A-Z

Eczema (young people)

Where on the body? Eczema and different areas of skin

Some people found it easier to list the areas of their bodies that hadn’t been affected by eczema than to list all the parts of their body that had. Anissa said that she’d had eczema “anywhere that there’s skin really”. One place where people said that they’d not had eczema was on the sole of their feet (although it is possible to have eczema here), but nearly all other skin surfaces were mentioned by at least one person we talked to. This includes Maham who’d had eczema on the palms of her hands before. 

Some parts of the body were thought of as ‘normal’ places for eczema, such as where the skin creases or folds like the inside elbow and behind the knees. The most commonly mentioned parts of the body were the hands, scalp and face. Other parts of the body were often seen as less likely to be affected by eczema, such as the chest/breasts and genitals.
 

Vicky talks about all the different parts of her body where she’s had eczema in her lifetime.

Vicky talks about all the different parts of her body where she’s had eczema in her lifetime.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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Yeah the only place that I never had it was my back. Obviously creases were the worst like elbows and the back of your knees, that always used to be the worst, especially when it flared up cos then you couldn't walk properly or you couldn’t walk at all. so I never had it there, on my back. My face, I used to get it on my eyelids, in the corner of my mouth, well generally just blotchy face anyway but that’s where it would be like scabs and everything and itchy, and the top of my lip as well. And I still get it on my face a bit now, like in the corners of my lips and at the top of my lip, it will go dry. And I hate it, especially now where I’m older, like obviously girls with their faces like, you want your face to look good, so you just constantly cream it and then you’re careful with what make-up you use. But other than that I had it everywhere; like I had it in between my fingers, my wrists, arms, shoulders, chest – yeah, everywhere really that I can remember.
 

Eczema has developed on different parts of the body for Himesh. He feels most concerned about areas that other people can see.

Eczema has developed on different parts of the body for Himesh. He feels most concerned about areas that other people can see.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 10
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Are there sort of some parts of your body where you feel more self-conscious about?

Probably the ones that are more shown, in show sorry like my face and sometimes my arms but definitely my face and my hair definitely yeh because otherwise everything else that’s covered I don’t really, not care about but like I don’t really see the point of caring about if no one can see it or can’t see it at the moment if that makes sense but yeh the face definitely and my arms, hands. Used to be hands a lot because my hands used to be really bad and my face you could really see it in the face. But those are really the places that are worse than other places on your body because I think it’s more exposed to the air and stuff like that, that’s why it gets bad but yeh that’s really why.
People had different concerns and difficulties, depending on where their eczema was. Some people said they felt self-conscious about having eczema or related scarring on their face and hands because it could be seen. For others, having eczema on their back was most difficult because it was harder to apply topical creams like emollients (see here for overview on emollients and here on their use) and steroids. Eczema could also have a big impact on movement and flexibility, making it difficult to do even simple tasks like making a hot drink.
 

Shams explains about the difficulties he has when putting treatments on his back, especially when eczema makes it difficult for him to move.

Shams explains about the difficulties he has when putting treatments on his back, especially when eczema makes it difficult for him to move.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 7
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A worst place I've ever had was on my back sort of in-between my armpits and my back, and I'm trying to find…especially when I used to apply medication, when I'm trying to find the right area. I mean sometimes you end up applying medication on the normal part of your skin and you turn yourself in the mirror and see that…that place you're meant to apply hasn’t applied. And the other places would be sort of back of the knees, arms areas. Those are not painful to apply medication to but sometimes when eczema becomes really worse; my skin becomes sort of stiff and hard to move. During those times it's hard to sort of bend your arm and apply it to yourself. Well, you're just kind of stiff armed in a sense, you can't move.

 

When his eczema is severe on his arms and neck, Gary can’t move easily which impacts on everyday tasks.

When his eczema is severe on his arms and neck, Gary can’t move easily which impacts on everyday tasks.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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Then, when I have it on my arms, when it comes really bad, I cannot really move my arms because I cannot straighten my arm because, then as I straighten, then it just starts bleeding again, the scars just opening.

