Maggie O’Farrell: A follow-up to her articles on eczema

May 31, 2016

I have been amazed and touched by responses to the articles about my daughter’s eczema in the Guardian and Financial Times.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to get in touch with me, via the comments sections, email and Facebook.

It has been very moving to read accounts of other people’s struggles with this exhausting and debilitating condition. The advice and support given to me and my daughter has been wonderful; it is so heartening to know you are not alone.

Due to the volume of responses, I am unfortunately unable to reply to you all individually.  All the eczema sufferers and carers of eczema sufferers who have written in are very much in my thoughts, and I wish you all relief from the misery of this disease.

Many people have asked for details on what has worked for my daughter’s skin. I am happy to share these, below.

I should point out that I am not medically qualified and that I cannot make any promises for the regimen I devised for my daughter. Eczema is, as you will all probably know, a highly individual disease and what works for one person may not work for another. Please don’t suddenly ditch any medication you might be currently using. Switching over my daughter from steroids and NHS-emollient to my own creams (and a detergent-free household) was a carefully calibrated process that took place over a period of several months. Any changes to your current medication and routine should be made slowly and carefully and under the supervision of your doctor.

Here are the changes we made to our house:

  • Banned all detergent-based cleaning and laundry products. These included ostensibly ‘green’ and ‘natural’ ones. We now use only natural soap products for cleaning and laundry: I buy them all from a company called Violet’s Home Scents (http://www.homescents.co.uk/).
  • The whole family uses only pure olive-oil soap or castile soap for washing: check the fine print for any surfactants or chemicals that may have been used. Many things are labelled as ‘natural’ but are in fact far from it. Only buy the pure soap. For shampoo, I buy the solid bars from Funky Soap (http://www.funkysoapshop.com/), and we use a Dr Bronner’s rinse called Organic Citrus conditioning Hair Rinse (necessary, as washing your hair in soap can leave it feeling a bit sticky).

My daughter:

  • Sleeps with anti-allergy bedding covers, washed at a high temperature twice a week.
  • She uses a range of clothing and sleepwear from Cotton Comfort (http://www.eczemaclothing.com/).
  • The dermatological gloves which saved her skin when she was affected by severe eczema were from Skinnies (https://www.skinniesuk.com/). We also used their body suits over wet-wraps. These are available on prescription.
  • She bathes once a day in tepid water with a mixture of magnesium or Dead Sea salts and a tablespoonful of olive oil. A sock filled with oatmeal is also soothing.
  • We use 99.9 per cent aloe vera gel on any breakouts. I grow my own plants but also order big tubs from a company in South Wales called Naissance, which is also where I get the ingredients for my daughter’s homemade emollient (https://www.enaissance.co.uk).
  • My daughter takes daily supplements of omega oils, multi-vitamins, aloe vera juice, chlorella powder, and probiotics.

Heartfelt thanks once again for your responses. I wish you all the very best of luck.

Maggie O’Farrell, May 2016

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14 commments on “Maggie O’Farrell: A follow-up to her articles on eczema”

  • Hayley cairns says:

    Thank you for this no. I was so moved by your story and so impressed by your determination.

  • Antonia Secchi says:

    Many thanks Maggie. My 12 year old daughter is also a life-long sufferer of eczema. After years of steroid creams which make little difference and no discernible pattern to the flare ups we have ‘given up’ and now just try to keep her moisturized and comfortable. However, we are now going to try Chinese medicine.
    Would you consider having your home made cream made commercially? If it helps your child there is a good chance it could help others. There are a few local Edinburgh skincare companies specializing in small batches of products made with natural ingredients. Perhaps one of them would be willing to market it?
    Hope you will be at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year.
    Many thanks
    Antonia

    • Maggie O'Farrell says:

      I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter’s skin. I hope you manage to find something to make her comfortable. Twelve years is a long time to suffer from eczema…
      I am looking into the possibility of making my cream more widely available.
      All best,
      Maggie

      • Antonia Secchi says:

        Many thanks for replying, I’ve only just seen this. We are now going to try Dr Aron. He treats the Staphylococcus Aureus bacteria which most eczema sufferers seem to have an overgrowth of on the skin. Have you heard of him or tried his treatment? Best wishes.

