The Male Experience of Eczema
The Mental Health Foundation recently conducted a study which found that 67% of men had felt overwhelmed or unable to cope with their stress at least once in the past year. With stress a common trigger for eczema and this month marking Mental Health Awareness Day, we spoke to some of our male customers from a range of ages, backgrounds and ethnicities about their experience of living with itchy skin.
In our recent customer survey only 8% of respondents were men. There could be a multitude of reasons for this but we know this doesn’t align with our customer base and recent surveys have indicated that as many men suffer with eczema as women. On further investigation into eczema forums and groups, we also found the demographics to be largely female or mum and baby focussed and wondered where, or if at all, men go to talk.
“It’s just not a bloke thing to do. You don’t talk about it you just deal with it and sort it out best you can. No I didn’t speak to anyone”
This was the response from Hitesh, one of our interviewees for this month’s blog, when asked if he ever spoke to anyone besides a medical professional about his eczema. Hitesh was not alone in this response, in fact when asked if they spoke or shared their experience about living with eczema or sensitive skin, the resounding answer from our male interviewees was no.
Martin*, one of our male customers
who has been using Cotton Comfort for years to soothe his itchy skin.
Martin's Itchy Skin Story
Age Range – 55-64
Itchy Skin Story: Lived with severe eczema for over 30 years.
Would you mind sharing who you are and just a little bit about yourself?
I'm Martin, I've worked for the NHS and various other public sector organisations for 40 years, but I've stopped now after the first wave of the pandemic. I was diagnosed with mild to severe eczema probably 30 to 40 years ago. As a child, I had eczema, asthma, and hay fever. It went away in my teenage years and then came back with a vengeance when I was around 21. There's no cure for it. It affects your mental health as well as physical, in terms of managing your skin and trying to prevent infections.
I've had all sorts of treatments over those years and I'm still with a dermatologist at the moment. About 20-25 years ago, a consultant at St. Thomas's recommended Dorothy to me and her range of pyjamas, and that's how I first came in contact with Cotton Comfort. I've been a customer since then. The cotton they use and the way their clothing is made so that seams are outside rather than being on the inside helps with itchiness and eliminates that scratchy cycle that you get into. It's helped at night because you're not wearing a fabric that traps the heat of your body and you aren't struggling with seams and ridges.
How does your eczema affect your day-to-day life?
For a level of eczema I have, you have to have a daily routine. And that means that twice a day, you're spending at least 30 minutes in the bathroom, showering, using some form of cream treatments. And then you're following that with lots of moisturiser or use a mixture of a products. You have to do that twice a day. The products will say that they moisturise for 24 hours which isn't true for eczema prone skin because of the dryness and the flakiness. So, that's part of the routine. You also need to avoid alcohol because that heats you up. I've always modified my diet to towards the vegetarian diet. So, no red meat and very small amounts of other meats. And I think that one of the big factors is avoiding stress, which, in a normal working environment, is pretty impossible. It does affect your mental health too. You don't want to go out and socialise because your skin looks red, raw, or flaky. You don't really feel great about it.
How would you describe your skin? What words would you use?
Hot. It can be inflamed. It can be sore. It can be infected from time to time. Sometimes you wish you had someone else's skin. I'm sure everyone with eczema has felt this way at some point.
Can you share what's helped the most and what hasn't helped as much as you thought?
I've always worn cotton underwear and cotton shirts. Even from my earliest days with my mum, she always insisted that I wore cotton and I always have done. I can't wear wool next to my skin or artificial, man-made fabrics. The biggest is just medical advice. So, seeing a good dermatologist. That also means finding a dermatologist you're happy with. People who suffer with eczema tend not to either discuss that, and I see a lot of people are left feeling a bit isolated. In terms of things that I've tried what's made my life better, it's mostly the medical advice and having family support around you. It impacts your family, there's no doubt about that. I belong to the National Eczema Society and they have a helpline that's very helpful.
Hitesh's Itchy Skin Story
Itchy Skin Story – Lived with itchy skin since age of 4-5.
Can you talk us through what your day to day life looks like?
My working week is pretty busy. I wake up early around 6:20 as I do the morning school run before I start at my desk at around 8:45. It can be quite challenging, especially as once the kids are them with their homework and spend some quality time with them. It can feel a little like Groundhog Day especially now we are all working from home.
What’s your itchy skin story?
I started noticing my eczema when I was quite young, we’re talking 4 or 5 years old. It was mainly on my shins and ankles, a little on my chest and on the inside of my elbows. There wasn’t really the access to online information that there is now, so my mum thought it was down to me not scrubbing well enough in the shower! So I would scrub and scrub at my skin with imperial leather and all sorts, so you can imagine how much worse that made it! I very much had a reactive approach. I would only deal with the problem once it had shown up. Now I am much more of aware of staying hydrated and moisturising with emollients and generally take a much more preventative approach. My eczema has eased now luckily, but If I didn’t make a concerted effort to look after my skin I know that it would come back.
What did your skin look/feel like. Can you describe this to me?
Sore, red and patchy. It used to have sort of crusty parts to it too, but generally it was just really really sore.
Did it affect your daily life?
During my teens I was quite self-conscious of my skin, especially towards the more visible parts around my shin/ankles. On holidays I wouldn’t wear shorts and would wear long trousers to cover the dark patches on my legs. These really bothered me. Especially as after scratching they would show up as a different shade to the rest of my skin.
Does anyone else in your family/relatives have itchy skin or eczema?
I think my dad used to have it also on his legs/shin/calf – but no one else in family did. My son and daughter showed a couple of instances with itchy skin, but it never turned into eczema.
Did you ever talk to anyone about your eczema?