So it's like I need to grab for everything like a robot, and I cannot move my neck so I'm moving like this. I can barely hold a cup and I can barely drink a cup of tea; I can barely smoke because I need to put my-, I need to move my whole body so I find this point [gestures moving arm and head carefully] that I can meet with the cigarette, it's just incredibly terrible.
 

Aisha struggled with scars from her eczema. Her doctor told her about ‘skin camouflage’, a service previously run by the Red Cross and now by the charity Changing Faces and some dermatology departments.

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Aisha struggled with scars from her eczema. Her doctor told her about ‘skin camouflage’, a service previously run by the Red Cross and now by the charity Changing Faces and some dermatology departments.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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And so I went to the doctor I think when I was about 14 and the doctor sort of said, "OK well there's this thing called sort of coverage make-up that the Red Cross do and we could go and sort of get that sorted for you if you like?" And I thought, 'Yeh that’d be good,' because it's sort of used for like burn victims and just people who have really heavy scars, like wine marks and etc etc. So, me and my mum and my sisters, we went down to [town name] and we went to the Red Cross clinic and I got it done and it was all sort of very like, like a movie sort of set with like prosthetics and everything everywhere and all these different shades of make-up. And, I put it on and I just, I'd not even put it on my, they not only put it on my face but they also put it on sort of my arms and the back of my legs, and I just looked like a completely different person, it was just, it was really sort of uplifting and I was like, "Wow this means sort of…" It just made me feel that tiny bit more confident even though, having eczema for years, obviously sort of knocked me down internally but, just at least I didn’t sort of show it on the outside. 
Eczema on the hands

The hands were often an affected area among the people we talked to. Some said this was tough because they are visible. This could be a focus of teasing and bullying. Aadam remembers being nicknamed “old man hands” when he was at primary school. Since the hands are “constantly” being used, it could also be difficult to avoid touching triggers or to keep on top of management routines such as frequent moisturising. Laura said seeing eczema on her hands was a good reminder to use her emollients though.
 

Ele explains about the difficulties of having eczema on her hands, including after moisturising and with using soaps.

Ele explains about the difficulties of having eczema on her hands, including after moisturising and with using soaps.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 2
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Having to touch sort of a keyboard and a mouse when I've just put moisturiser on its it is inconvenient because it just gets everywhere because I, when I moisturise I sort of have to whack a fair amount on and it’s between kind of putting a load on and just sitting there rubbing it in or putting a little bit on rubbing it in, putting a little bit more on and then rubbing it in. 

And I found that doing it gradually takes a lot more time so just for speed sake I’ll just whack a load on and rub it into my hands but then obviously you’re having to touch things and also if, so many times I’ve still not gotten used to moisturising just getting it all rubbed in and then being like I’ve got to go to the bathroom. So obviously going in, just moisturised, I have to wash my hands. And also in work it’s they tend to go for sort of cheaper soaps so going, and obviously I’m going to use soap when I’d been to the bathroom because to not would just be grim but at the same time just looking at it oh this is not going to be good. So just from that sort of point of view just having to be so careful about what I use on my skin and with washing up as well, sort of having to do washing up without marigolds the sort of yellow gloves that just turns into a three act play because, you know, they use it and then it dries out my skin. And then I've got to moisturise some more and it’s just sort of everything has to be done, anything sort of to do with water and my hands I’ve got to factor in the fact that I'm going to have to moisturise after doing it. Which does get frustrating especially when you’re trying to do something quickly and leave it and also leaving a bathroom with wet hands is never an option, ever. 
Scalp and hairline eczema

The scalp, hairline and neck were also common areas affecting people. These could be difficult places to have itchiness or to scratch, as some worried that other people would think they had head lice. Scalp eczema was described as a more extreme version of dandruff and people worried that skin flakes in the hair or on clothes would look bad in a work setting. Vicky and Abid also spoke about feeling uncomfortable getting a haircut, but Alice’s hairdresser wasn’t too concerned when she got her hair bleached and coloured.
 

Going to the barbers could be an uncomfortable experience for Abid. He would be given unhelpful treatment suggestions and found shaving painful.

