Thursday, September 13, 2012

Update on Sammy's Skin: The Learning Curve

In the past 6 weeks or so since I last posted about Sam's miracle healing, I've been riding the learning curve. After our initial success it was tempting to feel as though we'd 'made it' and that the hard part was over. I'd imagined that things would be so easy moving forward. I have since learned you never really 'make it' when it comes to this kind of eczema.  In some ways, maintenance has been easier than the initial work required to get his skin clear, and I'm told it will definitely get easier in the future as Sam gets older and his skin becomes naturally less permeable.  But I did make the mistake initially of slacking off once we got rid of the eczema, thinking that I could let vacuuming and house keeping slide just a little since he  did not seem to be reacting as readily to detergents.   

The problem with slacking off is that detergent levels rise very quickly when left unchecked.  No matter how much I reduce the detergent levels in our home, the levels are always going to be so much higher everywhere else we go or visit.  Whether it is the grocery store, a clothing or toy store, Grandma's house, the library, a friend's house, a homeschool science class at the nature center, or the park playground, all of us are coming home tracking in that detergent dust on our clothing, skin, and hair and then leaving trails behind on everything we touch at home.  Technically, to keep on top of things I really need to continue vacuuming every other day (if not daily!) and regularly wiping down surfaces to get rid of those dusts we track in to prevent them from accumulating and becoming problematic for Sam. We should all be changing our clothing as soon as we come inside, putting on 'safe house clothes' and washing our hands and arms to minimize what is tracked in. 

As you can see this is definitely a huge lifestyle change requiring a great deal of vigilance. I discovered that I was not staying on top of detergent levels well enough the hard way when, a few weeks ago, Sam's arms began to breakout more readily at home when he would push his sleeves up during the day. It got to the point where they would turn red even before they had significantly contacted any surface, just from being exposed to the air,  which told me there was too much detergent dust present and flying around. The rest of his body remained (and still remains) entirely clear so this arm eczema is a minor issue comparatively, but still bothersome because I know I can do better.

Once I realized I was slacking and needed to drastically reduce our detergent levels again, I went on another crazed vacuuming and washing spree like I'd done the first time around, only this time including many areas I had actually neglected the first time.  In June I focused mostly on exterior surfaces Sam could touch. This time I went further, including higher and interior surfaces as well. This extended to taking every item out of kitchen cupboards and washing down the insides and outsides with  a soap/water spray (followed by a vinegar/baking soda spray to prevent scum) inside and outside of the fridge, sucking the dust off every individual knick-knack, vacuuming and washing windows, doors, door frames, baseboards, I even 'vacuumed' every inch of wall ceiling to floor with a flat attachment (certainly walls collect a layer of dust too?),  removed hundreds of books from our bookshelf and vacuumed each one to suck off the dust, washed down all the bathrooms again... etc. Pretty much ANYTHING that might have detergent dust or residues that could be spread around I tried to wash or vacuum. 

After all of this, his arms are significantly better. He is still getting eczema on them but that's okay. They really only bother me because the rest of him is very clear and eczema-free. Luckily the washing every night with soap and applying the ointment prevents it from ever getting out of control.  So overall, I feel satisfied that we've retained our progress. I suspect that our carpet is such an overwhelming influence that no matter how much I clean everything else, we'll always have the issue of the carpet puffing up some amount of dust from under the pad and causing the eczema to exposed skin. SolveEczema.Org  actually recommends removing carpets if possible for full implementation of the detergent-removal methods.  If we had wood or linoleum floors instead of this awful old carpet I can't get rid of,  I'm sure the cleaning I've done would be that much more effective and we could let him wear regular shorts and t-shirts and not have to worry so much. 

