A teenager who developed extreme eczema told how a £15 body scrub made from coffee has finally relieved her intolerable itching.
Gemma Lawrence had been dating her boyfriend a week when she suddenly found herself covered in patches of dry skin resembling “chicken pox scars,.
The 16-year-old was studying floristry alongside some GCSEs at an agricultural college in Lewes, East Sussex, and assumed it had been triggered by pollen from the flowers.
But Gemma, of Newhaven, East Sussex, who has been dating airport worker Dan, 18, for 18 months, said her pals had other ideas, explaining: “We met on September 22 and my eczema started on September 30, 2018.”
“He has been really supportive. He never made me feel like anybody was staring at me, but it’s not nice for him to see me in pain.
“For ages, I used all sorts of products, but nothing changed. I couldn’t sleep as I was so itchy, and if I did, I’d wake up with red, sore and inflamed skin from scratching in the night.”
While Gemma, now an apprentice at a cosmetics store, has suffered with mild eczema in the summer – behind her knees and on the inside of her arms – all her life, after the 2018 attack she said it “spiralled out of control.”
Because her severe flare-up started just two weeks into her course, where she handled plants and worked near farm buildings, her doctor suggested she could be allergic to pollen or even to her two guinea pigs, Honey and Cookie.
She advised Gemma to suspend her studies and avoid the college campus until the results came back from allergy tests for an intolerance to grass pollen, tree pollen, guinea pig fur and dust mites.
But, in the meantime, in November, Gemma’s skin became so itchy that the school nurse feared she was in anaphylaxis – which the NHS describes as a potentially life-threatening reaction to a trigger, such as an allergy.
“I started to get really itchy, my eyes were streaming, and I was having shortness of breath,” she said. “I went to the student nurse and was assessed by the first aider who called for an ambulance and I was taken to Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.”
Luckily, it was not anaphylaxis and Gemma was sent home with more steroid creams and antihistamine.
Then, in January 2019, with her allergy tests proving negative, she returned to college where her tutors rearranged her timetable, to make sure she did not have classes anywhere near the farm buildings.
But, with her eczema still rife, she said: “I felt so self-conscious, as it was all over my face – everywhere.
“I didn’t want to wear dresses and just wore oversized hoodies and covered my legs and arms – even when it was warm – as the eczema was up my legs and on the inside of my arms.”
The E45 cream – a simple remedy for dry skin and eczema – which had worked perfectly up until 2018, was now useless.
Prescribed oral steroids, which are usually an effective treatment for severe eczema, but can have unpleasant side effects – such as weight gain – as well as antihistamines to reduce irritation, for several months she said she was “drugged up.”
Gemma continued: “For about three months I had to use steroid cream and tablets, as well as antihistamines, to keep my eczema under control.”
She continued: “I was prescribed them to calm down the rash, hoping that when I finished the course of treatment there would be less triggers for it coming back as I’d left college by the time I stopped taking them.
“They did work but I hated taking so many drugs. I had to stop eating all the foods I liked but aren’t good for me, as being on steroids makes you gain weight a lot easier.
“I put on weight, probably about seven or eight kilograms. It especially showed on my face and my tummy, so I didn’t want any photos being taken of me.”
She continued: “I thought I would never be able to have clear skin and live normally again.”
The flare up battered Gemma’s confidence, particularly at the organ and keyboard music festival her parents, who she would rather not name, organise four times a year in Peacehaven, East Sussex.
She said: “It’s great fun, about 200 or so senior citizens come and all the proceeds go back into organising future events.”
“They hire a local community hall and an organist and I usually get dressed up in a bodycon dress and make-up and do the raffle,” she continued.
“But at the show in November 2018, my eczema was still so bad, I just wore leggings and a jumper. I didn’t feel like getting dressed up.
“I also stopped posting any photos of myself on social media, as my confidence was so badly affected.”
Finally, in February last year, she stopped taking the steroids, after her doctor advised her against staying on them for too long.
“I just felt like there was never going to be a solution – it felt hopeless,” she said.
“They told me there was a 50/50 chance it might not come back, but it did, it came back more uncomfortable than ever.”
Then, last month, just as Gemma was reaching the end of her tether, she chanced upon an article online about a body scrub made using coffee granules, which other eczema sufferers were hailing as “a miracle.”
“Between April 2019 and February this year, I was slathering myself in unscented moisturiser but it just wasn’t doing the trick,” she said.
“Then I read about Skin Brightening Grapefruit Body Scrub and bought some, thinking it wouldn’t harm to try it.”
She continued: “It featured on Dragon’s Den, which is cool and when I used it my skin got better almost instantly – it was silky smooth.
“Instead of being sore and burnt, I have my normal skin back.”
So impressed that she contacted the manufacturers on Instagram, they sent Gemma other products to try.
Now, she washes only once every two days, to stop her skin from drying out and flaking – running a shallow bath and getting her mum to help exfoliate her back using the scrub.
“I use about a pinch on each body part where the eczema is bad,” she said. “I can’t leave it on for too long because it starts to sting.
“When I get out, I use the oat-based Aveeno cream, which I get prescribed.”
Another unusual discovery to have helped her to manage her eczema has been acrylic nails, according to Gemma.
She said: “They’re great. I can’t stop myself from scratching in my sleep, if I’m itching, but if I wear acrylic nails, I don’t make my skin bleed, as they’re softer than my own nails.
“They cost me about £30 a month, but they’re worth it.”
Now Gemma is determined that she will, one day, create her own product to treat eczema-prone skin.
“I would love to make something which helps people with the same condition as me,” she said.
“When I’m at work, I give advice to people struggling with similar issues to me.”
“All my colleagues send people over to me if they have questions about what they can use when they are allergic to something, or what products are best for their skin,” she continued.
“My skin is still a mystery and it’s frustrating not knowing what causes the flare-ups, but at least I can manage them now without having to take powerful drugs.
“Who knows, maybe I will be on Dragon’s Den one day now, with my own miracle cure.”
Visit groundedbodyscrub.co.uk for more information on the Skin Brightening Grapefruit Body Scrub.