This is an excerpt from our latest book titled "Beating Eczema -- A Holistic, Natural & Medical Healing Guide." The Introduction below captures the struggle and experience of our founder, Dr. Steven Wang in caring for his son who had eczema.
Dr. Wang is a dermatologist and researcher. He believes the best way to beat eczema is using a holistic, natural, and medicinal approach.
In this book, the authors described their own experience and incorporated clinical pearls from over 70 dermatologists, pediatricians, acupuncturists, and naturopathic doctors. They also reviewed medical literature, scientific studies, and websites of trusted organizations, such as the American Academy of Dermatology and the National Eczema Association.
This comprehensive and quick guide has >140 practical skin care tips and treatment ideas for people with eczema.
Kevin is a four-year-old boy with an endless amount of energy and a contagious laugh. He is kind, playful, curious, and occasionally mischievous. He listens to nearly every instruction from his mom but likes to test the limits with his dad to see what he can get away with.
Overall, Kevin is a healthy little boy, but he has eczema. In the past few years, I have had the great privilege of treating him. Through that process, I have gained a much deeper insight about this skin disease that was not uncovered during my previous decades of being a dermatologist.
You see, Kevin is not an ordinary patient. He is my son. Caring for him gives me an intimate, immediate window to the level of discomfort and pain that a patient with eczema goes through every day. It is one thing to hear my patients’ descriptions of their discomfort in my office, prescribe a treatment plan, and see them again in three months for a follow-up. With my son, it is an immersive experience: every day I see the suffering that goes on in my own little boy, whom I cherish and love without limits.
For a long period, I watched his eczema getting worse. His flawless, cute little cheeks would first turn red, then become scaly and finally raw and open, with dried blood covering the wounds. While watching his favorite TV shows, like Paw Patrol or Wild Kratts, he would dig his little fingers into his skin and scratch it incessantly, seeking relief. Soon the red streaks would track down his neck, legs, and inner elbows, and try as I might, I could not stop him from scratching. He was miserably itching, and he was trapped in what we dermatologists call the itch-scratch cycle.
The itch-scratch cycle is an evolutionary neurological response and is seen in many skin issues, even dry skin. It starts with an itch on the skin. We reflexively scratch for comfort. For a brief moment, scratching brings relief. The problem is that scratching also disrupts the skin barrier, triggers inflammation, and further irritates the skin, which makes the itch worse. To make us feel better, we again start to scratch, which makes us itch even more. In the case of eczema, the itch-scratch cycle definitely prolongs the duration and deepens the severity of the disease.
Initially, I was confident that I could get rid of Kevin’s eczema in no time, just like what I had done for many of my patients over the years. I thought it would be easy because Kevin’s eczema was not severe in the beginning, and no one else in the family had this skin problem. More importantly, I had help. My wife is also a dermatologist with a wealth of experience and knowledge in treating patients with eczema. Needless to say, we were not worried.
Every day, we would look over Kevin’s body and examine almost every inch of his skin. We would apply medicated creams and ointments in a well-thought-out sequence. For any affected area, we would first put on a steroid ointment or cream, choosing the strength or potency depending on the body part and severity of inflammation. In areas with open wounds, we would add the topical antibiotic ointment Bactroban. Lastly, we would cover his whole body with a thick layer of cream to lock in the moisture and restore the skin barrier.
We followed this treatment plan for months, but Kevin was not getting better. In fact, certain areas of the body were getting worse. There were nights when we woke up to hear him crying. In the mornings, instead of bouncing around the crib, he was tired and lethargic because he hadn’t slept well. When I picked him up out of the crib, I would see patches of dried blood staining the pillowcase and the little security blanket that he carried around the house. Poor sleep would make him tired during the day, and he had a weak appetite—he’d barely touch any of his favorite dishes, like macaroni and cheese.
As the months went by, both my wife and I were worried. There were nights when my wife would remind Kevin, “Stop scratching your face. You’re going to get scars on your face. You are not even two yet. How can you get scars already?” Of course, we knew full well that Kevin had no idea what a scar was. As I listened to those gentle pleas from my wife, I felt a deep sense of frustration: I felt terrible as a dad and physician that I could not make my son better.
To compound the frustration, the actual practice of applying medication and moisturizers turned into a struggle every night. Kevin hated the nighttime moisturizing routine. We would try to apply thick lotions or creams over his body. However, the lotions and creams would sting, burn, and irritate him because Kevin had a broken skin barrier as well as sensitive skin. At first, he would fuss and cry. As he got older, he would run away from us. So every night, I would chase him around our kitchen island with a dab of lotion or cream in my hand. You would be surprised how fast a two-year-old can run if he is super motivated.
There were many moments when my wife and I turned to each other and said, “What do we do next?” It did not matter at all that we both knew all the statistics, facts, and existing treatments for eczema. It did not help. In fact, at times the facts made us feel worse.
We knew over 30 million Americans and nearly 10 percent of kids have it. Most kids get eczema when they are young, and most kids get better as they grow older. Statistically, we knew Kevin should get better. But in the heat of the moment, those figures were of little comfort. We just wanted him to get clear skin as soon as possible. We did not want to see him being miserable any longer. We definitely did not want to see him get a skin infection or a permanent scar.
To make our son better, we started searching for alternative and holistic solutions beyond that of conventional medical treatment plans. Luckily, at the same time, I was in the midst of doing research with my father, an acupuncturist and herbalist who has been practicing in New York City for nearly 40 years. We were interested in combining traditional Chinese medicine with Western science and medicine to help people with various skin diseases.
