Dermatitis 101 - My 50+ Years Long Personal Battle with Contact Dermatitis

Dermatitis 101 - My 50+ Years Long Personal Battle with Contact Dermatitis

Before we can treat a condition, we need to learn all about it and understand it. So here the most important aspects of a condition that plagues millions of people world wide, Dermatitis.

What is Dermatitis?

Dermatitis - from the greek derma/dermato (skin) and itis (inflammation).

"Dermatitis is a condition of the skin in which it becomes red, swollen, and sore, sometimes with small blisters, resulting from direct irritation of the skin by an external agent or an allergic reaction to it." This is the definition provided by the Oxford dictionary when a search for - dermatitis definition - is conducted on Google.

A more medical definition by the Mayo Clinic states: "Dermatitis is a general term that describes a common skin irritation. It has many causes and forms and usually involves itchy, dry skin or a rash. Or it might cause the skin to blister, ooze, crust or flake off. Three common types of this condition are atopic dermatitis (eczema), seborrheic dermatitis and contact dermatitis." (1)

Types of Dermatitis

Dermatitis can present itself in various forms, and depending where in the body it appears and how it appears, it will have a different name.

Contact Dermatitis: An occasional rash that could blister up when touching a substance, food, clothing (textile dermatitis) or metal that turns out we're allergic or reactive to without even knowing.

Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema): A common type of dermatitis that presents itself as an itchy inflammation of the skin, caused by a combination of immune system activation, genetics, environmental triggers, food allergies and sensitivity, and stress. Individuals with asthma and allergies are at a higher risk of suffering from Eczema.

Dermatitis Herpetiformis: A chronic, very itchy skin rash made up of bumps and blisters, caused by sensitivity or intolerance to gluten, and not related at all to herpes.

Perioral (periorificial) Dermatitis: Inflammation and irritation of the skin around the mouth, cheeks and nose, caused by topical triggers. This type of dermatitis is identical to Contact Dermatitis, the only reason it has a different name is because it's localized to the face area, specifically around the mouth. The meaning of PERIORAL is of, relating to, occurring in, or being the tissues around the mouth.

Other types of dermatitis include, diaper dermatitis (a.k.a. diaper rash), dyshidrotic dermatitis, neurodermatitis, and seborrheic dermatitis (commonly known as cradle cap in infants), among others.

They all have one or more things in common:

  • skin damage,
  • incredibly difficult to scratch itchiness,
  • blisters,
  • oozing sores,
  • open sores,
  • bleeding,
  • infections,
  • permanent scaring,
  • and one thing they all have in common? they make the person suffering it self-conscious.
Dermatitis2015

How to treat the condition

Without failing every doctor will prescribe or recommend a variety of lotions, creams, balms, medicated or not, and especially antihistamines in their various forms without actually finding the CAUSE for these reactive rashes. Many of these professionals will also tell you to not use soaps and switch to synthetic detergents, which can make matters even worse. This is what modern medicine does, suppress the symptoms instead of treating the cause. When the symptoms return, and that isn't an if, it's a when, they come back with fury.

That's the equivalent to taking Carfentanil — a powerful fentanyl used in sedating elephants — to "treat" a broken bone, rather than actually fixing the broken bone. You may go on with your life not feeling the pain of a broken bone, that doesn't mean you're cured. Although a visual exaggeration, this is what most doctors especially in the US are trained to do.

Being there, done that for over 5 decades, until I listened to what my skin and my body were telling me.

Hi, my name is Manuela Valenti, I'm the founder and master formulator behind by valenti™ ORGANICS. As someone who has lived with this chronic condition and the complications that come with it for 54 years, I can tell you, no matter what you rub, dab, inhale, or take in the form of pills, syrups and other types of medications, if you cannot find what is actually triggering these bumps, blisters and oozing rashes, you won't be able to cure them or ever stop them from showing up.

In my 15 years of personal research on my condition, while closely working with many of our subjects in our testers group, I found all Dermatitis have a specific cause, a trigger in the form of chemicals in your grooming products such as lotions, shampoos, conditioners, perfume, you name it or even in the laundry detergents used to wash our clothes with, foods you might not think you're allergic to at all, but your body is reacting to whenever they're ingested, or the juices touching your skin during food preparations. There are also environmental triggers, such as dust, pollen, dirt or simply walking on freshly cut grass can trigger a flareup. The clothing you wear can also trigger flareups. Synthetic fabrics are usually to blame. Metals such as silver is a common trigger for people with dermatitis, and so is leather and the tanning chemicals used to color it.

In the case of Eczema and Neurodermatitis, additionally this condition can also be triggered by emotional responses such as stress, and anxiety. People with asthma, are prone to Eczema, but not all individuals with Eczema are asthmatic and not all asthmatic individuals suffer from eczema.

Perioral Dermatitis, and Contact Dermatitis, are the exact same condition, just presenting themselves in different parts of the body. They both are triggered by external factors, related to either foods, chemicals, synthetic fibers, metals or environmental attackers, but they are never triggered by stress of anxiety.

Determining what is causing the flareups through trial and error, is the only way to remedy the condition. Avoiding the triggers will reduce or eliminate the rashes, until you come in contact with those triggers. That's why it's important to tune in to what your body is telling you.

Recently I was given a Black Clay Facial Soap from a competitors brand. Cautious as I've become, I used the soap to wash my hands and waited. Not long after the skin on my hands reacted to the ingredients or something hidden in the formula, and my hands broke out in a horrendous rash, the worse I've had in 15 years. Had I washed my face with this soap I would have paid the price and probably gotten disfigured. It took about 2 weeks for my hands to return to normal. Now I'm sporting brand spanking new scars I will have to minimize. The brand claims to be formulated by an ER doctor turned skincare formulator and their products recommended for people with eczema and perioral dermatitis. This to show no matter the claims, not all products for people with dermatitis are created equal. I'm sure their products are wonderful for mildly reactive skin, but for my extremely reactive skin they just don't work.

My Personal 54 years Journey with Generalized Chronic Dermatitis

I was formally diagnose with Generalized Chronic Dermatitis (all over my body including my head and face) a few years ago, well into my 40's after I had already founded By Valenti Organics to exactly treat my chronic condition. 90% of my body is covered in scars and micro-scars because of this condition. Before my formal diagnosis all I had was my intuition, my own anecdotal and very personal discoveries through trial and error, and of course my well researched products, to keep my skin safe and healthy as much as I possibly could.

In my particular case there is a combination of genetics, and an occasional immune deficiency caused by the external factors that trigger my flares, ranging from:

Food allergies - I'm severely allergic to bell peppers and anything in the Capsicum genus. Eating it causes an anaphylactic reaction. Touching the juices of the fruit makes my hands very itchy. I was (not anymore) severely allergic to chocolate growing up. Eating chocolate would trigger a very itchy rash, making the skin all over my body red and inflamed causing my eyes to shut down from the swelling. All the swelling was external not internal. I outgrew this allergy on my own as a child by eating chocolate until I naturally built up a resistance to it. I do not recommend anyone doing this. This was incredibly stupid of me as a child and could have had devastating consequences.

Chemical allergies and sensitivity - I'm extremely sensitive to several chemicals used specifically in the manufacturing of cosmetics (which we do not use), skin care, and bath & body products, the reason why I cannot even use many of the self called "natural products" on the market or products for people with eczema, as these tend to be too reactive for me. I'm also heavily allergic to the harsh synthetic chemicals in the laundry products I and my family regularly used to use, synthetic fabrics and on the lower side environmental triggers. And yet I'm not allergic to poison ivy. 

In one so extreme case in my journey, I discovered in a very painful life altering way, I was allergic to one particular synthetic fabric in my early 20's. Wearing a uniform made with a very uncomfortable, irritating synthetic fabric while working as a psychoanalyst in the Human Resources Department at Orinoco's Bank in Venezuela in late 80's early 90's (picture Dr. Shannon Curry from the Johnny Depp trial but with really bad skin), the garment triggered 33 (yes I counted them) of the most painful boils (furuncles) and carbuncles, all over my body. Had they needed one, I would have been the poster board for the "Gilmore Girls" episode Welcome to the Doll House, where Lorelai and Suki find out the town had renamed the road where the Inn sat, to Sores & Boils.

After months of suffering, several rounds of antibiotics and medical procedures to remove the big ones from very sensitive areas, I discarded the uniform from my wardrobe and slowly my skin and my immune system were able to finally heal. This ordeal left me severely scared as these mega skin infections tend to do.

The synthetic fabric triggered a severe allergic reaction — immune response — lowering my defenses even more allowing more powerful micro-organisms to attack my skin.

The reason I was immunocompromised to begin with was because of the large number of constant micro-infections and open sores scattered all over my body at any given time caused by the dermatitis I was already suffering from, which I assumed was "normal" for my skin type. The reaction I had to this particular fabric, lowered my immune system even further, leaving me exposed to infections caused by Staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria generally responsible for the boils and carbuncles that attacked the hair follicles on my skin.

Why was I not diagnosed with Eczema instead?

Just like Perioral Dermatitis, and Contact Dermatitis, and even though as an asthmatic I would be more prone to eczema than anything else, these episodes always have an external trigger for me, related to either foods, chemicals, clothing materials, metals or environmental attackers. Because of the localization of these rashes as well as how they presented and the appearance they have, they were atypical — or uncommon — for eczema, which is additionally triggered by emotional responses such as stress and anxiety.

Stress and anxiety are not triggers for my dermatitis, so eczema was out of the equation. Contact, perioral and textile dermatitis on the other hand are always caused by external factors. Something we're exposed to knowingly or unknowingly. The lotion we use, residue of dish soap on the glass we're drinking from, particular foods, makeup, cosmetic products, a kiss from an enthusiastic pet, you name it, it could be literally anything, and several at the same time.

My Dermatitis Journey Created By Valenti Organics

Growing up in Venezuela, if you saw me walking around as a kid and even as a young adult fresh out of college, you would have seen fluids coming down my legs and arms, that wonderful iridescent mercurochrome shimmering on my wounds, or patches of gauze attached to my skin, at any given time. Granted, although many were from scrapes from the accidents any rambunctious child will have, the majority were from those pesky blistering oozing rashes I used to get.

For over 3 decades I tried many lotions an potions from pharmaceuticals all the way to natural remedies some even prescribed from Shamans, and nothing, absolutely nothing worked. The reason none of these potions worked, was because if we cannot find what causes a condition, we cannot treat it! All we end up doing is putting patches to a small hole that will eventually become too big to contain.

The causes for my skin rashes spawn from a plethora of factors, and were never by anyone of the doctors and pseudo doctors I saw throughout my life, ever taken into consideration. It was when I got to my early teens that I tuned in to my body learning from observation, and trial and error, what I was allergic to, or what was my skin reacting to, and either avoid it, or in the case of chocolate, building up such an immunity that I can safely eat chocolate without worrying about blowing up like a skin balloon.

Like in our About Us page back in 2007 used to say, "By Valenti Organics was born out of necessity, to meet the needs of Contemporary International Artist, Fashion Model, and mother of three Manuela Valenti, whom during her entire life has suffered from severe skin allergies and irritation. After many doctors, potions and lotions that didn't work, Valenti took a closer look at what was really causing her allergies and found both the commercial laundry detergents and commercial body care products even the apparent "soft" ones were brutally harming her skin due to the high levels of irritants, low grade ingredients and harmful chemicals they were formulated with."

How that one Lavender-Almond Soap came to be. The long version.

In 2003 while pregnant with my third child (10th pregnancy), a stained glass student of mine back in Georgia (the state not the country) gifted me a few of the soaps she made in her kitchen. She had a small business making and selling cold process soaps at regional street fairs and shows. The shower I took with one of them, (the others didn't work) was the A-HA! moment that changed my life, and the final piece of the puzzle in my journey.

Before this revelatory experience, I would walk out of a shower itching or I would be showering, itching and scratching, which prompted me to bathe for a second time in the prescribed medicated lotion du jour. After that one first shower, my skin felt somewhat different. This was a completely new experience, one that I wanted to replicate. That moment sparked the curiosity for the discovery of what was actually triggering my condition, and to investigate and pursue a solution for ME. But I was about to deliver a new baby, so that was pushed to the back burner for a bit.

In 2004 we had to leave our house in Conyers, GA and move to Bilbao, Spain, for work, which gave us the opportunity to reconnect with my family in Italy and my husband's family in Spain. In a conversation with my parents talking about this little soap my student gifted me with, that made me feel less itchy since, well, forever, the idea to try and make a soap for ME to use regularly came to be.

Growing up, mom and dad always told the stories of them being raised during WWII back in the north of Italy, the horrors they had to endure and all the things they had to go through to survive.

These stories became a dinner table favorite of my dad's when we didn't like what was for lunch. Nothing opens up your appetite than dad talking about the rock hard moldy bread they had to eat back then because that's all they had after yet another bombing.