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Going to the barbers could be an uncomfortable experience for Abid. He would be given unhelpful treatment suggestions and found shaving painful.

Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
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I had a little around my neck, the back of my neck if it ever got really worse then it would go over to the front but it’s not something that’s overly obvious. But when I went to the barber’s, when you have your short back and sides the back part’s not particularly fun because you always get this like nonsensical advice from a from a barber about, you know, “Oh I think you I think you should take this or that” or whatever. It’s like, no it’s nothing, absolutely nothing to do with you and you're area of expertise shall we say. 

It’s just those environments like when you go to like a barber for example and if you have any near your neck or anything like that then it affects you. Cos obviously like they, they really overdo it when, when you go to the barbers and stuff like when they shave, they literally shave your face like they’ll shave this and this and everything [laughs] it’s, it’s weird so when they go down the neck they go right down and if anything gets in the way then yeah it’s, it’s not a comfortable experience for either side really…because yeah but certainly more uncomfortable for the person sitting down.
 

Alice developed eczema in her scalp. She worried about what people thought when she scratched her head, but her doctor and hair dresser weren’t too bothered.

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Alice developed eczema in her scalp. She worried about what people thought when she scratched her head, but her doctor and hair dresser weren’t too bothered.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 7
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‘Cos I bleach my hair, I have like a patch of eczema on the back of my scalp so whenever I would like bleach my hair to dye it – it would really, really aggravate it so my skin at the back of my neck is really itchy so I’m always scratching and people think I’ve got head lice or something. And it was really bad for a while it was like swollen and peeling and disgusting.

I was more worried that I was allergic to hair dye [laughs] ‘cos if I had to stop dying my hair I don’t know what I’d do. Yeh, no, that was what I was worried about but then I mentioned to the doctor at some point that I thought it might be eczema related and that seemed to solve the matter.

I think when it’s like near your head or like your brain or something maybe they’re a bit more worried about it but I don’t know. Yeh so I just said that it had been quite bad and she had a look at it and it was like peeling and itchy and disgusting-looking so they just gave me some stuff for it but even that wasn’t something that they were really worried about, even the hairdressers carried on whacking bleach on it the same, it wasn’t like, it wasn’t like they refused to touch it or anything so.
 

Aisha talks about where she’s had eczema and the difficulties with her scalp.

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Aisha talks about where she’s had eczema and the difficulties with her scalp.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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I've had, so on my face; I've had it on my arms; I have had it on the backs of my knees but, I haven’t had it on the backs of my knees in a long time so that’s good. I've had it on my torso, my chest and then I said my scalp and the back of my neck. I think the back of my neck was one of the hardest places to get rid of it. But, my scalp is definitely the hardest I think because even though my face was, I think my face was a lot harder to deal with because it's just - it's so visible when your face is always there and you have to, people have to see your face and your face is always just there so, I think that’s - it was harder to deal with in that sense but, it's been hardest to sort of cure, in a sense, on my scalp because that’s just been there for years. And, I mean it went away and then it came back and it just… it sort of varies in severity if that makes sense. So, sometimes it's a lot worse and sometimes it's OK but it's never just gone and that makes you really self-conscious, like you're always like, 'Oh I need to check my hair and make sure that it's all covered up and, you know, nobody can really see it and I need to comb it thoroughly and wash it so it'll all come out,' but then if you wash it too much you're sort of taking away all the moisture and the oils from your hair which your sort of scalp needs, and it's just like I can't win [laughs]. So, yeh I think that’s the most… that’s the hardest place definitely.
Eczema on the face

Eczema on the face was seen as particularly difficult because it is so visible and important for identity. Having eczema on particular facial features (such as around their eyes, ears and lips) could have extra concerns too. For example, eczema on the eyelids could cause swelling and putting creams on this delicate area could make it difficult to blink properly or concentrate.
 

Georgia started to get eczema on her upper lip after several years without it. At first she thought was a cold sore.

