CAMILLE Knowles was just six years old when she was diagnosed with severe eczema.
The chronic skin condition would leave her covered in an angry, painful rash that would bleed and some days her lips were swollen she couldn't speak.
At its worst, she had to be rushed to A&E as her immune system stopped working.
The 27-year-old, from Manchester, had tried every over-the-counter medication, steroids and creams but nothing worked.
She was convinced she would never find a solution – before finally taking a different approach.
Here, writing in a piece for Healthista, Camille explains how she managed to conquer the chronic condition…
I am one of the 330 million people worldwide who have eczema. It has had a huge impact on my childhood and teenage years – right into adulthood.
I was diagnosed with the chronic skin condition at just six years old. Flare-ups would often leave me with an angry rash and even bleeding wounds across my arms, legs, back and face. My lips would swell so much that I couldn’t speak and would beg to stay off school.
Through my teenage years I hid how my skin bothered me and concentrated on things that made me happy like good friends and sports instead.
However, any sudden stress surrounding exam time or a cold-snap of weather would have an impact on my skin.
At the age of 16, I thought I’d found the answer through learning about allergens that might set it off and following a strict diet and exercise regime.
I eliminated gluten, dairy, sweets, crisps and anything processed but I also found that tomatoes, oranges and lettuce were also foods I needed to avoid to prevent flare-ups.
Exercising is known to help release endorphins that reduce stress, and raise energy levels throughout the day.
Flare-ups would often leave me with an angry rash and even bleeding wounds across my arms, legs, back and face
I find that in addition to that, it makes you feel better about yourself and you sweat out any toxins.
My skin felt better too. What I wasn’t aware of is that I’d swapped one problem for another.
Instead of being controlled by eczema I was being controlled by my new regime, which had spiralled into an obsession. I’d rather skip a meal than eat the wrong things.
Soon I was existing on only juices, convinced I was being healthy but I was running on empty; body, mind and soul.
Around five years ago, I had lost all hope and was hospitalised because of my eczema. One evening after a flare up, I felt a rush of heat rise up my body from my toes to my head.
I looked into the mirror and saw that my face was swelling.
I felt dizzy and the pressure in my head was unbearable. I grabbed my phone to call a friend and he drove me to A&E.
Once I was seen, it was clear that my inflammatory markers were off the charts.
The doctors said that the swelling was due to my eczema and the open wounds coupled with a 20 per cent deficiency in zinc meant that my body’s immune system wasn’t working properly.
I had lost all hope. I remember frantically Googling for eczema success stories only to find that none existed.
Even the doctors told me that I would never recover or find a solution.
When it comes to eczema, people often underestimate how healing really does start in your head and mastering the mind can have a significant impact on reducing symptoms and regaining control.
Working out why your skin is flaring up in the first place and addressing that as a long-term solution is vital.
I had lost all hope… Even the doctors told me that I would never recover or find a solution
I started to change the way I reacted to things, understand the triggers and turn negative situations into something much more positive.
Through years of trial and error I found that my triggers were food that was processed or unnatural, stress or a sudden change in environments, lack of sleep which led to exhaustion and unnatural skincare products or chemicals such as chlorine in swimming pools.
From a self-care perspective I put a series of lifestyle changes in place; ditching alcohol, eating mainly plant-based foods, and banning technology in the evenings in favour of Epsom, Dead Sea and Himalayan salt baths before an early night.
The availability of natural skincare products helped, I’m particularly fond of Love Lula.
I also focused on things I was passionate about. I saved up to train as a health coach and natural chef, and the happiness showed in my skin.
These changes were helping me to find my glow and so I made it my mission to help others who suffer.
Documenting my experiences and painful journey has been difficult. It hurt to look at pictures of my skin at is very worst and write about it but sharing this with the world was what was going to make a difference.
Over the years I’ve developed a holistic approach to eczema management and a toolkit to healing which I call my HOPE principles.
To offer a guide to living life beyond eczema I have published a book and designed a journal which unlocks a workable way to heal by putting pen to paper and reflection techniques. I want people to know that there is hope.
Camille’s H.O.P.E. principles for conquering eczema
My HOPE principles are a toolkit for healing which I developed over five years of trial and error. They are a framework for healing and have been supported by leading dermatologist Dr Tim Clayton. They focus on the mind, body and soul and include the following:
H – is for Home
This is about getting people to focus not just on where they are physically but mentally too. The focus here is creating the right environment for healing.
For example de-cluttering, getting enough sleep and creating a sanctuary in the home, as well as incorporating mindfulness into your routine every day to improve your mental well being.
O – is for Optimism
This is about how you choose to respond to your eczema or skin condition. I am a big believer in seeing the beauty in your condition and how it is your body’s way of telling you to address certain imbalances in your life. This section talks about using affirmations and visualisation to improve your outlook.
P – is for Purpose
This is about finding meaning in your life and making sure that you focus on doing things that you love – from work to home life. P is also for Pampering and the importance of self-care.
E – is for Eating Well, Exercise and Ecotherapy
This section focuses on the importance of diet and exercise to reduce inflammation, boost mood and immunity. I’m also an advocate of spending time outside in the great outdoors to help boost my body and mind.
I understand how eczema can affect all areas of people’s lives, leaving those with the condition feeling isolated and withdrawn.
One of my biggest outlets to share my experiences with others has always been through my Instagram and YouTube channels. I am very proud to be part of an online movement which is giving skin conditions like eczema increased visibility, offering support to people who are yet to be graced with positivity.
Anyone who follows me knows that I am always brutally honest about my journey. Even recently when I was flying high after launching my book, my eczema flared up again and has taken a number of months to show signs of improvement.
I have shared this experience with my community to show people that I am human and you can never take your mental and physical health for granted.
Knowing that what I have been through is helping other people and receiving messages and DMs from my growing warrior tribe is extremely moving. I always reply to people personally and do my very best to help answer their questions – I know how hard it can be to reach out and ask for help, after all, I have been there.
Eczema has been part of my journey but it doesn’t define me. In fact, one of the best things I ever did was to see the beauty in it.
- Camille’s book, The Beauty of Eczema, is supported by Consultant Dermatologist and recognised leading UK eczema expert, Dr Tim Clayton. Available from Amazon at £14.99.
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