November 2023

Is there such a thing as safe scratching when dealing with eczema? Innovator and product designer Lauren Bell has created a tailored solution with Cosi Care inspired by her family history of eczema

A family challenge with eczema

When I was seven, I suffered with mild eczema on my cheeks and hands and although it generally didn’t bother me, it was a different story for my little brother Rhys. I always felt guilty if I complained about my own skin, knowing how severe his eczema was. Even at a young age, I recognised that I had an easy ride compared to him.  

Rhys with Topical Steroid Withdrawal versus his skin now

Growing up, I watched Rhys scratch his eczema raw, until it bled. He relied on strong steroids for decades, which eventually led to a painful topical steroid withdrawal (TSW). ‘Stop scratching’ was the number one phrase used in our house! As anyone with eczema will know, avoiding scratching is not always that simple… I’d watch my parents bind my brother’s hands before bed (he always managed to wriggle out the bandages) and apply cold flannels to try and soothe his itchy skin. 

Eczema flare-ups due to university stresses

My own eczema was well managed for years, only resurfacing when I went to university due to the combination of stress and living the classic student lifestyle! My skin was red, inflamed and incredibly itchy – affecting my neck, chest, hands, arms, and eyes. As a product designer, I spent all my time designing prototypes in the workshop with very sore, cracked hands which often made things very difficult for me. 

I sought treatment for the burden eczema had become and I was prescribed mild steroid creams, which helped short term. Unfortunately, the flare-ups didn’t settle for long, and the itchy rashes would be back more aggressive than ever. For many years I was creeping up the steroid cream ladder. It felt as though my skin was spiralling out of control and getting worse instead of better. 

Feeling like I wasn’t myself, due to eczema

Eczema made me feel ugly, I knew that it shouldn’t, but it did. My hands looked old for my age. Clothes didn’t feel right against my skin, make-up didn’t sit right, and bright lighting made me feel extremely self-conscious. When I showered, it felt like my skin was burning and getting ready to go out became a stressful experience. I remember feeling so envious of anyone that could jump in the shower, throw some clothes on, and run out the door! I couldn’t wear my favourite perfumes, make-up made my face feel even more uncomfortable and I avoided wearing the clothes I wanted to, preferring to hide every inch of red or dry skin instead.

Lauren's allergic reaction versus her skin today

Following multiple trips to A&E in 2020 with severe swollen eyelids for no obvious reason, I knew I had to get to the bottom of what was causing my skin problems. The stress and confusion of this time led to many appointments with dermatologists, allergists and even naturopaths in the search for answers. I stopped using steroid creams as they did not work for me personally, and following an allergy patch test, I discovered acrylic nails were responsible for swellings and flare-ups. 

Avoiding eczema triggers and living a healthy lifestyle

I’ve not had an eyelid swelling or facial eczema for years, since I started avoiding my triggers. For smaller flare-ups on my hands and arms, I prefer to focus on simple lifestyle habits to manage my condition. Occasionally, I suffer with pompholyx (also called dyshidrotic eczema) on my hands if I come into contact with harsh chemicals, but overall, I finally have my happiness and confidence back. 

Lifestyle habits that helped my personal skin journey

•    Eating a wide variety of fruit and veg for my overall health.  
•    Keeping skincare products to a minimum and only using trusted brands.
•    Taking histamine blockers to help with itch.
•    Avoiding harsh chemicals, toxic sprays, candles, or perfumes. 
•    Ensuring there’s no black mould in my house. 
•    Only wearing hypoallergenic jewellery to avoid contact allergies.  
•    Always patch testing any new cosmetics then waiting for three days to ensure there’s no reaction.  
•    Avoiding acrylic nails as I know they’re one of my triggers.
•    Practicing safe scratching to avoid broken skin that could lead to infections. (Find out more about safe scratching here!)

TikTok and the eczema community 

After years of feeling embarrassed of my skin, I embrace it. Hoping to reach out to others I shared a video on my TikTok of my ‘aged’ hands. I was shocked as the video went viral with over nine million views, with many people commenting that their hands looked exactly like mine. It made me feel understood and accepted, in the most unlikely of places!

Lauren Bell

About the author:

While studying product design in her final year at university, Lauren Bell was challenged to solve a problem through good design. Inspired by her brother's struggle with severe eczema, plus her own personal experience, Lauren created two innovative safe scratching tools for itch relief. 

Realising the potential in her work, she took her university Engineering and Design project to the real world creating Cosi Care – her greatest achievement. 

Find out more about Lauren's incredible journey to create her innovative itch management tool via her website here. Follow their journey on Instagram and TikTok.

Please note that the British Skin Foundation is not responsible for external content.

If you’re worried about topical steroid withdrawal please visit this page for more information and seek advice from your doctor or dermatologist.

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