A person holds up their arm and applies deodorant as flames erupt from their armpit.

A Recent Flare...in My Armpits??

It’s been over a decade since my last severe skin flare with 'Pityriasis lichenoides et varioliformis acuta' or ‘PLEVA.’ I have had minor rashes during the years since, but never anything that lasted more than a few days and nothing that was a chronic discomfort either. I have been grateful for this clarity in my skin, especially considering my history of atopic dermatitis during my childhood and early adolescence. Unfortunately, these times of clarity do not always last. Recently, I have developed a flare of atopic dermatitis, and it has been as frustrating as ever to manage.

What caused this flare?

I’ve been continuously asking myself, “What happened? What went wrong?” At first, I considered that the warm clothing throughout winter was restricting airflow to my underarms, causing a flare-up. Then I considered that the recent move to Colorado spurred things up with my eczema; with the dryness and elevation, it seemed plausible. However, the flare was nowhere other than my armpits. Then it became obvious.

Nothing really went “wrong,” everything was going fine until I reached a little hiccup in my management, not of my skin but my body odor. What happened was that I changed up my deodorant. A seemingly harmless action to most, but a potential start of an avalanche for those of us with skin sensitivities.

Using plant based products

Interestingly, one of the things that helped my skin in the past was moving away from synthetic deodorants and soaps; transitioning to plant-based body cleaners and cosmetics. I had been using a plant-based deodorant, which was rose-scented; then, I switched to a cedarwood. They were for the same company that uses essential oils for fragrance, having very different effects on my sensitive skin. It took a few weeks of using the cedarwood for me to notice discomfort and the flare-up, then another week to realize what the actual cause was.

As someone who also has asthma, there a few scented products that I can tolerate, let alone use. I use rose-scented products because I know that rose essential oils are not something that irritates my skin when mixed into a product yet allows me to enjoy a scented product. I love the smell of cedarwood as well, which prompted the switch to a different scented deodorant. This meant rubbing cedarwood essential oils into my armpits daily, which was not something that occurred to me initially. Now, I certainly have some different perspectives.

The lessons I've learned

Like many others with atopic dermatitis, I have learned over the years what triggers my skin to flare up primarily from flare-ups. This recent flare-up came as a surprise, though not lacking lessons that I will value for the future.

  • I knew that naturally scented products irritate my skin less or not at all because they use essential oils rather than synthetic fragrances.
  • I now realize that not all essential oils will be kind to me when rubbed on my skin, habitually.
  • In the future, I will check the applied area consistently to catch a reaction earlier when trying a new scent.
  • Also, I should consider the 'atopic march’ or the connection between my asthma and eczema when considering a scent. The scents that are fairly strong when smelled might be intense for the skin as well.

The lessons we learn from flare-ups of any condition can teach us how to navigate the future to accommodate that condition better. In pursuit of comfort, the more we can identify the sources of discomfort, the more we can stay on track.

My final thoughts

After years of embarrassing blemishes, irritating blotches, and barely soothing balms, I finally reached a light at the end of the tunnel via numerous lessons and changes. For years I was elated to have such minimal skin irritation and almost felt invincible to the changing seasons or climates. It was a slight reality check. I still have atopic dermatitis, just like how years without an asthma attack doesn’t mean my asthma is gone. Despite the discomfort and confidence deterrent, I am grateful for the further lessons I have learned in the pursuit of managing my skin. I hope that with knowledge of my experience, you too will gain insight into your own management. In that, I wish you nothing but progress.

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