Just the other day I got the following email from Amanda Mitchell in Calgary:
I came across your blog, which was really interesting and dermographia doesn’t seem as rare as I was led to believe. I’ve had this condition for a number of years, and it first originated when I moved from our small rural acreage to the city. The first trigger was blotchy skin and eczema, which I had never had before in my life. The blotches I noticed after showering and thought it was related to chemicals used to treat the water (we had well water growing up), and the eczema was related to perfumes in our laundry detergent (mainly fabric softener). Soon certain foods caused blotches and welts if I touched the food and then touched my neck, face, etc. Pineapple, strawberries, and ground cherries were the worst. I also experienced the skin-writing phenomena.
Along with these symptoms, I developed allergies that I had never had as a child. It started with sick building syndrome at my college which was a new construction (doctors attribute it to poor ventilation and residual construction dust). I experienced hayfever for two summers (which has since gone away by spending more time outdoors again), have snow mold allergies some springs, and have respiratory reactions to stale cigarette smoke and air conditioning units that are not properly maintained or cleaned.
Over the last few years, we have been eating more organic and using fewer chemicals for cleaning in our house. I think my welts from the strawberries was related to pesticides , since I do not get welts when I eat strawberries from the organic store or those grown in our garden. Since I moved cities, I don’t get blotchy skin as often from bathing, and I started using less perfumed products for laundry, and use moisturizers and lotions made by a local lady using beeswax and other natural oils and scents, which has helped my skin a lot and reduced the severity of the skin writing. Fish and flax oil supplements also help reduce eczema symptoms over time.
Because I’m an environmental scientist, and have a keen interest in bio-chemisty, I’ve often thought about the link to our health and environment. I am not a radical by any means, and realize that we will always be fighting a balance between convenience and lifestyle preservation with health. However, I do think that our exposure to chemical compounds has a large contributor to play when it comes to auto-immune conditions and allergies. From exhaust fumes, air emissions, synthetic fibers, preservatives, pesticides, medicines, dyes, perfumes, and other chemicals used for daily life, it’s no wonder that the immune system can be confused!”
I wrote her back, asking where she was living, where she moved, and if she still has dermatographia.
“My dermographia certainly isn’t nearly as bad as it was a few years ago. I have attached a picture of some simple marks and scratches from today. The skin still gets red and stays red for a while, but the welting is greatly reduced. I still get some on my face and neck sometimes, especially if I use lotions with perfumes or dyes.
I recently moved to Calgary from Edmonton (Alberta, Canada). Though Edmonton has changed their water treatment practices a lot over the last few years (opting to use UV light rather than chlorine – quite effective) and saw a reduction in the blotches. Calgary is also going towards less chlorine in the drinking water and UV treatment. Calgary has the advantage of being much closer to the source of their drinking water, whereas Edmonton much farther downstream of their source with a number of communities contributing to water quality. So I wouldn’t say that Calgary has a better treatment system, only that they have an advantage of getting better quality water to begin with.
I am sure that the my skin sensitivity is related to chlorine and other chemical treatments for water. Not surprising because chlorine attacks micro cells by being absorbed by fat cells or reacts with protein enzymes to damage them, which is essentially what they will do to healthy skin cells too. The difference is that the body typically sheds dead skin cells. When you have sensitive skin that’s easily damaged, these kinds of chemicals will have more of an impact. Otherwise, herbicides on foods and perfumes in detergent seem to be the other big irritants.
I find that dermographia seems to impact those of us with thin skin. My theory is that it makes us more sensitive to a lot of environmental factors (like too much sun), and we don’t have as much biological protection from irritants and skin is more easily damaged. My fiance, who’s middle eastern, has much thicker skin and few things bother his skin. Whereas my skin is so thin you can see my veins and arteries. I’m also more prone to bruising because of my thin skin (not sure if this is true for others too).
Anyway, thanks setting up your website. Great to have people talk with one and other and share their stories.”
Thanks Amanda! It’s good to hear from you.
This insight into water treatment is very interesting to me. As someone who drinks lots and lots of water, I’m always concerned about the quality of it, so I filter my tap water at home. I’ve heard that we should be filtering our shower water too (since skin is our largest organ, it absorbs anything it comes in contact with), not just the water we drink. Getting a shower water filter is on my list of things to do.
As for the thin vs thick skin idea, I’m not sure about that. I’d like to get some input from a doctor, but I’ve had people with all different skin tones and complexions email me about their dermatographia–from everywhere around the world, including the middle east. I think the skin drawings might be more visible on lighter tones, because the histamine welts really stand out, but I’m not sure about the prevalence of the condition based on skin type or ethnicity. This is an interesting idea though, and should be explored further.
Also, eating organic and whole foods is very important for skin health, and health in general. It doesn’t surprise me that Amanda’s skin issues were lessened or resolved after changing her diet and laundry detergent. Our skin is the gateway to our insides, literally and figuratively (think of how a blush reveals internal emotion, or eczema indicates a chemical sensitivity), so keep your inside and outside healthy by eating organic fruits and vegetables, staying away from processed food, and using only products for sensitive skin on your body and laundry. Look for the detergents and moisturizers that are free of perfumes, and are mostly made of ingredients you can pronounce.
In addition to Amanda’s, my dermatographic symptoms have also subsided with dietary changes. I’ve refused to take antihistamines and sought a natural cure instead. It works! What do you think helps with skin health? Please leave comments and suggestions below!
Image courtesy of Amanda Mitchell