologist and have been put on Methotrexate (an auto-immune suppressant), which has been a miracle cure. I’m not sure if it’s a long-term solution, and I don’t think it works for everyone, but it's been great for me.
What was your experience with using conventional eczema treatments?
They would work for a while then you would become immune to them and have to cycle through various steroids creams or stronger creams. Sometimes they would clear up a break out but if they didn’t work in the first two weeks they never seemed to have any effect.
So I know you’ve used Balmonds after having it recommended to you by a friend: what was your experience with Skin Salvation ointment?
I put it on overnight as recommended; it had a dual effect of knocking off the inflammation whilst providing a decent, reasonably-heavy cover of moisturizer. However, at first I was reluctant to use it on its own as I thought steroids were still necessary (when you’re in a flare-up, you don’t want to take chances!) but I woke up and felt the difference the next morning. I still use it if my skin is bad.
In your video, you talk about having a really terrible experience on holiday one time, being hospitalised with skin infections in India; it’s not something that everyone would know could happen to such a dramatic extent. Apart from the more obvious physical effects of the condition, what’s the one thing that you wish people knew about living with eczema?
To be honest, most people will say “it doesn’t look as bad as you think!” when they realise how over-sensitive you are to having it. I think they should know that its severity can be massive. I’ve avoided work, cut off holidays and generally avoided showing my skin and being around people when it’s been bad. It’s a skin condition that has a social and psychological effect because it's how people see you.
We always ask people how they manage their condition, because it may be that fellow-sufferers are missing a trick! What are your top tips for coping with eczema?
- First off, do your homework! Explore and research what might be happening to your body, but be prepared to hear a variety of conflicting opinions! I still don’t personally know exactly what is happening but I think I’m getting closer to understanding.
- Be persistent in getting support. I had to force my GP to refer me to a dermatologist; they were so reluctant to do it and when the dermatologist finally saw me they were astonished that I hadn’t been referred 20 years ago. So I have little faith in GPs now. It’s a complicated condition and I think if you have it bad and it affects you then you deserve time with a specialist. But I’ve also sought advice beyond the NHS.
- Look below the surface. Understand that eczema is not just a problem with your skin; it might be dietary and lifestyle as well. Stress hormones, diet, allergic responses, environment and topical conditions may all play a part too, so you may need to work out a combined approach.
Here's a video interview with Ben: