Since the age of four, I have had eczema — 湿疹 or アトピー in Japanese. For those who have never had skin conditions, or do not know anyone with skin conditions, eczema is a non-contagious form of dermatitis. For me, it had quite debilitating physical and psychological effects during childhood, as it affected my appearance, and no child wants to be different from others.
In this article, I share detailed information about how I overcame eczema, and provide a glimpse into the life of someone who has suffered from eczema for over 25 years.
Growing Up with Eczema — The Necessary Precautions
When I was in middle school, I had horrific eczema all over both of my arms. This meant that my skin was constantly irritated and inflamed due to a wide range of food allergies such as eggs, nuts of any kind, etc., and environmental allergens like dust mites, animal dander, certain kinds of trees, and various kinds of pollen. I had both atopic dermatitis (caused by consumed allergens) and contact dermatitis (caused by external triggers). In essence, I was allergic to so many things, that I literally had to live in a bubble.
Since I would itch constantly at night and while I was sleeping, my arms would be completely tattered, oozing with juices, scaly, red, and inflamed. As a result, I always wore long-sleeve shirts, even during extremely warm days in San Francisco. Some kids would ask me why I was wearing a long-sleeve shirt, when it was so hot, but I would just say, it’s because I preferred long-sleeve shirts.
My parents used to feed me goats milk, as it was less inflammatory than cows milk. But at the time, and even now, goats milk is very expensive, so it was an unfortunate cost my family had to bear. Moreover, my parents had to buy extremely expensive dust mite-proof pillowcases and sheets, and wash my blankets at least once a week, so that I wouldn’t become more itchy than normal. We also vacuumed almost every day, and made sure that I had hypo-allergenic skin care products as well as shower toiletries. And it doesn’t stop there.
Growing Up with Eczema — Hypoallergenic Everything
Besides these basic things, my mom also had to make sure that we had hypoallergenic hand soap, dish washing soap, and laundry soap. All of these hypo-allergenic products, we’re not necessarily main stream when I was growing up, so we often had to go to grocery stores like Rainbow Cooperative in San Francisco, which had a diverse array of healthy and alternative products, but also more expensive products. Nowadays, it’s much easier to buy healthy alternative items even at your local Whole Foods, or online on Amazon or Iherb.com.
Growing Up with Eczema — Reducing Food Allergies by Eating a Careful Diet
Beyond things that we could control in our environments, my parents also had to make sure that I wasn’t eating any foods that could be potential allergens such as citrus foods, gluten, seafood, milk and dairy products like cheese, eggs, and all nuts. I would often rebel at having such a limited diet, as I wanted to be able to eat whatever I could, and disliked having to be on an anti-inflammatory diet.
Even with all of the things that we did to ensure that I would have fewer flareups, I still suffered from terrible eczema for most of my life. Basically, from the age of 4 to the age of 29, I had eczema pretty much all over my body including my neck, my back, my stomach, my legs, and even my feet and hands.
Overcoming Eczema in Japan — Started with a Strong Determination in 2018
Thus, at the beginning of this year in 2018, I made a strong determination to overcome all of my health obstacles for the sake of my future life. Who wants to be in their 30s and still have eczema? In fact, most people who have eczema grow out of it once they reach puberty, but I was one of the unlucky ones. And those who do not grow out of it after puberty, are said to never overcome eczema. There are currently no cures for eczema.
I’ve done so much research on eczema, and found it pretty discouraging. Because there are 1 billion products that you can try, but none “cure” you. And believe me, I’ve tried at least a 100 products from the age of 4.
Overcoming Eczema in Japan — Eating a Primarily Gluten-Free Diet
Before coming to Japan, I met with both an acupuncturist and a naturopath who both recommended that I consider starting a gluten-free diet, to reduce my eczema. What helped me get started, as it’s an incredibly difficult diet, is the fact that they said I could do a gluten-free diet for 80% of the time and eat whatever I wanted 20% of the time. Basically, once my symptoms abated, then I could increase the number of gluten items that I had. Thus, I decided to give it a try.
For the past 2 1/2 years I have been living a gluten-free diet. That means that I order gluten-free soy sauce online at iherb.com, and cook or buy foods that do not have too much gluten or aminosan アミノ酸 (MSG). By avoiding pretty much everything in the convenient store that isn’t fresh, and being really selective about what I eat, my eczema has gotten better in Japan. But, I still had horrible flareups, and would always be seen and all of my classes putting on lotion constantly, as my skin was dry all year around. And the more dry your skin is, the more likely you are to start itching. The more you itch, the more your eczema gets worse.