Georgia started to get eczema on her upper lip after several years without it. At first she thought was a cold sore.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 4
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It wasn’t so severe on my face. It was just there [points to upper lip] that it, that it was quite prominent. And I, as I said, I thought it was a cold sore, so I’d just stick some Zovirax on it and think that it would clear up. And it wouldn’t. And it would, sometimes it would get infected and be a little green. And I think I’d just beg my mum to stay at home cos I didn’t want to go into school. I remember getting, getting boyfriends and kissing and stuff like that, and being very aware that they might think that that was contagious and that they might catch it, and wondering what they’d think. And I, I remember I wasn’t so aware of my eczema. Like it didn’t affect my confidence that much because I’d only suffer with mild, mild things like heat rash and allergy to pollen and hay fever. Which was common within school, cos a lot of my friends had that. But it was only when it started to crop up there [points to upper lip], then I started getting quite paranoid about it. And around my ears as well, I’d always keep my hair down so nobody would be able to see my ears or my neck. Cos that would get quite red and, and itchy, especially in summer because of the heat.
 

Sarah explains why she finds the face, especially around her eyes, to be the worst body location for having eczema.

Sarah explains why she finds the face, especially around her eyes, to be the worst body location for having eczema.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
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I think the worst is puffy eyes [laughs].

Why do you think that is?

I think because like your eyes are so communicative with other people, that’s what you think people are looking at all the time. So when your eyes feel puffy, like you can’t even open them properly. And they, when you, ever you look in the mirror, you look into your own eyes and they’re like, wow, red and scaly and you look like a dinosaur. You’re like ‘oh, this is so embarrassing.’ And then you don’t want anyone else to like look at you and think you look like a puffy dinosaur. And also like, sorry. Like other things-. I think the thing about eczema, like with acne, when people see acne they kind of know what it is, they know what acne is. But when you’ve got like really red, puffy eyes, people don’t associate that with eczema. They don’t really know what it is. And they, I think it’s, kind of looks a bit strange. People don’t know why you look like that. So it, it’s a bit more, I find that makes it a bit more embarrassing. And then with spots, like you can always cover it up with make-up. Like even though it does make acne worse as well, but it’s a lot more common to be able to cover it up. But like with eczema, it’s really difficult to cover it up with make-up. It’s really hard. But then I’m sure like if I had acne I’d be saying the opposite things [laughs]. It’s very s-, like they’re two ends of the spectrum, but they’re probably like really similar in the experience of people who have them.
 

Having eczema on her eyelids made Molly’s eyes feel tired which made it more difficult to focus on her studies.

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Having eczema on her eyelids made Molly’s eyes feel tired which made it more difficult to focus on her studies.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 4
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There was like two years where it was really, really bad and on the top of my eyelids as well and it would just make me so tired because my eyelids would be so heavy and it would just kind of knacker me and just cos it was all visible and all on my face then I’d be visibly scratching, just to kind of ease the pain.

My eyelids but it’s just, its agony when it’s up there and in lectures I can’t concentrate because it’s just my eyes are so, so horrid. So that, when my eyelids are bad – that does have a massive impact on life [laughs] more than I probably realise.
Having eczema on certain parts of the face was also linked to other health issues for some people. Aadam has a condition called keratoconjunctivitis related to his eczema which affects his eyes, making them extremely dry. Vicky had eczema inside her ears which scarred one of her eardrums when she was a child, causing some long-term hearing loss.
 

Aadam explains about an eczema-related condition called keratoconjunctivitis that affects his eyes.

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Aadam explains about an eczema-related condition called keratoconjunctivitis that affects his eyes.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 1
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It is sort of based upon the fact that my eyes aren’t able to lubricate themselves efficiently enough. And this can cause like irritation which can ultimately lead to ulcers. Ulcers are very dangerous, especially on your eyes or ulcers aren’t dangerous, but on the eyes they are. 

