Ben Scammels’ eczema was so bad he was hospitalised during a four-week backpacking trip to India. The 41-year-old avoided dates and interviews because of his painful and uncomfortable skin. In this article, he reveals the “toolkit” of remedies that keep him travelling the world along with his medication, including swapping beer for vodka and tonics, cutting down dairy and adding turmeric to food
It was while Ben, of Brighton, was in West Bengal and hiking around the Himalayas five years ago that his eczema flared up. It became so bad that he ended up in hospital.
He said: “I’d just finished a seven-day hike in dusty conditions and I was using a bowl of water to wash. I booked into a hotel and found a scratch on my neck that I’d obviously been scratching in my sleep. Then I realised I’d scratched my entire neck and body.
“My neck was dripping. My skin was sore. I was in a lot of pain.”
Ben had developed wet eczema, something that happens when eczema breaks out into blisters, which were oozing clear liquid.
In hospital in Namchi, in the Indian state of Sikkim, he was given strong steroids to calm the skin eruption.
Doctors said Ben had contracted a “staph infection”, caused by bacteria entering broken skin. He was given antibiotics and told to rest for a week.
He said: “It was painful. The skin blisters and has boils. It was the worst my eczema had been.”
A life of eczema
Ben has lived with the skin condition since he was a child, with patchy skin regularly becoming inflamed around the back of his knees, inside his elbows and hands.
The UX designer said: “Eczema has been massively disruptive. I’ve cancelled nights out or left parties because of it. Working in offices with strong lighting has been embarrassing.
“You feel irritable, you go home early, or you refuse to go. I’ve not wanted to go on dates or to interviews.”
Travelling and exercise became a tonic – and Ben aims to travel for fun three times a year. However, he found that surfing or biking his way around the world with painful eczema wasn’t easy.
He said: “Air-conditioning on planes can really dehydrate you and then you’re in a new climate and that is difficult, too. It can really mess with your skin.
“in addition, surfing in a wetsuit causes friction. The board when it hits my stomach is rough as well.
“Cycling can also hurt. Long rides and the humidity all take their toll.”
Looking for a toolkit
Ben was prescribed several topical steroid creams, but found none of them worked long-term. So, he set about trying to find a toolkit that would allow him to manage his eczema wherever he was in the world.
Three years ago, he started taking autoimmune suppressant, Methotrexate, once a week. It was prescribed by a specialist dermatologist after a GP referral. Commonly used in chemotherapy to treat cancer, it is also prescribed to patients with skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema.
He said: “I need regular blood checks to monitor my liver function and I can’t travel to certain places in South America as there are some vaccinations you can’t get if you’re on an autoimmune suppressant. But it’s dramatically improved my skin.”
Then, a few months after returning from India, a friend recommended Balmonds, a natural skincare company that doesn’t use petrochemicals, parabens, SLS, PEGs, perfumes and colours that can irritate the skin.
The brand, formerly Pure Potions, was founded by Natalie Balmond following her own attempts to find a natural solution for her toddler’s painful eczema.
For the past four years, Ben has used Balmonds’ best-selling moisturiser, Skin Salvation, daily as part of a package to keep flare-ups at bay.
He said: “There are no cures, but it helps. I love that the products don’t contain chemicals that could cause my skin problems.”
The original, oil-based balm contains ingredients such as beeswax, which forms a waterproof barrier for the skin, and vitamin-rich organic hemp seed, safflower and olive oils.
Skin Salvation can be used by all ages from six weeks and anywhere on the body.
Ben said: “I’ve tried so many moisturisers and this is the only one that works for me and gives me peace of mind. It’s really effective in moisturising my dry skin and lasts a good while. It’s also calming when my skin is sore or irritable.
“I wouldn’t go anywhere without Skin Salvation. I’ll put it on before I put on my wetsuit and it helps stop any chafing, too.”
Now Ben is packing his toolkit on a surfing trip to Morocco. He said: “Vitamin D from sunlight is another great remedy for eczema. But I do need to make sure I’m not in the sun too much.”
Wherever he is, he rarely eats dairy or sugar and he has cut down on meat, increased his vegetable intake and swapped beer for vodka sodas and gin and tonics.
“I love fruit bars, vegetable curries, lots of fish,” said Ben, who recommends other sufferers research natural remedies that may give some eczema relief. “I’m learning more about bacteria and gut health, taking probiotics, omega oils and adding turmeric to food.”
“My skin is the best it’s ever been.
“People don’t often understand how debilitating eczema can be but my advice is to keep searching for a mix of remedies until you find that kit that works for you.”
Balmonds Skin Salvation starts at £7.99 for 30ml. It’s available at Waitrose, Ocado, Holland & Barrett and online.