Sam lives in the footed pants and opening-mitten shirts from this website and also some awesome outfits from here.  These create a safe barrier between his skin and the carpet, allowing him to stay clear where he is clothed. You might wonder why I even bother cleaning anything else if I have to worry so much about our carpet, but I do think reducing our detergent levels as much as possible makes a huge difference. I've noticed when he is at someone else's house his clothing becomes more easily saturated with dusts.  I know this because later he will have developed a  light spotty eczema under his clothes that he doesn't get at home.  He also tends to break out on his face, neck and gets puffy around the eyes which does not happen at home either.   Pulling his pants down to change his diaper at any other house might mean itchy leg eczema from just that brief exposure, but he is not effected by numerous diaper changes on our carpet at home. The overall levels make such a difference.  (See the Bucket Analogy for Allergy)

It has become very tricky to make extended visits with friends or family because of these type of exposures. I do not intend to be anti-social but I do find myself turning down more invitations that require Sam to be in another person's home for any significant amount of time. Hopefully as he gets older and is less prone to break outs I will not have to worry about this so much. It's just that when we make house calls and he comes home with eczema, it can take a few days for him to heal.  Prescription medication isn't really any option anymore either.  I am committed to never using steroids again if I can absolutely help it!   I have learned that many steroid creams contain detergents as an inert ingredient and overall make the skin more permeable and susceptible to the irritant with every application. In the short term they might suppress symptoms but in the long run they can only make things worse. 

I am hoping to avoid having to do any future massive cleaning overhauls like I did last week by getting into a regular schedule of vacuuming and wiping down surfaces. My goal is to vacuum every other day at least and also wipe down exterior surfaces with soap or a vinegar wash, switching between upstairs and downstairs surfaces every other day. I hope this will make this maintenance phase easier... of course that means I have to somehow muster the discipline to stick with it... hmmm. 

Lest I give the impression that this transition to a detergent-free home and an eczema-free Sam has been all tedious work and worry, I want to copy an excerpt from a letter I sent recently to a friend, highlighting the most wonderful part of this whole journey. This letter contains some rather sensitive personal content, but I've decided to post it here largely unedited in hopes of presenting a more honest portrayal of our experience, and hopefully encouraging others who might feel similarly that  better days are within reach :

Regarding Sam- yes I think you are right, and I hadn't really thought about it, but when you mentioned his skin looking even healthier than when on steroids (and that it looked kind of flat and pale before) I had to go back and look at photos and there is clearly a difference. That steroid skin that I always thought was so beautiful (because it was the only 'clear' I knew) was nothing, nothing compared to this truly healthy skin. I see children all over the internet everyday, some clear into their teens and STILL with terrible eczema, and I nearly want to cry at times thinking that we've managed to find ourselves numbered among the  "lucky few" who have found a working solution, and so early on.  My heart literally aches when I think of all those others.  
 I love seeing Sam this way, without eczema, with healthy skin. I feel like this is my REAL boy! I  always was so determined to find a solution for him, but I really thought it would be tweaking his diet just right, I never ever in a million years would have suspected what it turned out to be.  
It wasn't just Sam's skin that healed as a result of following []. I feel like our whole family life is healing now.  I was so depressed for so long when I realized around Sam's first birthday that he'd been on steroids for 8 months and his skin was just getting worse and worse. I felt so helpless. I spent every ounce of energy looking into finding a solution for him. It was all I could think about -despite many other priorities that needed attending to- and I tried so many things. I blew our budget nearly every month on this diet and that, purchasing special allergy-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc health foods and just obsessed over my youngest son, even to the neglect of my two older children.  I simply could not give them as much of myself, I was so drained, they were both acting out in ways that were out of character I think because they must have felt that I wasn't really 'present' with them. We were all miserable. Even my marriage was beginning to suffer because of the amount of time I was giving to this endeavor. Honestly I think my husband preferred me to keep applying the topical steroids to Sam if it meant we could pretend the eczema didn't exist. 
I think back on that mess, it was such a dark, difficult time... while I am a person of deep faith, and I prayed so long and hard, I am not the type who is very good at "putting on a happy face" or maintaining my serenity in times of trial, I take things too personally... and I take too much responsibility on myself to ensure those around me are happy and well and taken care of, so I was simply not functioning.  
For the past few weeks, our life has felt a lot more... "normal".   Finding a solution to Sam's eczema freed up so much time for me, no longer having to search for answers.   I'm doing more with my kids now...  I am getting more rest, and I don't feel so helpless regarding Sam's skin. Last Saturday we spent the day together as a  family, we all went to the pet store to see the animals, to north UGA campus to walk around (my husband works for University of GA) and  then out to eat. I realized, it was the first time I was out enjoying my family where I wasn't completely preoccupied with Sam's skin.  I looked around and saw everyone, including Sam, smiling and laughing, and realized that for that moment at least I was carefree. Though I was curious how his skin would react to the animals (he'd never been to a pet store before!) I didn't obsess, because I knew if he broke out a lot or even a little, we could take care of it quickly and effectively.  
Now that Sam's skin is clear, we've been able to add every food back into his diet, except for tree nuts and peanuts. For the longest time, that kid did not have a bite of any fun foods such as cookie, or ice cream, or pizza (not that he needs any of those things!) but that also meant his siblings didn't get those things either. We had to be fair. And my daughter, who is 6, would often ask "Why does Sam have to have eczema? Is he always going to have it? Because its not fun! We never get to do anything fun or even get treats because of Sam."  And now when we go to the grocery store, they get to eat kid cookies from the bakery, and that is the best thing in the world to them.  Sam is still getting used to this business of getting treats. You should see his face when I hand him a cookie! His mouth and eyes gape open in amazement and his little face nearly shakes with excitement! It is one of my favorite things. What a terrific discovery to find out he was not allergic to all the foods we thought he was after all. 
One starfish on the sand... no... an entire family! ... Every person in my family has been blessed.
It's true- despite the hard work involved and the hyper-paranoia over long visits away from home, I feel incredibly blessed to have been literally handed the knowledge to know how to heal my son's skin, how to predict and prevent break-outs, and remedy them when they occur.  I wish this kind of power and change in perspective for every parent who has a child with eczema.  I know how very helpless it feels to be on the other side of this.   If you are needing help and not sure where to start with using Solve Eczema .Org,  please visit a brand new Solve Eczema User's Forum at  I am sincerely hoping that within 6 months time we can see the category for Success Stories completely full of testimonials and photos of babies and children with healthy, eczema free skin.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Detergent-free products I use at home