They can potentially blind you, in a sense. So, my parents were very concerned. And it got so severe at one point that they decided because I was in a lot of pain and I wasn’t able to go to school that they should conduct this sort of surgery where they inject steroids in my eyes, which is very worrying, well, they don’t actually put it in my eyes, but it’s in my eyelids where most of the irritation occurs. And, I remember the first day I had that operation. I was crying before the operation, because see - I was very scared. But it was very, it was unsuccessful because the next day I woke up and I was still in pain. So they did the same thing again, so two days in a row I had the surgery done. And after that, I was better. I was, I was really well. And then again, six months later, it sort of came back. But I think it was that time when it came back after six months it had gotten so bad I remember the consultant saying, it also has formed some sort of shield and I don’t know what that is in biological terms [laughs]. But I needed immediate surgery and then after coming out of surgery, it became evident that I’d actually got a scar on my eye. 

Okay.

But fortunately, it hasn’t affected my vision. 

Do you still have to go back for treatment for?

Yes. But it seems as though like the amount of operations I have become sort of, I don't know, exponential. Every time I have had one, the gap between is a lot larger. I think the last time I had one was about four years ago. which was, it’s great in a sense, because that means as the gap gets bigger, I am a lot less likely to have flare ups. I mean when I do have flare ups, I still have to use eye drops daily, although I don’t really use them that much in the winter, because that’s when it’s less severe. When it does flare up, I can usually control it with steroid eye drops, which I rarely use.
Facial hair, as well as body hair, can be tricky when you have eczema. Some people found that shaving frequently caused less irritation than stubble but others found that shaving on eczema-affected areas was too painful and could damage the skin more. Some people had lost some hair on their face or scalp if they had damaged the skin and the eczema had scabbed over. For example, Vicky remembers losing her eyebrows as a result of rubbing at the eczema on her face when she was a child.
 

Vicky finds that shaving her legs can help reduce irritation to her skin, but some patches of eczema are too painful to shave over.

Vicky finds that shaving her legs can help reduce irritation to her skin, but some patches of eczema are too painful to shave over.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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I started shaving when I was quite young actually because I noticed that on parts of my body that were less hairy it wasn’t as itchy when it flared up so I did start shaving my legs and that when I was quite young. and shaving gel, I just, if it wasn’t too bad I could get away with like a really, a sensitive gel that had like aloe vera and stuff in it. but if not I’d just use my Oilatum gel where it was quite jelly anyway, just put that on and use it as a shaving cream. And it did help when I started shaving my legs because and I told my dermatologist about it and he said, “Yeah, people do find that that does help,” because then it’s not, the hairs not getting stuck and it's not irritating it. so yeah, I stared shaving my legs quite young. But there’s, there were some times that even if I wanted to, I couldn’t because where the skin was so sore – you couldn’t go over it cos it would just crack it all open but, yeah.
 

Aadam remembers being one of the first boys in his year at school to get facial hair. He balances keeping his stubble the right length so it doesn’t irritate his eczema.

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Aadam remembers being one of the first boys in his year at school to get facial hair. He balances keeping his stubble the right length so it doesn’t irritate his eczema.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 1
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I think facial hair is one of those things that it depends how you sort of portray it or if you keep it neat, I guess. I think that’s something I did do. So, I was reluctant to shave mine all my, all my facial hair off, purely because when I had done it, it gets, especially back then, it does it does get very itchy. I mean, I shaved my neck and I shave sort of around here where I tried to shape it up. But, the itchiest places are just like above my chin and those areas. So, I don’t really shave those because I know that if I do it each day, it’ll it will be really hard to stop and it also gets bumpy and red and I don’t really want to show people that. But yeah it was a learning curve as well [laughs].

My high school. So they would, they actually ran a facial hair check around our year. And, eventually I said, okay, not that I was growing it for religious reasons, I said, I am just growing it for religious reasons. And, because I’d never actually grown it out before. Little did I know that that would also cause my face to become very hot and that would irritate my eczema too. I still had to keep it like a sweet spot between short and long which is like the most less irritating length. But my school wouldn't understand that. So, I said, okay, I am growing it for religious reasons. They went, okay then. But then like the moustache is just irritating on your lip. And religiously as well, in my religion, which is Islam it’s not really supposed to go like below your lip, because then it gets into your mouth and then food gets stuck to it and sort of logical reasons like that. So then I trimmed my moustache and she said, oh, what about this part and I said, that’s my moustache. That’s not my beard [laughs]. And then they sort of threatened to call home and stuff. And eventually I just sort of found the sweet spot, which was stubble and I said, yeah, I shaved yesterday [laughs]. It’s grown back to stubble. Yeah, and then they never really said much about it. 
Eczema in ‘intimate areas’

