Many of my readers know my skin writing story (I also go in depth about it in my book Artist Tome if you’re interested in learning more), but here’s some background for those of you that aren’t familiar with me yet.
I was officially diagnosed with dermatographia back in 2004 (wow it’s been 13 years!), but I had it for close to 10 years before then. Like many other people with dermatographia, I didn’t know that’s what I had–I knew my skin was super sensitive, but I didn’t realize it was a thing with a name, and I certainly didn’t realize I could draw cool stuff on my skin and have fun with it! That came about by accident.
One day I was photographing some stuff in my apartment, then I noticed there was a welt on my knee. I thought it looked kind of cool so decided to photograph it. I was in graduate school at the time, studying to get my MFA in photography. When I made the prints (yes I was using film back then), I didn’t expect anyone to care about them or find them interesting. Turns out, when I had my professors and peers in my art studio, all they wanted to talk about was the welt photos!
They asked me a ton of questions but I really didn’t know how to answer them, like “What is this?” “Why does you skin do that?” So I told them what I did know, “No it doesn’t hurt, yes it goes away.” They were fascinated by what my skin was capable of, encouraging me to keep drawing on my skin and find out what the f was going on with it.
Luckily, I went to a doctor at the University of WA clinic (where I was going to school) and she immediately knew what I had. “It’s dermatographia” she said. Well, that was the beginning of a very long journey to find out more about this mysterious dermatographia (which literally means skin writing–so cool!), a journey of art, healing, meeting people all over the world with the same condition, and figuring out how to *almost* cure it and manage the itch without the help of prescription medication.
Fast forward to today, 13 years later, and my dermatographia is almost gone. It’s not 100% gone but it is way better, and my skin itches less and just feels healthier. To demonstrate how much it’s lessened, here’s a before and after of my most famous image, Index. I first made this image back in 2005, and as you can see it’s pretty dramatic! I used a (dull) knitting needle as my stylus and wrote some free association text on my legs. In about 5 minutes I was ready to photograph the resulting welts. I got out my (film) camera and started shooting.
This time, I did the same thing, except with my digital camera. I used a knitting needle again (and of course do not hurt myself in the process of doing this–it only takes light pressure to achieve the welts, back then and now), and waited a few minutes for the welts to show up before I started photographing. Can you believe that this is all that happened? I am shocked. I really thought I’d get more of a response, but these tiny, barely visible welts are the only ones that popped up. CRAZY! That’s how much my condition has dissipated. *note: my stomach and back are definitely more sensitive than my legs at this point, but even still, I don’t get the same dramatic welts I used to.
So, how did I do it? How did I manage to ease the condition while still having fun with it all these years??? With patience, perseverance, and having an open mind, that’s how! Keep in mind people, this did not happen overnight. It’s been a lot of trial and error and making changes slowly over time, otherwise it would’ve been too overwhelming!
In addition to all the dietary and lifestyle changes I’ve made, it is definitely a mind/body connection. It’s not just ‘take this special herb and you’re cured’ or ‘eliminate this food and bye bye itch.’ You have to find out what works for you, since each person is affected very differently–what works for me might not work for you.
Also, you have to be patient and loving with yourself and your skin. Don’t walk around hating your skin for making you itch, embarrassing you all those times in front of everyone, or for the times it has caused people to stare at your face and ask, “What happened?” with disgust when all you did is barely touch your cheek.
Skin is our largest organ and it keeps us safe and healthy. Some of us just have a weird reaction to external stimulation so that the tiniest scratch or bump causes the most dramatic welt. That doesn’t mean our skin sucks, or that it’s failed us. It means it’s showing us something isn’t right internally. There’s something off, whether it be some toxicity showing up in our systems, and/or a food sensitivity we haven’t yet detected, and/or an unforgiving attitude towards ourselves and who we are.
It’s not always just about identifying the triggers that cause your dermatographia flare-ups, self-love goes a long way too. I firmly believe that accepting and loving my skin for all that it is and does has helped me heal exponentially. Through sharing my own journey of healing and finding comfort in my own skin despite the embarrassing flaws, I’ve helped others do the same, and have found a community of people all over the world that warm my heart like I never would’ve guessed is possible from ‘strangers.’
One of my favorite emails I recently received is from a woman in Trinidad. Her words made me cry…. She told me that for most of her life her family and community thought she was cursed because of what her skin does. They all kept her at a distance because they were afraid of her skin, her dermatographia. Then somehow she found my art, my skin drawings, and realized it’s a condition that she has, not a curse. Can you imagine???? Growing up being told you’re cursed for something you have no control over? It breaks my heart that she suffered needlessly like that. I’m so happy that now she shares her skin drawings on social media and can tell everyone she’s a canvas, and that makes her blessed, not cursed. Her community now sees her for who she really is.
So, although it can be fun and cool to draw on our skin, I know that it is also very uncomfortable at times to live with this condition, and people are sick of taking antihistamines for it. That’s why I put together this list of things I’ve done over the years to help clear my skin. I’m hoping that some of what worked for me will work for you too.
Like I said earlier, be patient. It’s not going to happen overnight! Make changes when and where you can, and don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up. It’s taken me years to get to this point, and I’m a lot more serious about my health now than I’ve ever been, because of the dermatographia, but also in large part due to my Hashimoto’s diagnosis (see my post about that here).
There’s no magic pill or supplement that’s going to cure you–it takes work and experimentation.
Okay, drumroll please……..
The 30 things I’ve done to *almost* cure my dermatographia without any medication:
- Every morning I swish with coconut oil for 10-20 minutes. Before eating or drinking anything, I get up, splash cold water on my face (helps me wake up), scrape my tongue, and swish the oil around in my mouth like a mouthwash (it’s called oil pulling). Bonus: it keeps your teeth white! Make sure to spit it in the garbage and not down the sink because it can clog your pipes. So I spit the oil out in the trash, then brush my teeth with water (no toothpaste), and scrape my tongue again.
- Speaking of tongue scraping… I scrape my tongue twice a day, morning and night. I use a copper tongue scraper which works best for pulling toxins off the tongue, but stainless steel is good too. Plastic ones aren’t great because they can harbor bacteria. We actually can get rid of a lot of toxins through our mouths, which is why the oil pulling works. Then we scrape our tongues to remove excess stuff that has worked its way to the surface. Also, you should floss every night before going to bed ;+)
- Instead of using harsh soaps to clean my skin in the shower, I use oil instead. I use gentle bar soap (like Dr. Bronner’s) for my armpits, but that’s about it. I keep a pump bottle full of liquid coconut oil in the shower and use that to wash my body. Then I wipe off the oil with a washcloth and apply more oil just before getting out of the shower to moisturize. For the moisturizing part I use sweet almond oil because it’s a great way to get more vitamin E in my system.
- Eat healthy fats. In my tiny cup of morning coffee I put a tablespoon of coconut oil instead of half and half or creamer, and I put olive oil on my salads and stuff (just don’t cook with olive oil, it’s not meant to be heated). I use ghee for cooking, which is just clarified butter. Eating nuts and avocados is a great way to get more healthy fats too!
- I cut out gluten completely. That was initially because of my Hashimoto’s diagnosis, but it has helped my dermatographia get better as well. Gluten is very inflammatory to the system and some people–like me–are very sensitive to it.
- I also cut out dairy. This one sucks (I loooove cheese), but I feel so much better when I don’t eat it. Dairy makes me produce a lot of mucous anyway, which is gross. Sorry if that’s TMI. Not eating dairy has also helped my Hashimoto’s ease up. My thyroid levels are now normal and I did that without taking any medication. The power of food!
- I cut back on caffeine. Now I only have a small cup of coffee in the morning and that’s it. Everyone is different, but I am sensitive to caffeine and feel better when I have less of it. It’s very dehydrating anyway.
- Speaking of dehydrating, I drink TONS of filtered water. I find that I feel best when I drink about a gallon of water per day. Everyone has different amounts they should be drinking based on diet, exercise, and how much you weigh, but I think in general most people don’t drink enough water. Make sure it’s filtered because you never know what’s in your pipes and tap water.
- I cut back on sugar. Yep sorry. This was no fun cuz I looooove sugar like I love cheese, but I definitely feel better when I don’t consume very much of it.
- Pretty much everything I consume is organic. Why add extra toxins like pesticides to my already sensitive system? That includes anything I put on my skin too.
- I drink smoothies and fresh pressed juices. My husband’s parents gave us their old juicer so I can make my own juice at home… which is amazing!
- Probiotics: I take probiotics and/or eat probiotic rich food, like kimchi and sauerkraut, daily. They even make dairy free kefir! Probiotics help keep gut flora healthy, and keep your digestion strong.
- I also take fish oil to get my healthy omegas, and a high quality multivitamin to help make up for any nutrients I might be missing on any given day.
- I eat lots of fresh, organic fruits and veggies. They’re full of antioxidants, vitamins, fiber and all kinds of yummy things for your body.
- I stay away from processed food, hydrogenated fats, artificial colors, etc. Many people say that if it comes in a package, it’s not great to eat cuz it’s been highly processed. Eat food in its original form whenever possible–like whole grains, fish, nuts, fruits, vegetables, meats and more.
- I make sure I’m getting enough protein and don’t load up on too many carbs throughout the day. Eggs, nuts, beans, seeds, dairy (if you eat it) and meat are great sources of protein. Check with your doctor about how much protein you need daily, and try keeping track of how much you get in a day. It’s hard to get enough sometimes!
- It’s imperative to have some form of creative expression, some kind of outlet. For example, you could garden, paint, draw, do photography (that’s my focus), dance, write, journal, cook, and so many other things–or any combination of those.
