Thursday, 22 April 2010
Cured (and coincidentally Green)
I'm allergic to a lot of things. Technically I react badly only to nickel and formaldehyde, but in reality just about any commercial cleaning product causes a rash on my skin.
It builds up, too. As a child I don't recall being particularly bothered with itches, but one summer holiday, when I was about 20, my feet became blistered all over from walking in salty sea water. From then on, my skin became more and more sensitive, and constant exposure to printing ink at art school didn't help. I'd wake up in the middle of the night to find I'd scratched my hands till they were bleeding (and then spend 1/2 an hour with my hands in the freezer, to try to numb the itching). I couldn't chop tomatoes without wearing gloves. My own sweat caused blisters. I even got a rash inside my eyelids from a reaction to a contact lens solution. When I worked in a shop, I looked like a mummy, my fingers covered in plasters to hide the blisters - counting money all day is not a good idea when you're allergic to nickel!
Jewelery, watches and cosmetics were out of the question. Shaving, too - luckily I was going through a phase that involved Doc Martens and home haircuts. I spent a fortune on special soaps and creams, mostly cortisone, though I had to be careful there; one prescription ointment inflamed my skin so badly that I couldn't bend my fingers. There didn't seem to be any way to avoid all of the things that were dangerous. I mean, you have to wash your hair!
It took about 5 years to get to the worst point, and it's taken about 5 years to get it under control again (after several years of extreme sensitivity). Now I can slice lemons, wipe sweat off my face, get ink on my hands, even use the toxic liquid soaps some people insist on keeping in their bathrooms, if there's nothing else around. It's been trial-and-error, but what I think has happened is that I've increased my skin's tolerance to bad things by limiting my exposure to the worst offenders.
The first thing I learned was to moisturise itchy skin, although that seems counter-intuitive when you have weeping blisters all over your hands. But believe me, the rash will heal faster. Coconut oil does the trick! It's the best moisturiser I've ever used.
A bag of rooibos tea in the bath every night is the next line of defense. Rooibos soothes inflamed skin amazingly well. (You can drink it too, the tea, not the bath water, if you can handle the taste of it.)
Throw away all cleaning products and detergents - use bicarbonate of soda, vinegar, and plain soap instead. I use bars of blue soap, the cheapest kind - there's a blob of it on the left hand side in the photo. It stinks, but it cleans the dishes. Oh, and I threw out my rubber gloves, too, because I got a rash from them. With these ingredients, rubber gloves ceased to be necessary.
Don't use fabric softener, and use the simplest washing powder you can find.
Make your own deodorant. (This post on How about orange has a good recipe.) I've been using this for more than a year, all the way through a very hot summer, and it works better than any commercial product. I'd use it even if I wasn't allergic at all.
And washing your hair? Don't. I tried the bicarb wash method for a bit, but it dried my hair out badly. Now I just use water, and apple cider vinegar for the occasional rinse. Coconut oil on the ends if it seems dry. (I've never had good hair, till now. Suddenly it has body, behaves itself... it's never going to look like a shampoo ad, but how often do you see that anyway? If all the shampoos did all the things they were supposed to, we'd be constantly blinded by the shimmer and shine coming off everyone's heads.)
Soap... now there's a tricky one. Pears was wonderful, but since they've changed the recipe, I'm on the hunt again. Good soap has probably been one of the most important things in fixing my skin. I tried a few other soaps recently, when I found out about Pears going over to the Dark Side, and although they were low on ingredients and 'safe' and 'natural', they stung. Maybe not on the first use, but by the third or fourth I felt that familiar itchiness. I'm planning to try making my own soap.... I have to, because I've started to get into the habit of wearing jewelery again. Cheap jewelery. Made from nickel. Just because I can.
And the Green bit? It just happened. Turns out all these things I don't use anymore weren't just bad for me; they're pretty bad for everybody.