Kaitlynn Fenley has battled eczema all her life. When she was a baby, her mother bought special onesies because the nickel buttons in some of her clothes irritated her skin. Growing up, she had inflamed patches on the tops of her hands, armpits, behind her knees, her inner elbows and all over her face.
After graduating from LSU in 2014 with a degree in microbiology, she co-founded educational health and wellness brand and fermentation company Cultured Guru. Fenley decided it was time to find her own way to cure her eczema. Following a strict diet, skincare regimen and stopping her use of prescribed steroid creams, she was able to feel confident in her own skin again.
Chatting with 225 over lemon water in her bright, plant-filled apartment, Fenley shares her self care routine.
The No. 1 thing that I did to heal my eczema was stopping using steroid cream. I used steroid cream for 10 years, and what most people don’t know is that if you open the pamphlet in the steroid cream box, it says ‘discontinue after two weeks of use.’ It’s because your skin gets addicted to it. I would use the steroid cream, not use it for two days (because my eczema would go away), and it would come back because my skin was withdrawing. Whenever my skin would withdraw, I would get a flare-up.
So I voluntarily went through what they call, ‘steroid cream withdrawal.’ It was bad. You get very itchy. Mine lasted for about three weeks. My face was puffy and swollen. I had hives down my side. I had patches in places I never had them before. But probably about the third week, it started to go away. I peeled like a molting lizard, and then my skin was like new. When you use steroid cream, there’s many preservatives in there, and you actually end up disrupting a proper balance of skin microbes.
A key way I keep my skin microbiome healthy is not washing my entire body with soap every night. I wash all the parts that can get stinky, but I don’t scrub my face every night. I have a bamboo exfoliating brush, and I just exfoliate with water. Every third night I exfoliate my body with soap from Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve Company.
When I hop out of bed, the first thing I do is splash my face with warm water. Then I put tallow balm on my face. It’s beef fat rendered into tallow. It’s wonderful for your skin.
Facial steams are also something I do in the morning that especially helped during steroid withdrawal. I just got a big bowl, warmed up water in my tea kettle, and I would put green tea leaves in it and then put my face over it with a towel. It’s like making a mini sauna. I would stay under the towel for like five minutes. Then, as soon as I lifted up the towel, I would put tallow balm on my face. The warm water opens up the pores in your skin, so you absorb the moisture better.
I would just stay away from synthetic ingredients. If you’d have to call poison control because you ate it, don’t put it on your face.
I don’t wear makeup every day. But if I’m going to an event or someone’s going to take my picture, I only wear makeup from online skin-care shop, Toups & Co. Organics. They have powdered and liquid foundation, and it’s the first thing I’ve put on my face that doesn’t make me itch. Basically all of their stuff is tallow-based. Tallow is really similar to the lipids in your own skin, so it helps keep it healthy.
You can kind of tell what food may be bothering your skin based on your digestive tract. If your bowel movements aren’t right and your skin’s not right, I think you need to heal your gut before you work on changing your whole skin care routine.
I start my days with a gluten-free English muffin with avocado and kimchi. Sometimes I mix it up and eat oatmeal. For lunch, I eat a salad with some grilled tofu and rice. I make the salad dressing myself. My fiancé, Jon, and I do go out to eat; I just stay away from certain foods. I don’t eat wheat, processed soy, meat, dairy or cane sugar. I’m basically a vegan. If I can’t look at it and trace it back to growing in a field, I can’t eat it.
When I make a green tea latte in the morning, I add spirulina and flax oil to it. I notice that whenever I don’t do that, my skin gets a little dry and I get oily in my T-zone.
Working out has been my most fun hobby. I find when I go and sweat in the gym, I don’t wash my face when I first get home, and it’s been great for my skin.
I would also suggest getting house plants. They purify the air, which is good for your skin. If you like dogs, get a dog. Cuddling with a dog can actually help rebalance your skin microbiome since they walk in the grass and play in soil. So you can actually have a more diverse skin microbiome if you cuddle with a puppy every now and again.
Eczema: A skin condition that causes inflamed, rough and itchy patches to appear on the surface of the skin.
Skin microbiome: The microorganisms that inhabit the skin. Also referred to as skin flora.
Editor’s note: This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Skin Deep is a new 225 series on skin care. We ask locals to open up on their beauty, health and wellness secrets.
This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.