Tips for Cooking With Eczema
When everyone retreated into their kitchen during the pandemic, I was hesitant to follow. The aromas of scallion pancakes, hearty sourdough and dalgona coffee beckoned, but eczema screamed louder. This chronic skin condition — atopic dermatitis — is a whack-a-mole rash from mysterious inflammations, leaving drought cracks and scarlet blisters in its wake.
I am not the only one cursed: 10% of adults suffer from eczema. With more homebound time from the pandemic, there is no surprise that most of us have fallen into the temptation of baking banana bread. More baking and more cooking means more flare up of dry patches for us.
Here are five tips I learned from cooking with eczema that college students can practice for better cooking experiences.
Keep your kitchen space clean.
Nobody likes a crusty kitchen. Dust and grease cling like expired lotion and accidentally brushing an old food splatter with an elbow is like stepping in dog poop.
I enjoy getting together with my housemates at least once a month to do a thorough cleanse of our shared space. Someone organizes the pantry. Someone dances with the vacuum or mop. Someone exfoliates the microwave and backsplash.
Pre-pandemic, I slept over at a friend’s, and, in the morning, she called a house meeting. They set a five-minute timer and aggressively tidied their living space. Stray water cups were cleaned. Spices returned to their rack. Physics-worn paper tucked in the recycling bin.
Minimize excessively washing hands.
Especially living in Santa Barbara, where tap water is hard water from high calcium and magnesium levels, washing hands excessively irritates the skin. Washing your hands is so effective, it also erodes the oil in your skin that naturally locks in mositure. If you do need to wash your hands, reduce contact with extremely hot water and instead of rubbing dry, pat dry. Then, add moisturizer to prevent more dryness.
If it is not necessary to wash with water and soap, try using hand sanitizer instead. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can dry out the skin as well, but it is enough to rid of germs after touching a communal door knob or microwave door without leaving visible impurities like dirt on hands.
Invite your housemates to cook and feast. Not only is cooking a great bonding time, splitting the dishes diminishes outrageous water time with hands.
Cook with air circulation.
Growing up in an Asian household, my parents always open the doors and windows and turn on their vent hood. They shut bathroom and bedroom doors, so the scent of ginger and garlic does not linger in our sheets.
There is a time and a place for good smelling food, they seem to say.
Living away from home, I remember the fear of residual cooking smell. An oven to roast sweet potato or a slow cooker to whip up curry can fume the home with fragrance, a warm hug during winter days, creating a greasy film from fumes lingering the following day. This film feels sticky and dries out my skin. It is like trying to wriggle out of a hug from your least favorite uncle with a beer belly and garlicky breath.
Wear personal protective equipment.
If someone asks me what my favorite kitchen utensil is, I would say the green rubber gloves I purchased at Isla Vista Food Cooperative. Doing dishes with cracked and blistered skin from eczema is frustrating, but with reusable gloves, I know that I can indulge in the cooking process without marginal damages to my skin.
Additionally, gloves can prevent contact with particles that can cause irritating reactions. I use the disposable nitrile gloves my mom gave me to wear whenever I go grocery shopping to protect my hands from COVID-19 and the allergens and irritants in my kitchen. These gloves fit more comfortably than reusable rubber gloves. Therefore, I use them when I am chopping, whisking and handling food.
Avoid ingredients that flare your skin.
Most people know not to eat something they are allergic to, but with eczema, the allergic reaction is less noticeable. Cracked skin bursts out of nowhere.
Exclusion or elimination diets are diets that strictly avoid food that is suspected to influence eczema. This diet varies from person to person and tends to work when food allergies are acknowledged. For example, as I am lactose intolerant, I grow bloated and eczema speckles the skin on my joints more when consuming dairy. Dubliner and string cheese are worth sacrificing when I do not have to lather Vaseline on dry spots every hour.
I like to think that eczema is a blessing too, reminding me to be more present in caring for myself and my kitchen. I hope sharing my experience has helped you with yours.
Celine Pun has been an Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion For Dry Skin addict for 16 years.