Did you develop dermatographia shortly after getting your Moderna booster vaccine for Covid 19? If so, you’re not alone. I’ve heard from tons of you that this is a new (and not welcome) side effect of the shot. If you now have dermatographia, welcome to the club, and I hope it’s not too bad. Hopefully something in this post will help!
I’m going to offer some suggestions for healing your skin, along with sharing the story of Suzanne (a Skintome reader) who also developed skin writing after her booster. (I did get my Moderna booster and it didn’t change my skin at all, but I’ve had dermatographia for most of my life so that’s not surprising.)
But first of all, THANK YOU for taking care of yourself and all of us by getting vaccinated against Covid. It’s a very important step to getting through this pandemic. Secondly, even though I’ve heard of this happening to a lot of people, it’s still extremely rare, so please do not fear getting the booster. And with the risks of Covid and long Covid, getting dermatographia is a piece of cake compared to contracting the virus.
In addition to these tips, I encourage you to check out my Dermatographia page if you haven’t already. There’s suggestions for products for sensitive skin, comments from other readers, and lots of other helpful resources.
For immediate relief, people have been finding Zyrtec and Pepcid extremely helpful. So while you’re working on reducing stress, upping your veggie intake, and healing your gut, an antihistamine might be necessary to get you through those tough initial times. I’ve also heard that this condition gets way better (and sometimes clears up) after a few months, so don’t give up hope! Your skin will keep healing and healing.
Eventually you might want to wean yourself off of the antihistamines. In order to do that, go down to 1/2 a tab, then to 1/4 until you feel like you can handle not taking it at all.
One thing that helps the itch SO MUCH is keeping your skin moisturized. I love Babo Botanicals lotion. It has only gentle ingredients and is super moisturizing and feels wonderful on itchy skin.
Be very aware of what you’re putting on your skin. Most of the stuff from drug stores and grocery stores contains yucky ingredients that could be making your skin worse, like salicylic acid (or derivatives) and anything labeled ‘fragrance.’ You should also watch out for artificial preservatives, artificial sweeteners and food dyes in stuff you’re eating. All of these things can trigger dermatographia and make it worse. I go into this more in my dermatographia articles.
In all of my years of research, and all my years of having dermatographia (aka skin writing), I’ve learned that the most important component to healing the condition is healing the gut. It takes time–sometimes a lot of time–but as long as you do the work, your itchy skin will keep getting less and less itchy.
Here’s some general tips to help heal your gut:
One of the most important things to do is up your water intake to help flush the extra histamine and toxins out of your system. I always talk about this one first because of how important (and potentially easy) it is. Get a huge water bottle to help you keep track of how much you’re drinking each day, or download an app if that’s more your style (it’s like counting calories but instead you’re counting glasses of water). Aim for about a gallon of filtered water a day. It sounds like a lot but your body needs that right now! Moisturized skin itches less, and drinking lots of H2O helps moisturize from the inside out.
Eat fresh, whole foods daily and reduce the amount of processed foods you consume. Incorporate more vegetables in your life! (Side note: I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t benefit from eating more veggies lol, and I know it’s easier said than done). Play around with roasting different vegetables, season them with herbs and spices, try baking kale chips, eat more salads, soups, add chopped spinach to scrambled eggs, try an air fryer, etc. Eating fruit is great too, but aim for eating more vegetables than fruit to keep sugar intake low. Can you get at least 5 servings of vegetables a day? The more you eat, the happier your gut will be :=)
Exercise. Yeah sorry, you know that right after talking about eating more veggies I have to bring up exercise ha. Walk, run, do yoga, dance, play sports, hike, jump on a trampoline, swim, whatever floats your boat. It’s so good for your entire body to get your heart rate up and work your muscles. Even just 20 minutes a day makes a huge difference.
Make sure you’re pooping every single day. If not, that signals something is stagnant. Your gut will heal faster if there’s no poop stuck in there. Sorry to be crass, but it’s a very important piece of the puzzle.
Watch your blood sugar. Make sure to eat vegetables and protein BEFORE eating carbs and sugar, and DO NOT eat high sugar things on an empty stomach. This one has been huge for me. I’m very sensitive and am susceptible to crashing from low blood sugar so I have to be super careful. I take apple cider vinegar before breakfast and dinner and that’s helped my blood sugar and digestion SO MUCH! I also make sure to eat plenty of protein because I’m one of those people who really needs it.
To heal your body, you also have to heal your mind and spirit. These aspects of you are not separate from your skin. Everything is connected, so if you have consistent negative thoughts about yourself and your past and future, it will show up in/on your body. I started therapy about 6 months ago and oh my goodness it’s been transformational! I feel like releasing all that old shit from my past has freed up energy for my body to heal. It takes work, and it can be painful, but wow is it worth it. I’m blown away by how much I’ve healed my mind/body/spirit in that short time with the help of my amazing therapist (check out my Dermatographia page to learn about a low cost option for therapy). Show yourself some love and your body WILL heal.
Most mornings I drink bone broth/collagen protein. Having all those amino acids has helped my muscle tone and gut function. It’s not required, but it sure does help. You can either make your own bone broth, or buy it in powder form.
I started using this weird pillow thing awhile back and have found it sooooo relaxing. It’s called a still point inducer and is meant to mimic the benefits you get from Craniosacral therapy. It helps your body relax so fluids can circulate more efficiently. I don’t understand exactly how it works but I do know that for $25 it’s a steal! I use it most nights for about 10-15 minutes before bed and wow does it feel great. It takes a little while to get used to it, but once you do it is SO RELAXING! Stress is a huge trigger for dermatographia, so doing things to reduce stress and anxiety will help your skin and gut heal. If the still point inducer isn’t your thing, find something that is–like yoga, journaling, meditation, mantras, etc. It’s important to calm your nervous system, especially in these stressful times.
In that vein, I also recently started seeing a chiropractor for a neck injury. I found a place near my house that has great rates because it’s walk-in only, and I go once every week or 2. That has not only helped heal my neck injury, it’s also helped my whole body function better/more efficiently. I swear my elimination has improved since I started chiropractic care, and it’s helped me feel less anxious.
These are some of the things that can be super helpful on your healing journey. I’ve also written about the many many other things I’ve been doing to take care of myself over the years here and here. But aside from drinking water, the best thing you can do for yourself is to love your skin. Keep it moisturized and thank it for protecting you and keeping your insides inside. Be careful about what you put on your skin, because some lotions and things can be doing more harm than good. Again, check out my Dermatographia page and other posts for more info on that :=)
Now, without further ado, let’s hear from Suzanne.
Ariana: At first I’d just like to hear more about you: where do you live, where are you from, etc? What was your skin like before this? How is/was your diet and exercise and lifestyle? Have you tried any of the tips I wrote about on Skintome? What types of products do you use on your skin?
Suzanne: I’m 34 and have two kids (6 and almost 3). I grew up in Southern California, lived in New England and then NYC for 15 years, and have been living near Seattle for the last year and a half.
I’ve never really had skin issues before – have always had “normal” skin, not sensitive to perfumes/detergents/foods/ etc. No allergies. I would say my diet/exercise is pretty standard. I don’t follow any specific diets, try to eat mostly organic when possible, and focus on veggies/plant based foods, though I eat meat/fish/poultry each about once per week. I exercise about 3-4 times per week – love running, yoga, and any group exercise class at the gym!
Ariana: I’m also interested in exactly what your doctor said–did she say why people are developing dermatographia after getting the booster?
Suzanne: As I mentioned in my comment, I developed a circular patch near my right elbow a couple weeks after getting my first Moderna shot in Jan 2021. At first I thought it might be ringworm, but it never spread beyond that one patch, which finally dissipated about 9 months after it appeared. Then I developed a raised bump on my left ring finger about a month after getting my second Moderna shot in Feb 2021. It’s still there. I got my Moderna booster in early Dec 2021. About 10 days later, I woke super itchy and after a day or so, noticed raised red welts developing anytime I scratched. At first I thought it was a reaction to drinking red wine the night before (something I rarely drink, and which can be a migraine trigger for me), but when the rash persisted for several days I made a doctors appointment. Could only get in to urgent care, and I told the doctor I had researched the rash and it looked like dermatographia. She told me no, that’s definitely not it, gave me an oral steroid which she said should calm my skin and stop the itching. I was hesitant to take the steroid, but desperate to get rid of the itch. The steroids (which I took for 5 days) did nothing to help my skin, and just made me feel crazy! I had also tried benadryl, which didn’t seem to help either. I saw my regular primary care doctor last week. She agreed it was dermatographia and mostly just empathized that she knew it was very itchy and irritating, but there wasn’t much she could do. I was grateful at least for her honesty!
She suggested I try Claritin and said it might take a month to see any effects. She also said she’s seen a few patients who have developed dermatographia following the Moderna booster, and agreed that was likely what triggered it, though she didn’t give any reasoning and did say she hopes that doesn’t deter me from getting another vaccine in the future (if recommended). Said it was really just a “wait and see” to tell if it would get better, and when.
Since reading your blog more after determining this was in fact dermatographia, I stopped using soap (just a basic oatmeal bar from Trader Joe’s) except to wash my underarms. I’ve been using sweet almond oil in the shower, after showering, and before bed, concentrating on some angry red patches that developed on my arms and legs from all the scratching. I also started taking Magnesium since that is supposed to help with inflammation. I’ve taken it before to help with my restless legs when pregnant and it just generally helps me feel a lot better! I also started taking Claritin.
Over the last 5 days the dermatographia has significantly improved! I haven’t had a huge flare up in a couple days (was having multiple episodes per day where I just could not stop itching, felt like my skin was crawling!), and even when I do a “scratch test” it turns red, but the welts aren’t as raised as before. Not sure what has helped it improve, but I’m going to keep doing everything (almond oil, magnesium, and Claritin) for a couple more weeks, and then stop the Claritin to see what happens.
Ariana: That is such great news! I’m glad to hear your skin is getting better. Another thing I highly recommend is oil pulling with coconut oil, and scraping your tongue before and after. It’s a great detox, you just have to get used to doing it in the morning. I thought of that because you mentioned red wine is a trigger for you, and it’s a headache trigger for me too. I think it’s an inability to properly process the sulfites or tannins or something. Detoxing and healing my gut have worked wonders for me. I get less headaches and my skin is way better! I also feel much better when I’m running/dancing/doing yoga regularly. And drinking boatloads of water too of course 🙂
Suzanne: Will definitely give the coconut oil pulling a try. I’ve read about it for years but never actually tried it. Is there a particular type of coconut oil you recommend? I usually just buy mine for cooking at Trader Joes.
Ariana: I love the Dr. Bronner’s coconut oil, but Trader Joe’s would work too. Whatever tastes best to you, so you’ll actually want to use it every morning. Let me know how it goes when you try it!
Thanks again! I’m so excited about this!!
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