  • Anni Kriesche says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Thanks also for mentioning Funky Soap! We try very hard to make healthy and affordable alternatives to commercial soap and shampoo. I have had experience with excema in my family as well and went down a similar route to you. I’m so glad it had a positive effect on your daughter and again thank you very much for sharing. Best wishes Anni (Funky Soap)

  • carole carrell says:

    Please tell Maggie that I had very bad facial problems. For the last 6 months I just wipe my face with a cotton wool pad dipped in water. I do not use soap, cleansers, moisturisers or anything other than that, even for removing makeup. My skin is now very good and quite unwrinkled, I am 72. I got the idea from my husband who has good skin and I realised that he just splashed his face with water and nothing else. Hope this helps

  • Kathryn Potts says:

    Thank you for this information about keeping eczema under control. I would be very interested in trying your home made emollient. if it ever comes on the market commercially, please sign me up for some. I realise many years of trials would need to be run before any pharmaceutical company would market it, however, I would still wish to be part of the trials, so will be grateful to be kept in touch. Thanks
    Kathryn

    • Maggie O'Farrell says:

      I’m working on it and will let you know if I’m able to make it more widely available. Thanks for your interest. All best to you, Maggie

  • Emma W says:

    Maggie, Thank you very much for this information. My little girl also suffers from terrible eczema. I was moved to tears by your article in the Guardian, and I immediately wanted more details of how you’d made the detergent-free/natural route work for your daughter. One thing I’d be interested to know (if you have time to reply) is whether you’ve ever tried/considered DermaSilk clothing for your daughter? We currently have it on prescription and it seems to improve matters, but then I’ve read on other websites that it’s incompatible with the detergent-free approach as it contains an anti-microbial agent which is detergent based. I hope your daughter keeps improving. All the best

    • Maggie O'Farrell says:

      So sorry to hear that your little girl suffers with eczema. We have tried DermaSilk products in the past but they didn’t seem to help my daughter much. I have talked to other people who have sworn by them but they didn’t work for us. We relied more on the Cotton Comfort clothes and the Skinnines suits and gloves (see above). I prefer to keep things as natural and ‘agent’-free as possible. All good wishes to you and your daughter. I am checking this page intermittently so please just post any other questions, if and when you have them. Good luck. All best, Maggie

  • odileellis says:

    my grand daughter Elena has severe exzema and her parents are very distressed and we are too . it is affecting the family because we care .

  • Helen says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I was googling your new book when I came across your Guardian article. My 6yo son also suffers from eczema, and while I wouldn’t describe it as “chronic” it can peak and trough pretty dramatically and we never get out of the cycle of steroids. I will look into all of your suggestions. Thank you so much, and I’m glad to hear that your daughter is so much more comfortable now.

  • Olive says:

    Hi Maggie,

    I came across your article after I had scoured through the solveevzema.org website. I am confused that my daughter has detergent related eczema as it is everywhere on her body except her diaper area. We have been detergent free for two weeks now (although I should note I always used true soap to wash her clothes with so she must be very sensitive to used clothing we have her in sometimes that’s been washed in detergent previously). Anyway I digress…I was wondering how long it took you to see results for your daughter? Ours has had some improvement for sure but I literally switched everything and cleaned our whole house so I thought I would see more of an improvement. It’s been only two weeks however…just wondering what your experience was. Thanks and great article.

  • Lita says:

    Apple cider vinegar diluted 1:10 in water will work with hair instead of that rinse to stop the hair stickiness thing. the smell melts away quickly, especially if you rinse with water afterwards.

    No soap, natural or otherwise) stops my scalp flaking, so I use bentonite clay to wash my hair. Relatively cheap and perfectly clean and hair scalp.

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