After three years of research, we created a purple skincare balm, which was later launched as Dr. Wang Herbal Skincare Herbal Rescue Balm. The balm contained eight herbs widely used in traditional Chinese medicine to promote skin health, rationally combined with other ingredients specifically designed to benefit skin based on modern scientific principles. It was created to soothe dry, itchy, sensitive skin for adults and kids, including those with eczema and psoriasis. The balm worked for many of my dad’s patients. It made them feel better.
We brought the balm home and tried it on Kevin as a part of the daily skincare routine. He instantly loved it. Instead of running away like he had always done in the past, he ran toward me because he was fascinated by the purple color. He thought we were playing a game in painting his body with the balm. His eyes popped wide open when he saw how the purple color disappeared when he rubbed it onto his skin. The best part was it did not burn or sting his skin. So every night, he actually looked forward to using the balm and reminded us to put it on his skin. Soon he would dip his little fingers into the jar and apply the balm himself.
The balm was a major help. It was a defining moment in which we felt like we changed the course of his disease. With the combination of alternative and conventional medicine and other holistic approaches, his eczema started to improve. He was no longer scratching and itching. The rash on his cheeks, neck, arms, and backs of the legs started to fade. The red angry rash changed to slightly dark patches, and all the skin started to heal. All the tiny wounds closed up. He did not get any skin infections or permanent scars. After some time, the dark patches became lighter in color and eventually blended in with the rest of his healthy skin. More importantly, he slept better at night and stopped waking up crying. In the morning, he was happy and had tons of energy. Both my wife and I were amazed at his transformation. He was like a different kid with tons of energy and appetite.
We were naturally thrilled for Kevin, and we also felt better ourselves. We slept better at night, not having to soothe him in the wee hours. The nighttime skincare routine became easier. We didn’t have to chase him around the kitchen island; we were able to enjoy more family activities in the evening. And our own stress levels decreased dramatically as well.
Today, as we finish this book, Kevin has successfully beaten eczema. Notice how we did not use the word “cure.” He still has periodic flares. But our holistic method is working. We have reduced the severity of his eczema, decreased the frequency of the flares, and shortened the duration of each one. More importantly, my wife and I are dealing with his disease much better.
Is Our Experience Unique?
So far, we have only talked about a child’s experience. If you are an adult or a teenager, you may say to yourself, “This is irrelevant to me.” I would disagree.
In our journey, we have spoken to many of our colleagues and experts in the field. We also compared notes with other patients and families suffering from eczema. I can assure you that our journey is not unique. What Kevin experienced is too common. What my wife and I felt was very similar to anyone who has taken care of someone who is struggling with eczema.
Although the course of the disease and the physical discomforts are very similar for many patients, regardless of age, sex, or ethnic background, eczema can range in severity. Kevin had mild to moderate skin issues, but many patients live with far more serious version of the disease.
In a mild form, the disease can make patients uncomfortably itchy. In severe cases, it can be debilitating. I have seen patients with hand eczema that is so severe that it interfered with their work and daily activities. Simple tasks such as washing dishes can cause burning pain. Some of these patients become so self-conscious that they even stop shaking hands with people.
There is one thing that makes Kevin’s experience different. Kevin is blessed to have two dermatologists and an acupuncturist and herbalist in his family. We had the training, expertise, and access to intervene early on. Yet even with all those resources, we struggled to make him better.
1) Eczema is a chronic disease defined by frequent remission and relapse. Frustrated patients struggle with a severe itch and widespread rashes that can show up anywhere on the body (commonly include the face, neck, backs of legs, and arms). It is also frustrating that a patient will have intermittent relapses.
2) Eczema is not just a skin problem. Aside from the physical discomfort, eczema leads to poor sleep, lack of energy, and diminished appetite, and many older kids and adults are significantly impacted on an emotional and psychological level. They are embarrassed by their skin issues, especially if the rashes are on the face and hands. This seemingly small skin problem can impact their work, study, and social life.
3) Conventional medicine and treatment plans have helped many eczema patients, but these conventional treatments have limitations. Many patients do not respond to these treatments and are looking for alternatives to topical steroids.
Support groups can provide moral support, but the health-care advice found in member discussions can generate and foster misconceptions that are not grounded in science, facts, or clinical data.
One misconception is that you can beat or cure eczema without medication. Although people have done it, the odds of succeeding are small. It will take a long time. Not to mention, what does one do when your eczema is flaring and you’re extremely itchy?
On the flip side, it is also not a good idea to use only steroids for the management of eczema. Steroids taken by mouth or applied to the skin have side effects. Also, understandably, many people are looking for steroid-free alternatives.
So what is the answer? I strongly believe the best way to beat eczema is using a holistic, natural, and medicinal approach.
Trained as a physician and dermatologist, I had relied almost exclusively on drugs and surgery to help my patients in the past. The experience of caring for my son showed me that drugs and surgeries alone are often not enough for many chronic illnesses, such as eczema. We have to incorporate diet, exercise, and mental and emotional training to improve the outcome.
My father and I strongly believe that a comprehensive approach is the best choice to manage and treat eczema: Inquire about all the available medical options, follow an optimal skincare regimen, be aware of stress-induced triggers, change your diet, and add natural or herbal supplements.
How We Created This Book
To help other patients and family with eczema, we decided to write this book to explain our holistic, natural, and medicinal approach to tackling the disease.
We believe this is the best, if not the only, way to beat eczema!
In this effort to create the most comprehensive and exhaustive guide to help eczema patients, we incorporated our own experience in caring for Kevin and other patients. We interviewed over 70 dermatologists, pediatricians, acupuncturists, and naturopathic doctors. We also consulted medical literature, scientific studies, and websites of trusted organizations, such as the American Academy of Dermatology and the National Eczema Association. After 18 months of research, we started the writing process to create this quick guide.
In our research, we uncovered some surprising gems from experts around the world. If used appropriately, these pearls can make a huge difference in your journey to beat eczema.