This is not a typical lifestyle ‘oh-I-need-this-expensive-cream-to-have-glowing-skin’ post.
I have had atopic eczema since I was a baby. It is a type of inflammation with the skin being itchy, dry and red. In my case, it has to do with our family history (my mum and my sister have it as well). It was most severe when I was growing up and it has gotten better in time. It can cause a lot of suffering though (terrible itchiness where you can’t think about anything else, people staring at you or asking if you are contagious, allergies,…). I know there are way worse illnesses, but it can sometimes stop you from enjoying your travels and make every day life a bit harder. There is no cure for it and there is no particular solution for everyone, you have to find out what works best for you.
Even though I am writing from my view with this particular skin condition, I think these tips might also help others to stay healthy on the road. I would also be very happy if you could share what has helped you 🙂
What has worked for me:
Travelling is fun and adventurous, but can sometimes be stressful (constantly moving, job search, homesickness, culture shock). It’s important to listen to yourself. If you feel stressed, slow down. Maybe spend some time in one place. If it works for you, try meditation or yoga. Be mindful – if you are stressed, concentrate on the present moment. Notice your breathe, the wind rustling in the leaves, listen to the waves of the ocean. Try and sleep enough.
Especially in hot places, do not forget to drink water. Same applies to flying as you dehydrate quickly and the air is extremely dry. I also pack some essentials in my carry-on luggage (hand lotion, mild cleaners, lip balm, face cream).
Develop a daily skin routine.
It took a long time for me to get a proper routine when it came to my skin. It just takes more time and I was always eager to get on the road as quickly as possible. This has changed now – if possible, I put on body lotion (or sometimes coconut oil) in the morning and in the evening. Even if your skin looks fine, keep doing it as it might reduce the severity of flare-ups. I use an unscented body lotion with evening primrose oil and shea butter Make sure you remove all make-up with a gentle cleanser and use a proper face cream.
Choose the right products.
Even though it makes my luggage heavier, I bring the most important body ointments and other cosmetics if I travel for a longer time. That way I don’t have to worry instantly that I have to try and find a pharmacy, try different products and make my skin even worse after a long flight. You have to try what works best for you. Definitely avoid normal soap though and choose a mild cleanser instead. Soap dries out your skin and makes it much more vulnerable.
Try avoiding cosmetics with fragrances as they can trigger flare-ups. I have also learnt that usually the longer the list of ingredients, it is more likely that I will react to one of them. Or there might be ‘nasties’ in them. I avoid dimethicones, butylparapen (preservatives), sodium laureth sulphates and cocamid DEA. For example, the New Zealand brand EcoStore has a list of products that might have health or environmental hazards (http://www.ecostore.co.nz/ingredients -> the nasty ones). Oh, and use sunscreen for sensitive skin or special sunscreen for reducing sun allergies.
Wear the right clothes.
I know there are so many beautiful clothes out there (I love second hand shops!), but try and keep the skin cold. Usually heat bothers the skin (for those with skin conditions), especially if you start to sweat. I mostly wear 100% cotton. Always wash new clothes. I love dresses, but often I choose some loose fitting soft cotton pants instead as it’s just more comfortable and keeps my skin from stressing out.
Gut health and diet.
This is a difficult one. I have some food allergies and they often trigger a flare-up. If I eat raw tomatoes, I know I’ll get problems with my lips. Everyone is different and everyone reacts differently to food. If you do have time, write a little food diary – write down what you ate and write down every flare up. That helps to determine which foods to avoid. I take probiotics and feel that this helps with my immune system and therefore with my skin. I also try to avoid too much cow’s milk products and sugar (sugar definitely triggers eczema for me) as well as spicy food (makes my skin itchy). I don’t eat meat, so I can’t say much about that. I know, It’s so easy to eat junk food when you’re on the road – it’s quick and cheap. But when I can, I try and see the food as investment in my health. I do not buy the most expensive food, although I try and buy fresh food most of the time (I love avocados). For me, fermented foods seem to help as well (good for the bacteria in your stomach, like sauerkraut and kefir) and miso soups.
If you have struggled for a while and the skin conditions seems to get worse and worse (this has definitely happened to me during my travels. While I try and think about something else, I am then constantly bothered by the itchiness of my skin), make use of your travel insurance. Seek a doctor who can subscribe something (sometimes it just won’t heal by itself as there might be a bacterial or even a fungal infection (oh yes, I’ve been there and it has little to do with personal hygiene, more with your immune system being down). Sometimes I should have gotten help way earlier as it would have made it much easier.
Travel with the right people.
Usually I don’t talk much about my atopic eczema to strangers or new friends (most of the time, you can barely see that there is something wrong with my skin), however if I get a flare up, I can’t really avoid it. I do not want to be seen as a helpless victim, but as I said my skin routine in the morning/evening takes some time and sometimes I can’t push myself to do everything as it might inflame my skin further and I feel stressed. Travel with friends who are understanding and not with some who think you have an imaginary condition (until they actually see what a bad flare up looks like). Hey, in return for their patience I might cook for them 😉
Take your time to get used to a new climate.
This is a big thing for me. Usually when I keep travelling somewhere new every day, my skin is bothered and has little chance to recover, unless the climate is quite mild. So sometimes I have a little time out and stay in a region for longer. This seems to help a lot. Also, you get to know more than just the usual tourist attractions 🙂
See 4, 5 and 6.
Okay, so this might not be for everyone. My skin gets so much better when I swim in the ocean every day (I do avoid chlorine swimming pools). It might get worse at first, but then it gets much better after a few days. Just don’t forget to put on emollients/lotions after. When I’m not near the ocean, I like to take baths with dead sea salt if possible.
Before I go travelling, I make sure that I have some topical steroid cream prescribed by my doctor. I do not like using them, but they reduce eczema inflammation, so it helps if I’ve got swelling and redness.
Please note that I am not a doctor or working in the medical field, but I wanted to share what has helped me, especially when I was travelling as I couldn’t find much information when I needed it. Some things that work well for some, might have no effect on others. Flying or change in weather/climate makes it often more difficult to manage your skin. For example, my skin did not like the Queensland weather (humidity) and I had red dots all over my body – sleeping in a tent and constantly moving, there was no time to acclimatize, so in the end I had to go to a doctor. I often had smaller flare-ups as well and fortunately could manage these quite well.
Do not let skin problems ruin your adventures, be thankful for your body, trust in the journey and do not be afraid to seek help. Happy travels!
P.S. If you are going to travel in Australia, I would be happy to give you recommendations of the products I used, so maybe you can avoid spending a lot of money in pharmacies trying to figure out what works well.