One of the oh so many stories, was about my paternal nonna, making soap with leftover oils, fats, and the ashes from all the fireplaces in the building.

According to the stories, once a month the women in the still standing buildings met in the courtyard to make soap with the collected oils and fats from their kitchens, and the ashes from wood burning stoves and fireplaces, always saving a portion of ashes to use in whitening their lines by boiling them in large vats and cauldrons with whatever soap from the previous month's run they had left. I didn't care much for these stories, what 10-14 year old wants to hear them over and over again! Yet somehow I must have been listening, at least my brain was, because those stories stuck with me to this day.

When I brought up the soap idea, dad remembered seeing this little piece of paper with a handwritten recipe he was sure he still had in my grandmother's belongings. That little piece of paper with a centuries old handwritten recipe and directions to make the simplest of soaps was all I had as the starting point in my journey. Mom contributed to the project with some of her favorite ingredients, the ones she and her mom used throughout their entire lives, lavender essential oil and almond oil. Lavender was my mom's favorite plant, and her most favorite scent.

Ingredients selection & where do I start?

I did not know anything about soap making. I was really good in chemistry and biology, I had a degree in psychology, career that started in medicine school when I was pursuing a degree in veterinary school. Back then to study veterinary, we had to go through pre-med to then jump to veterinary. A dramatic turned of events derailed me from veterinary school, and instead I ended up miles away getting a degree in psychology. That's all the knowledge I had under my belt, aside from almost 30 years as a successful artist. But soap making?! Not the slightest clue were to even begin other than understanding from the chemical point of view the actual reaction that took place between a fat and an alkali.

 I dedicated hundreds of hours of research, studied, went back to college to receive the formal instruction I was lacking, joined A soap making classe which provided me with the basic knowledge, I picked apart that family recipe, and for the longest time I worked only one product. Back in the US in early 2006 I jumped into formulating mode and became my own test subject. Mad scientist at work I remember telling my kids when I was working on yet another formula in the kitchen, they loved seeing how a lipid and an alkali could transform into a solid salt, which is what soap is. I don't know how many batches of soap I must have formulated but there were a lot. Anyone would have stopped at 2-4 and call it a day, but it was my mission to find the perfect balance of lipids and other ingredients for my skin. I was determined to walk out of that shower without scratching my skin to death. After almost a year of working on this one soap I narrowed down the perfect formula. Once the soap was ready, I walked in my bathroom and conducted the final test. I took a shower and finally for the first time in my life, I wasn't itching while showering. I wasn't itching while drying myself off. I wasn't itching after I walked out of the bathroom! But most importantly I didn't need to bathe in lotions! Lavender Almond Bar Soap was born and my skin was in route to healing for good.

How did the business start?

That first batch of Lavender Almond Bar Soap was a bit too  large for just little 140lb me, so I sent a newsletter to my thousands of collectors and in less than 24 hours all the excess soap was sold. I thought that was the end of it. A few weeks later my collectors, many of whom are still stuck with me on this new journey, asked for more soap, and other varieties. I remember hubby saying, I think you stumbled on a business!

That *aha* moment with that one soap my student gifted me, brought back the memories of those family stories and their soap making endeavors during WWII, which produced that one little paper with a centuries old family recipe I had no idea that even existed bringing me to formulate a simple well balanced soap to heal my skin, which started By Valenti Organics in February of the year 2007.

The pieces of the puzzle for our journeys can be in front of us all along, without we even noticing they even exist.

Today my team and I help women and men find relief in the form of every day grooming, skin care and body products, specifically formulated for extremely reactive skin like mine, and for almost all forms of dermatitis, ranging from eczema, textile and even perioral dermatitis.

And to think I had made peace with the fact I would never stop scratching, I will always have an oozing wound somewhere in my body that would make it impossible for me to go out, wear a skirt or shorts making me feel self-conscious of the way my skin looked and all the life altering events that come with having this skin condition.

If there's one thing I want you reading this to take away from this incredibly long article, is listen to what your body is telling you. Pay attention to the signals it's throwing at you. That's your body's way of communicating with you.

Manuela Valenti

Italian/Venezuelan/American Psychopedagogist, International Artist & Cosmetic Formulator. CEO & Founder of By Valenti Organics, and Manuela Valenti Studio & Gallery.

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