I am frequently asked by other parents of children with eczema which detergent-free products we are using for everything, so here's the breakdown. You might be surprised to discover that all of these products you use in your home normally contain sodium laurel sulfate - a major skin and tissue irritant- or another form of detergent in them when purchased off the shelf from a regular store. I had no idea detergent went beyond my laundry and dish products before I started this journey, but we've really had to search beyond our local stores for detergent-free alternatives for all of these common household products.  It is important for us to be fully detergent-free, because even retaining one favorite product such as commercial hair gel would result in a continual source of 'detergent dust' created by flaking hair and scalp cells, which then causes the eczema.  (Kids with this "allergy" really are that sensitive!)

By the way, I am not affiliated with and of the manufacturers or companies that sell these products, and I don't get anything from 'advertising' for them. These are just my personal favorite products - the ones I actually use at home for maintaining Sam's skin.  My entire family uses these products, because Sam's skin is that sensitive and its not worth the risk to have even trace detergents if we can help it. I am providing the links through which I usually buy for your ease. But feel free to shop around for the best prices. You might even find some of these locally if you have a Whole Foods or other health food store in your town. 

Laundry  - Cal Ben Seafoam

Hand Dish Washing -   Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild Liquid Castile Soap  in a dish wand  or just vinegar/water or water/baking soda.

Automatic Dishwasher  -  I have used and recommend Cal Ben Destain if you like pre-made. However, after running out I now use this homemade borax-free dish soap recipe just because its simple and inexpensive and I don't need to order online. The recipe calls for a liquid soap and I use Dr. Bronner's for that.

Shampoo  - Cal Ben Five Star Shampoo.   I hate to say, nothing quite compares to detergent-based shampoo and conditioner. This is something I did bc I knew the detergent dust from my hair was inflaming my baby's face. I was never 100% happy with the results of soap-based hair products but I made this switch for my child.   There will be a time you may be able to go back to a very mild detergent shampoo, when your child is older and the eczema is healed, usually with age they become less susceptible.

For Hands and Body  -  Sappo Hill Natural Unscented bars   (also search on Amazon)
( I looooove this soap so much! I just purchased 25 additional bars after going through the first 10 my sister-in-law bought me and I was as giddy as a kid at Christmas when they arrived. We use them on hands, body, face, they are amazing.)  (Note added 2016: STILL using this soap. For 3 years I used it on Sam almost daily.  Its my favorite.)

Apple cider vinegar diluted with water in a spray bottle, spray on after shampoo, leaves hair silky soft when dry!

Aquaphor Ointment has worked the best for Sam while he's been healing.  We've tried so many other lotions and moisturizers, and this truly works best as a barrier cream  (applying creamy or oily lotions everyday to dry skinwill backfire and just cause more dryness).  If you suspect your little one's eczema may be infected, adding a small amount (start w/ just 1/2 tsp)  of Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar to a small container of Aquaphor and mix. Apply this on your child after each bath.  (My local grocery store carries this)

I honestly don't use any lotions right now. My skin used to be so, so, so severely dry that I would never have believed I could go even two days without moisturizer. I always hated how dry my skin felt coming out of a bath.   After ditching detergent products and switching to true soap, I find my skin is so 'normal' feeling I don't need any moisturizer at all. I know this is contrary to what you've always heard- that soap is drying. Usually a soap is dry because it either contains detergents (and therefore is not really and truly soap) or has been over-saponified. Traditional soap has chemical properties that are so very similar to that of our human skin barrier, unlike synthetic detergent molecules which are a different shape and protrude from the barrier causing permeability and moisture loss.  Just keep in mind that humans used true soaps for thousands of years without the widespread skin problems and eczema we see today. Detergents were only introduced in the 1950's- and that same decade is also where history records the first significant jump in cases of eczema. 

For Cleaning
I keep two spray bottles handy. One has a TBS of  Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild Liquid Castile Soap mixed with a full spray bottle of water,  the other one has water with a little bit of vinegar.  I probably don't need both but after I clean a surface with soap I like to follow with the vinegar to prevent and slick soap scum build-up.  For tough stains and soils, try baking soda and water on a spot, let it sit, then scrub. The amazon link is an expensive price, I have found this at my local grocery much cheaper. 

Crystal or Salt Stone Deodorant is as natural as it gets and is good if you are not going to be very active. I'll be the first to admit though, it isn't the most effective if you're moving around and breaking a sweat.   I haven't found my favorite yet but if you go to Skin Deep Cosmetic Database and search "deodorants", any of those with a 0 to 1 rating should be safe options to try. 

Hair Gel
Right now Adam uses 98% pure Aloe Vera Gel. Really anything natural and gel like will work. You can also search 'hair gel alternatives' on the web and turn up some fun recipes. You could also search the Skin Deep Cosmetic Database for hair gel and again, look for a 0 to 1 product rating.

Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild Liquid Soap
When we first started I was using a bottle of Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild Liquid Castile Soap for almost everything, but since Sam really didn't make much visual improvements in the beginning, I wasn't sure if it was the right product for us and quickly moved onto other products. However now that his skin is clear I've tried the Dr. B's again with no reaction so I am sure this is a good product to use for many aspects of going detergent-free. It's also probably one of the most readily available and economical options, they carry it at most of the stores here locally. I've even heard of people brushing their teeth with it!  I recently read a review from a users   who used it as a laundry soap, just a little squirt with a 1/4 cup washing soda.  It can also be used for cleaning, as shampoo, body wash, hand soap, floors, and probably a lot of other things I'm not thinking of. 

Save Money: Make Your Own Detergent-Free Products
I love all the products listed above that we've used, but most of them I've had to order online and pay for shipping, and now that I'm starting to run out of some things I may try to make my own detergent free products. I've found quite a few recipes online that look easy and would probably save a lot of money. If you need to pinch pennies and are feeling ambitious, try an online search for "all natural personal products" or  "all natural cleaning products".  

*The last product remaining in our home that I haven't switched out yet is my make-up. Cosmetics do contain detergents as well (which is likely one reasons many older women get facial and eyelid dermatitis... I'm just guessing).  Luckily I wear so very little so I've compromised to wear it just when going out and keep my face washed in the house.  Detergent-free cosmetics are out there but the ones I have seen are ex-pen-sive!