No I didn’t. I guess it’s just not a bloke thing to do! You don’t talk about it you just deal with it and sort it out best you can. No I didn’t speak to anyone
We know there is no cure for eczema but what did you find/do you find that has helped you in any way?
Really just taking a preventative approach is what has helped me, I make sure to shower with emollients and moisturise regularly. My eczema has eased now so it is easier to live with.
Arjun, one of our Male customers who shops with us for his itchy kids
Peter's Itchy Skin Story
Itchy Skin Story: Father to daughter (now 17) who had severe eczema, and partner to our Managing Director Jo.
What did your day to day life look like back when your daughter had severe eczema?
I was working full time and commuting into London and Birmingham. I would leave the house at around 6 am and wouldn’t get back until at least 7 so Jo (my partner) was pretty much doing it all. With hindsight that was tough on her. I suppose I felt that I was supporting Jo and Jo was dealing with Bonnie’s eczema.
It was very full on. We had a really intense bathing schedule that we would do 3 times a day and then afterwards there would be a whole routine of applying emollients and cream. She used to look like Caspar the ghost, she was absolutely lathered in the stuff. Then we’d put her into her Cotton Comfort suit -her Mitten T Pjs at night and her little dungarees and gloves during the day. Over time her skin improved so we dropped the middle bath.
When the weekend rolled around, I would try and take over and give Jo a rest, but of course when you’ve not been there you don’t know the exact right things to do, so although it was well intentioned it was maybe not practically that helpful.
Have you ever had your own experience of itchy skin?
I had eczema as a small kid, mainly on the back of knees and elbows. I’m allergic to grass, trees, pollen and pet dander and I remember having eczema in the summer months in particular. It never prevented me from doing anything though. It came back a bit in my 20’s and 30’s - always on my feet. I remember just having very itchy feet and I linked it to sport and playing outside. I’m still not sure why it went away. I did then and still do use steroid cream. I know it’s not suitable for everyone but very occasional use seems to work for me - I just think it’s good for blitzing it when it shows up.
Can you describe what your daughters skin looked and felt like?
It was almost like carpet burns or astro burns. It would weep a lot too. Weeping red skin. She was constantly trying to itch it. When she was a baby it was very difficult to put her down because she would want to scratch her cheeks with her hands or against something else. Lots of kids have a bit of eczema behind their knee or on their ankles but Bonnie’s was all over and really severe. We didn’t know anyone else who was experiencing it the same as us and that can be hard.
How did this affect your day to day life?
We’d have to think very carefully about her room, her clothes, what was in the house, how clean we kept it and what she was eating. Her eczema turned out to be connected to multiple food allergies, which made it very difficult to eat out. If you were driving, you couldn’t just pull into a service station for a snack. It also made it tricky asking friends or families to look after her because everyone was so scared of doing something wrong which meant that we never really got a break.
Did dealing with your daughter's itchy skin take a toll on you personally? What was this like?
I was really incredibly lucky to have Jo, and I think it took more of a toll on us as a couple than on me personally. I was working extremely long hours out of the home and Jo was the one who really took charge of finding a solution for Bonnie’s eczema. The first 12 months after she was born we hardly slept. Bonnie would be up all night itching and crying, we didn’t know what was triggering it and it was torture. I don’t know what I would have done if Jo hadn’t been so proactive and dedicated in finding ways to manage it. She found the specialists who helped get it under control and identified her allergies and found Cotton Comfort too which really helped with the scratching and the sleep. If it had been down to me, I would have been like ‘oh just accept the GP’s advice, we’ll just have to live with it,’ and that would have been absolutely miserable.
What advice would you have for anyone in your position now?
Don’t just take the first piece of advice you receive - especially if it’s not from a specialist but do also persevere with things even if they don’t work immediately. We ended up using a cream (diprobase) that initially seemed to make it worse but after using it regularly definitely helped. We had a pretty clear routine we stuck to and thought a lot about Bonnie’s environment and clothes – we took out Bonnie’s bedroom carpet and she only had a few soft toys that we put in the freezer occasionally – both to avoid dust mites, and she only wore cotton next to her skin.
When we found Cotton Comfort - and their organic cotton clothing was a lifesaver - we stuck to that and all through her school life Jo made sure she wore cotton tops and leggings under her uniform. She still has some eczema now, but you wouldn’t know it as she moisturises regularly and avoids things that trigger it. The food allergies have continued though and they are really the things that she has to manage the most. We were always very matter of fact with Bonnie about her allergies and her eczema. She would know that if she was going to a party, she would take her own food as she wouldn’t be able to have any of the chocolates in pass the parcel or any birthday cake, so she’d go off with her own little Tupperware. Our daughter is very self sufficient and doesn’t like us to fuss about her food or skin. We tried to deal with her skin as it was and never spoke to her or felt like it was anything to be embarrassed or feel shameful about. Perhaps her confidence stems from that, I don’t know.
Now a question for our readers...
Are you or do you know a man living with eczema in their family?
Living with itchy skin can feel lonely, isolating and stressful. Cheesy at it may sound, we really do believe that sharing our experiences makes us feel less alone and like someone just get’s what you are going through. All of our experiences of itchy skin are unique and varying, and we are so grateful to our fantastic male interviewees who boldly opened up to us. If you are, or you know, a man with eczema think about sharing your story with others – it might help you as well as them.
We are always looking to hone and develop our range of organic cotton clothing solutions for itchy skin, and in particular would love to hear from our male customers about what products you would like to see or what could help you get comfier in your skin.
If you have any feedback, questions or queries, please do contact us at email@example.com
*Please note an asterisk implies a name has been changed.