- I find meditation to be very helpful. For me it’s taking time to be quiet and grateful, reflecting on the beauty around me. It helps me stay present.
- I practice gratitude. Every night I think of at least 3 things I’m grateful for from the day. Usually I end up with more than 3! I choose to focus on the good things happening in my life and health, dwelling in a place of gratitude and positivity rather than self-pity and worry and fear. What you put your focus on grows.
- It’s hugely important to visualize healthy skin and a healthy body, and trust in your body’s ability to heal itself. Our bodies are capable of great things, and in the right condition will always thrive. I keep that in mind. Doing some (or all) of these things I’m writing about here will provide the right condition for your body to thrive.
- Exercise is super important too! Doing things like yoga, walking, hiking, swimming, and other forms of exercise are of great benefit to everyone, whether you have a skin condition or not.
- This is called self-care. Doing what makes you feel good and keeps you thriving! I have found a great combo of things that I do daily and weekly to take care of myself. The key is to make it a priority and not let caring for yourself fall by the wayside.
- I use all natural products for my face and body, including deodorant. Be very wary of every single thing you put on your skin! Including makeup, lotion, soap, deodorant, etc. Stay away from anything with fragrances/artificially scented stuff (essential oils are a different story–those are great when used correctly). If you have any question if what you’re using is safe for your skin, check out the Environmental Working Group’s website. You can look up different products and see how toxic they are. It’s scary how many toxic things are on the market! Remember, skin is our largest organ so whatever we put on our skin, we’re basically ingesting. If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t rub it on your skin.
- Using all natural laundry detergent is also important. Mainly because most of the regular ones add harsh cleaners and harmful fragrances that are endocrine disruptors, but also because many of them are terrible for the environment and are polluting our oceans.
- I stay away from all toxins as much as possible, not only in my body care products and laundry detergent, but also in my household cleaning products. And like I said before, buying as much organic stuff as possible exposes you to less toxins as well. Also, stay away from stuff that’s been treated with fire retardants. Furniture and things that’ve been treated with them is highly toxic.
- Speaking of toxic, be careful about what kind of nail polish and hair color you use. Even nail polish remover is scary. I haven’t colored my hair in years, but if I did I’d use something all natural. I also haven’t painted my nails in a long time. I love having a pop of color but it always makes my nails really brittle and weak. That’s not a good sign!
- Practice forgiveness and self-love. Let things go, don’t hold a grudge, and above all, be very kind to yourself. We all make mistakes and beating yourself up about something that happened is fruitless. It will not help you in away way, shape, or form!
- It’s been super helpful for me to focus on being in the present moment. When I’m present, I worry less and feel less fear because I’m caught up in whatever’s in front of me at the moment. I believe that the more we’re present, the happier we are. Period.
- Before I get in the shower I do dry brushing. It’s an Ayurvedic technique where you use either a soft brush or raw silk gloves and brush your skin when it’s dry. Do small, brisk circles towards your heart. It feels amazing–very energizing and gets the blood flowing! This, along with all the other things I’ve mentioned, is a great way to detox. It’s important to not add more toxicity to our systems, but it’s also important to rid our bodies of the toxins we already carry. Again, providing the right conditions for your body to thrive and heal is so important!
- And last but not least, make peace with your skin. Even though it’s easily irritated, sometimes annoying and can be debilitating, just feel love for your skin. This magical protective coating surrounding our insides keeps us alive! It’s our largest organ and is crucial to keeping dangerous sicknesses away.
Anytime you’re feeling down on your skin, just remember what it does for you and tell it ‘thank you.’ Having a dialogue with your body is a great path to self-understanding and healing :+)
Now I’m not saying that you have to give up gluten and dairy like I did, or swish with oil every morning like I do, or start talking to your skin, etc. THESE ARE THINGS THAT WORK FOR ME AND THEY MIGHT NOT WORK FOR YOU! I encourage you to play around with different things, and make small changes slowly to see what works for you. I am by no means telling anyone that doing the above things will (almost) cure them of their dermatographia–but I hope you have some luck easing the itch like I have!
Have fun with it, stay playful and forgiving of yourself and your skin, feel gratitude for all the wonderful things in your life and pay attention to what is going well for you–as I said, what you put your focus on grows.
Another thing that’s very powerful in healing is sharing what you’re going through with others. If someone gives you a funny look because you have a welt on your face, talk to them about it. Let them know that you have a special skin condition that only affects 5% of the population, and that you can draw temporary welt designs on your skin! Tell them how it’s actually cool because you can do this unique thing. Tell them it’s your super power! As long as you have a positive attitude about it, it’ll be harder for people to tease you about it and make you feel ashamed.
In regards to all the suggestions above, obviously I’m not a doctor so please consult your physician before making major dietary and lifestyle changes. Try these things at your own risk 🙂 and let me know what works for you. I’d love to hear from you anytime! Feel free to email, comment, hit me up on IG or FB, and remember, life is short. So please enjoy yourself while you can 🙂 🙂