Having eczema on an ‘intimate’ body part (for example, the genitals) not typically thought of as a ‘normal’ place for eczema could make a person feel especially self-conscious. It could also mean that getting a diagnosis took longer because doctors might suggest other possible causes first, as was the case for Jessica who had vulval (near the vagina) eczema. A few people said they would like more specific information about genital eczema – this included those who’d experienced eczema in ‘intimate’ areas or were concerned about this happening in the future.

Some young women we spoke to had experienced eczema on the chest and breasts. These parts of the body can easily become “sweaty”, making the eczema even more itchy and sore. Bras can also rub, but some women said that they wouldn’t feel comfortable going out in public without one on. Ele would leave it until last minute before putting on a bra and going out because of the pain. The inner thighs and bum were other body parts that some people had found tricky to have eczema on.
 

Jessica saw many GPs and did her own research before being diagnosed with vulval eczema and receiving specialist treatment.

Jessica saw many GPs and did her own research before being diagnosed with vulval eczema and receiving specialist treatment.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 20
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Over like summer, I started having like a really itchy like vagina. So now I sort of have vulvar eczema which is actually quite unusual. And obviously at the beginning with sor-that like—cos it’s, that’s really hard to go through the NHS because it’s quite like a gynaecological/dermatological problem, so no one really knows where to put it. And obviously, at the beginning they thought like, had an infection. Or like an STI and I’ve had like so many tests until Yeah, I was like telling my mum about it and she got quite frustrated, went to like a private doctor who finally diagnosed it as vulvar eczema and has given me like steroid cream and stuff. 

So, like, when you like Google outright ‘itchy vagina’, the o-, first thing that comes up is you probably have an infection… that sort of thing. Yeah, I never really thought I had an STI, that seemed unlikely Yeah, for a while I was just sort of, sort of like, oh, I don’t really know what I have, but like oh they’ll figure it out. I am taking all these tests like, sort of thing. I’m pretty sure it was the Internet that first gave me the idea that I probably have eczema.
 

Georgia talks about how it can be difficult to cope with itchiness, especially in intimate areas like near the bum, and what other people think about her scratching.

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Georgia talks about how it can be difficult to cope with itchiness, especially in intimate areas like near the bum, and what other people think about her scratching.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 4
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It’s like if it’s in a really intimate place, like it sounds a bit disgusting, but I get it right under my bum cheek, like in the crease where your bum meets, meets your thigh. And if I’m in public I can’t just start scratching it, cos I’ll look like I’m trying to scratch my, my bum. And I don’t want people to be like, “What’s she doing? Why is she scratching her bum?” But it’s so hard. So I have to like go to the toilet and just be like arr because of the relief. And I try not to do it if I’m with my friends cos I know they’ll notice and I know they’ll be like, “Stop scratching. Stop it, stop it.” And sometimes people just telling you to stop can make you want to do it more. It, it’s one of those things though, isn’t it? You tell somebody not to do something and off they go and do it. And it almost starts off like a trigger reaction sometimes. So if I’ve got a scra-, like an itch on my leg, I’ll slowly make my, my way up my leg and up my body and then back down the other one. 

 

Lizzie finds that the skin rubs together more when she wears summer clothes, which can aggravate her eczema.

Lizzie finds that the skin rubs together more when she wears summer clothes, which can aggravate her eczema.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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Sometimes like it can be hard even when you're walking with like shorts on cos your like thighs can touch each other and brush against each other, which you don’t get with clothes, which can be like really, really sore in the inner thighs and stuff. Or like even when you're carrying a bag and you're holding onto the bag so you're elbows are like closed, and it can get really sweaty, which again you don’t get in the winter because you’ve got your clothes in between.
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