I assume that in the course of the blogging, all my diagnoses this last year will eventually get discussed…making a list or just putting it all out there seems a bit much. Sometimes I feel like people who are chronically ill develop the habit of wearing their diagnoses like badges of honor in some weird competition of who is sickest and suffering the most. I don’t want to be like that.
But a huge part of my intention here is to help people with similar conditions by sharing my experiences, especially what worked and what did not. I can honestly say nothing has helped me deal with what I’ve gone through more than reading people’s blogs. I’ve gotten so many new ideas for treatments this way and lots of moral support.
Perioral dermatitis (POD) is an evil little monster that, like IC, carries the fun tag of “No known cause, no known cure.” They say that even if it clears up, it may keep coming back months or years later. Basically once you’ve got it, you might keep getting it. Yay.
POD manifests as a rash of redness, itchiness, flakiness and bumps that forms around (peri-) your nose/mouth (-oral) region. If you were a man, you could completely hide the rash by growing a goatee w/mustache as the rash doesn’t extend beyond the smile lines. The funny/sad part is that 90% of the sufferers are women (just like IC!). It can also show up around the eyes in which case it is called “periocular dermatitis.” I learned that part because I got it too!
It’s not life threatening and it’s not even life-affecting like IC or billions of other conditions. And yet many people whose posts I read on forums or blogs talked about it “ruining their lives,” “devastating” them, and keeping them from leaving their houses. We all care about how we look and we live in a society where appearance is important (like every society). Who wants to walk around looking diseased? POD can thrash your self-esteem. While I had bigger fish to fry that kept me from feeling like POD was ruining my life (IC holds the honor), I can really understand why people who had it worse than I did, or who were dealing with it as their primary issue would feel so devastated.
Here is a glamorous picture of me, totally sans make-up, with the POD in its heyday (forehead is not POD, just hormonal acne. Thanks PCOS!):
Derms call POD a cross between rosacea and acne, but they don’t know if it’s viral, bacterial, fungal, or an allergy. Like IC and all these types of conditions, it might vary for different people. In my case, I think it was allergic and bacterial in origin. It may also be caused by sudden skin sensitivity to products with sulfates, products with fluoride, heavy moisturizer, chemical additives, preservatives, perfumes and cinnamon/mint flavors. I’ve also read that hormones can play a part (there’s the female connection) and that both stopping and starting The Pill can be to blame.
That’s a lot of different potential causes!!
The standard “Western medicine” treatment is an antibiotic cream that takes up to six weeks for results, and/or oral antibiotics. If that doesn’t work for you, there is NOTHING else to be done for you. When I was diagnosed, I was given metronazidole cream. I used it for a week and it made my rash worse. I told my derm this and she encouraged me to keep using it. I thought she was insane and I am so glad I didn’t listen to her.
Throughout this whole process, I felt like I was reliving the IC nightmare of trying to figure out what caused this and what I could do to make it go away. I was so terrified that like IC I would never be able to make it go away. Before diagnosis, I’d been struggling with it for about four months, covering it up with make-up and trying many lotions and potions I now know just made it worse. I’d had it for six months by the time it cleared up.
My POD first appeared as a red patch around my nose, then spread to my chin, then started peeling, and then turned into angry bumps. I realize now I had started a form of birth control and a thick perfumed face cream right around the time it began, but I still can’t say for sure that those things triggered it, as I had been on that type of birth control before and have never had reactions to any perfumed skin cream in the past.
I turned to my trusty pal the internet for ideas. Turns out there are mountains of “natural cures” for POD online, just like IC.
Here is a list of things I did for POD. The star means I think they were helpful:
- Taking biotin supplements (supposedly rashes can come from biotin deficiency, this did not help me)
- Swabbing my face daily with apple cider vinegar (lots of burning)
- Attempting to buy violet creme (discovered it costs a fortune and is primarily used for nursing mothers)
- Taking Grapefruit Seed Extract internally and spraying it (diluted) externally*
- Buying natural fluoride-free toothpaste*
- Twice daily facial masks with plain greek yogurt (greek is best because it’s thick; leave on until dry then rinse with water)*
- Using sulfate-free shampoo, conditioner and face wash*
- Using the fewest number of products possible on my face*
- Using all-natural products with hardly any ingredients*
- Never wearing make-up. :-(*
I try to believe that everything happens for a reason, or at least that you can get something good or even wonderful from every awful experience. In this case, learning about the FDA’s NON-regulation of cosmetics and body care products was my reward. I learned all about the irritating and potentially toxic chemicals and preservatives that fill just about every mainstream product on the shelves. And when I stopped using any products on my face with “bad” ingredients, MY POD CLEARED UP!!!!! Despite my long list of attempted treatments, I really didn’t start seeing results until I stopped wearing make-up and discontinued all my previous facial products. I used to not believe the hippie hype and I thought that if it was on the shelves and people were using it, it couldn’t really be that bad. Now I research every single ingredient in my products. It’s great to be educated!
Scroll half way down the webpage below for a list of some of the most common and most problematic additives:
The Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is also helpful in learning about ingredients:
In an outrageous twist, the ingredients for the metronazidole gel prescribed to me by my dermatologist read like a “Most Wanted” ad for the worst offending chemicals in skin products!! It has three different kinds of parabens, propylene glycol, sodium hydroxide (LYE!!!) and EDTA! WTF? It’s too bad to be believed.
Here are the all-natural products I use that I attribute with saving me from this scourge:
- Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap (unscented baby-mild)
- Heritage Store’s Rosewater spray (ingredients: water and rose flower oil)
- AloeLife Skin Gel (9 ingredients, I would only start this after you’ve begun to clear up)
- Uncle Harry’s Jojoba Cream (one ingredient unscented jojoba esters)
Aside from yogurt, these four products are literally the only things I put on my face. When I have to wear make-up, I use nothing but mineral powder (Bare Minerals) for foundation and cover-up on the affected areas. It only has four ingredients but I’ve read that this product can irritate skin due to the bismuth oxychloride which provides a pearlescent effect, and to the talc. I use it very sparingly and have had no problems so far.
The greatest proof I can give that the cure to this disease is in your choice of products was when I had to get all-out made-up for a short film for the Santa Cruz Film Festival. I had to wear tons of eye make-up and I couldn’t afford to go out and buy all new eyeshadow, eyeliner and mascara so I wore my usual stuff. The very next day I had itchy red bumps around my eyes. The periocular dermatitis had returned. After a few days of no make-up, it went away again.
My only lingering question about the whole POD thing is why I suddenly became sensitive to all these products I’ve been using my whole life. I feel it must be connected to a larger systemic problem in my body; i.e. the big mystery…
Summary: Ignore the commercials and magazine ads and fancy enticing products on drugstore shelves! They are poison- all chock full of chemicals, artificial ingredients and preservatives. Even brands like Philosophy and The Body Shop are loaded with chemicals and preservatives. Put as little as possible on your skin for as long as possible and I hope the magic that happened for me happens for you.
Update- check out my blog post here for simple skincare:
Here is a link to a guide for an all natural body cream I make myself easily at home: