Pretty Imperfect Profile: Samantha Shepard Talks About Her Eczema
Samantha got in touch with me last month to let me know she’d discovered my blog, and that she was also suffering from a skin condition; eczema. She’s also a mom, with two young daughters that both have small patches of eczema. She blogs at household-hero.com about household finance and budgeting tips, but she agreed to answer some of my questions about her journey with eczema, and how she’s dealing with her daughters’ understanding of the condition.
Name: Samantha Shepard
Lives: Texas, USA
When were you first affected by eczema?
My family physician informed me I had eczema about 16 years ago after I found a spot on my upper arm in high school, wow that makes me feel old.
What impact did it have on you when you found out?
Not much, I used a cream she gave me and it went away. It was sporadic like that for the next 10 years or so. My skin started to get worse when I was about 25 and then took a big dive after I had my first child when I was 29.
What impact has it had on your life?
Mostly it has forced me to educate myself on how my skin works, the triggers I have and how ingredients are a big key. I have to be extremely diligent about avoiding certain ingredients, fragrances and harsh chemicals. When I didn’t pay attention my skin was very rough, scaly and red. Makeup just made it worse and made me feel less attractive. With a job in a formal corporate environment, going without makeup wasn’t something I was comfortable with either. For several years I just had this horrible relationship with myself. I hated the way I looked but felt so powerless to change it.
In 2008 we moved and a big change came when I started working from home. I didn’t feel the need to put on a pretty face of makeup every day. I saw a big change after my skin had a chance to breathe. Then after I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome in January of 2011 I finally had a place to start. I started to understand what was going on internally that affected my skin. Now, I am more aware than ever of the horrible things we put on our skin and how it affects our health.
How were you diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, and what is it?
I had a great relationship with my doctor and went in for an annual physical. I told her I felt tired and like I couldn’t drink enough water. I also was having a hard time with my eyes. I asked her if I could be suffering from allergies (itchy, dry eyes, tired… seemed to make sense to me). She asked me some more questions and thought that I might be dealing with a food allergy. She ran some blood tests to rule some things out. As I was walking to the lab, she caught up with me and wrote on my lab orders “ANA” which is a test for Anti-Nuclear Antibodies. It’s not a common blood test but if it is higher than normal it would indicate I had an autoimmune disorder. It was a hunch she had. She was right. I was diagnosed by a Rheumatologist about 2 months later.
Sjogren’s is an autoimmune disorder that my Rheumatologist refers to as the “little sister” of Lupus. We all have immune systems that fight off infections and keep us healthy. Autoimmune diseases cause your body to get mixed up and mistake healthy tissue for something it wants to destroy. Depending on your disease is where it attacks. Mine is Sjogren’s so it attacks glands that make saliva, tears, etc. I exhibit the hallmark symptoms of having persistent dry mouth, dry eyes and very dry skin. In the grand scheme of things it is an annoyance that I can manage relatively easily at this point. There are increased risks to being pregnant and I may eventually have to deal with problems in my kidneys or something more serious. For now, I’m just a mom with a bottle of water at all times and really dry skin.
Your daughters both have eczema, how will you help them deal with it?
Since their patches come and go, like mine did when I was younger, I don’t have the heartache that many moms out there with children with severe eczema. Ours is manageable and I hope that they just grow out of it. I think regardless of their skin problems as they grow up, I will make sure they understand the dangers of using products with tons of chemicals and preservatives in it.
Eczema is horrible but many products that people use commonly have ingredients that cause cancer. You have to read labels. If you wouldn’t eat it, you probably shouldn’t put it on your skin. That’s the message I want to make sure they understand.
Any favorite treatments or products for your skin?
I am in love with Suki Skin Pure Facial Moisture oil. It is phenomenal. I also have an unhealthy obsession with lip treatments. At any given time I have 2-5 lip balms in my pocket or purse. Right now it is Hurraw! Grapefruit and Sprout Vegan Peppermint.
What’s the one thing you’ve learned about yourself from having eczema?
I learned that I am a rebel. It’s very easy for a Dr. to give you a prescription to treat a symptom. I accepted it at first. Then one day I looked in my bathroom and saw this wall of white prescription bottles. I wasn’t just using one, I was using at least 10. Forget all the money I was spending, just the amount of times I was exposing myself to a steroid made me sit up and say “there has to be another way”.
I rebelled and started doing research into natural ways I could treat my problems. I still go to the dermatologist and the long list of other specialists that I’m supposed to visit on a regular basis, but I don’t just mindlessly take the prescription paper and walk out. I ask a lot of questions and I challenge my doctors to help me manage my symptoms naturally. It’s not always an easy conversation but in the end, it’s my health.
You can also follow Samantha on Twitter.