People would often say that I should just stop itching, but that is literally impossible. Of course, that would be such a simple solution, but every time I ate something that wasn’t good for my body, usually chemical-ridden foods or stevia, ethryitol, maltodextrose, monks fruit, MSG, or too much gluten, etc., I would have a huge flareup, where I would feel extremely itchy from the inside of my body. Everything internally, would be exacerbated, and it would literally be a form of torture, if I didn’t itch. Itching was my relief. And believe me, when I say, it’s impossible to stop eating when you have really bad eczema.
Overcoming Eczema in Japan — Introduced to One of the Best Skin Doctors in all of Japan
So imagine my surprise, when I was introduced to by a Buddhist friend of mine in Kobe, to one of the best Japanese skin doctors in all of Japan. Of course, I was skeptical, and it was extremely far from my house (~3 hours round trip just for commuting), but I decided to visit him anyways.
Since Japan has an amazing healthcare system that provides everyone with access to doctors all over Japan, the only major downside is that the most popular doctors, generally have a waiting line of upwards of 2 hours. This skin doctor in Kobe, had a waiting list of at least two hours. But the good thing is, that you can visit the clinic first, then they’ll give you a number, and tell you to come back in about an hour and a half.
The first time I visited this doctor, I had to wait at least two hours. But every subsequent visit, I was able to secure an appointment, because I was a far away patient living in Kyoto.
Overcoming Eczema in Japan — The Kobe Skin Doctor’s Unique Treatment Plan
Immediately, I could tell he was a different doctor. He even had a couple of his nails done, as it was one of his techniques for reducing eczema in patients. Apparently, if you have fancy nails, it’s harder to itch and you don’t get much of a relief from itching, so you reduce your eczema. Moreover, he always had an interesting attire — flamboyant shirts and things that you would normally not see in Japan which favors bland, simple colors to avoid attention.
For the first two weeks under his treatment plan, I was using steroid creams for five days a week. Then, the last two days of the week, I would use a cream that helped me sweat more. His entire theory rested up on the idea that the more you sweat, the less eczema you have. So anything that helps you sweat, will help reduce your eczema. That means, exercise, saunas, and hot onsen baths help as well!
Then, after two weeks, I went to using steroids 3 times a week and the sweat-inducing cream called Hirudroid, 4 times a week. And after another two weeks, I went down to using steroids 2 times a week and the sweat-inducing cream 5 times a week. Finally, I reduced my usage of the steroids to once a week or never, and would use the sweat-inducing cream at least once a day especially after a shower.
Also, I received UV ray therapy every time I went, which seemed to help a little bit. This meant that I would get blasted with UV rays for about 2 minutes on on the front- and back- side of my body. I was reassured after asking a few times about the safety of this machine, that there would be no adverse a fax, and I had nothing to worry about.
Finally, one last thing that he highly encourage me to do, was to re-create my own story in my head about having eczema. After all, through all of his treatments and his ideas about increasing the amount that I sweat, I was able to completely overcome my eczema this year. Thus, he wanted to make sure that psychologically I was 100% aware of this change, and no longer viewed myself as somebody who suffered from eczema.
For those who want to visit his office, please note that he is located near JR’s Nada station in Kobe, right before Sannomiya Station. You can also get to the clinic by taking Hankyuu and getting off at Ojikoen Station.
Address: Dr. Shimidzu’s Clinic
7 Chome-1-30 Iwaya Kitamachi, Nada-ku, Kōbe-shi, Hyōgo-ken 657-0846
Phone Number: 078-805-3980
* The actual location is not listed on Google Maps, but the office is right here on the 2nd floor.
Overcoming Eczema in Japan — The Importance of Reframing the Story & Continuing a Healthy Lifestyle
Now that I have completely overcome my eczema through visiting one of the best doctors in Japan, following his treatment plan, chanting hundreds and hundreds of hours of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, taking fish oil pills every day this year besides eating fish occasionally, soaking in hot baths almost daily with onsen bath salts, exercising more, and using the sweat-inducing cream called Hirudroid, I can now re-frame the story in my head as someone who is healthy and strong!
Of course, I will still continue doing everything that I have been doing, to ensure that I have no relapse of eczema, but going from having eczema all over my body, to only having a tiny bit on my hands, is literally a miracle! And thank you so very much to all of the people in the Buddhist community who have chanted for me to overcome my eczema and all of my health obstacles this year!
I hope that anyone else who suffers from eczema or other skin conditions, can also receive excellent treatment and cure their skin conditions, just like I have! Thank you very much for reading this article.