Patient Blogs | Atopic Dermatitis
The Ups and Downs of Eczema: Going to the Beach

I hate my feet and I love the beach. Such polarizing statements seem like they have nothing in common, but I promise the correlation is important. I guess the first thing I can address is that hate is a strong word. So is love. I don’t hate my feet and I don’t even like the beach all that much. If it’s there, like the beach 30 minutes away from my college town or right behind the resort I’m staying in for vacation, then I don’t mind going there. It will just never be my idea, my first choice, the only thing I’ll want to do. In middle school, I would tiptoe everywhere in public because I didn’t want the soles of my shoes to touch any gunk or mud or sticky surfaces. Sounds and sensations made me cringe. In high school, eczema spread all over my feet. I didn’t like putting my feet in water after that.

See. They’re related.

My skin ranges from dry and flaky to burning with scars. The products that are meant to soothe them are often the first to sting, to bring me pain before relief. Water is the same way. My fifth dermatologisttold me that water pressure and quality differs between state lines and regions and countries. When I go home, the water that comes from our showers is harsher on my skin. I’ve started to notice the differences between my boiling hot showers. The water is too harsh or too rough or burns -- not because of heat, but because of tension -- and I don’t know which is worse: Hating every moment I spend in the shower or hating however long I don’t take a shower. Cleanliness soothes me, yet it can also be a source of harm. An effort measured by whether I’m overdoing it or underdoing it.

The ocean isn’t so clean. There’s all kinds of fish and creatures and bacteria floating around. I can’t even swim, so if I ever find myself at the beach, I’m not one to venture too far. I mostly walk into the water until it hits my thighs. Have you spotted the problem yet? The issue is my feet: The first to submerge. And the one part of my body that spends prolonged time in that space until I’ve had enough and return to shore. I’ve had enough if my skin gets irritated and I feel the slightest need to scratch at all. Sometimes, just the thought of whatever’s floating in the ocean getting in the healing scabs on my feet is enough to make me jump out.

For the longest time, I forced myself to wear socks if I was around other people in a place where bare feet are normal. Most of the time, nobody really questions why anyone wears socks or not. The beach is not one of those places. It’s incredibly annoying to wear socks to the beach. I would know; I tried it once. Sand really gets everywhere. I wear socks with my sandals and my platforms and no one bats an eye. If I try to pull that at the beach of all places, all the questions I wish no one would approach me with are the first on their mind. I don’t even wear socks everywhere because I don’t want other people to see my feet. Perhaps it’s a small reason, to be fair, but the fact that I don’t want to see my own feet is the true reason. I don’t want to deal with questions. I don’t want to be reminded of all the things that could and would hurt. And sometimes, I just don’t want to go into the ocean at all.

If you couldn’t tell, swimming has been a particularly hard activity for me to partake in. I’ve found that the feelings I have for my skin and the beach all come down to circumstance. When I feel good, the water is a relief. If I don’t, it’s normal that I don’t have the same excitement for it. I try not beat myself up over the highs and lows of having eczema. I can only adapt to my journey with it, and excuse me for the pun, but I can only move with the waves.




Photo Credit: mapodile/E+ via Getty Images

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Bri Shufford

Bri Shufford

Diagnosed since 2013

Brianna Shufford has been living with eczema her whole life. When she isn't studying to be a social strategist at an art school, she’s working for a student media fashion publication. Shufford loves to write and read, especially within the genres of literary fiction and writing. She travels as frequently as she can and is waiting for the day she can drink tea by the window of her cafe-bookstore-gallery-condo in the mountainside.