We’re very pleased to host a guest blog by Louise King, who was key in setting up the This Is Not Eczema campaign to raise awareness of the condition.
Before I realised what Topical Steroid Addiction (aka red skin syndrome or RSS) was, I had decided it was time to treat my eczema naturally with food changes. I stumbled across a gentleman on Instagram named the ‘Medical Medium’. He claimed you could cure most chronic illness with a modified vegan diet and daily morning juices. As I kept digging, I found a few smiley selfies of women who had cured their ‘Topical Steroid Addiction’ with his guidance.
This is how I realised it was steroid creams which were making my skin worse and worse each year, and opened up a world of impending doom - aka Topical Steroid Withdrawal.
My boyfriend is vegan and I had already heard (many times) how impactful these food choices are for general health, so I ditched the creams and embarked on my TSW journey following this particular diet.
It took a couple of months into TSW for me to realise that this diet (or perhaps any diet) wasn’t going to cut the mustard for healing my very severe, no-longer-eczema but in fact steroid-damaged skin. But if you are interested in managing your chronic illness with food, do check out @medicalmedium on Instagram for many happy success stories.
If I could go back in time, I wish I had treated my skin naturally, rather than slapping on harmful steroid creams which would eventually make me very poorly. It’s important to investigate the real cause of the issue. There has been a lot of science researching the effects of gut health on skin over the last 40 years and this idea seems to be growing in popularity over the past few years. Some swear by probiotics for their glowing skin. In fact, I grew up in Jersey in the Channel Islands and drank thick Jersey cow milk most days as a child. What might have made my bones stronger was probably not beneficial to my skin health.
Although I was being told by doctors and specialists the whole time that my eczema was hereditary and could only be treated with medication, I naively never even considered that what I was putting in my mouth could be worsening my condition. Here’s some extra reading on the link between gut health and your skin.
However, with all the above being said, I’m not convinced that you can cure TSW with a diet alone: TSW and eczema are two different things. But I do believe you can limit the symptoms of the withdrawal and improve overall health with simple diet changes. Many have sworn by diets such as ‘The Eczema Diet’ (by Karen Fischer) to help TSW by eliminating itch-inducing foods, commonly referred to as ‘triggers’.
I realised early into TSW that tomatoes caused my steroid-damaged skin to become incredibly itchy – something I hadn’t experienced before. Karen Fischer’s book focuses on removing foods containing salicylates – like tomatoes - which are known to cause flare-ups in those sensitive to them. There goes my favourite tipple: red wine, absolutely full of them! No wonder my hangovers were always accompanied by a flare up… Fischer identifies other food triggers such as the nightshade group of vegetables. These include my nemesis – tomatoes - as well as bell peppers, potatoes and other commonly used veggies which can cause further inflammation in the body. It’s good practice to try and avoid them if you are suffering from any skin condition.
Here’s a full list of the little buggers.
My personal advice would be the following: get a blood test done to determine exactly what you are sensitive to. You can normally request one through your dermatologist.
I had one done aged 21 which showed that I had intolerances to wheat and soya, both of which make me sick. It wasn’t until I was in TSW that my doctor reminded me of how allergic I was to them. Of course I’d forgotten this information at 21 and naively continued to eat them for the next 7 years… oops!
Another good practice for any skin sufferer is to create a food diary and log each meal along with any new itches or rashes found that day. This will help discover those pesky triggers and with avoidance help ease extra irritation. Unless you are like me and decide the cheese sandwich you are craving might just be worth the extra itch!
Louise charts her TSW journey on Instagram @louigi.skin
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.