This is a new series focused on personal journey with eczema while managing a certain aspect of life. Today, we have Paola Bassanese, who has had eczema since her childhood years and whose work as a massage therapist requires frequent hand-washing. Paola is the founder of Energya, an award-winning massage therapy practice based in Central London.
Marcie Mom: Hi Paola, thanks for taking part in my new blog series ‘Someone has Eczema’ and for returning to my blog (the first interview with you was on massage for eczema). Let’s start with you sharing the severity of your eczema, whether it particularly affects your hands and what would trigger your eczema flares?
Paola: Hi Mei, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my experience. My eczema is somewhat stress related and can also be triggered by external factors like contact with irritating substances, cold weather and wrong food choices. My eczema is often contact dermatisis and it appears solely on my hands causing cracking in the skin and bleeding.
The random fashion of my eczema flare ups make it difficult to prevent the reoccurence of eczema so my key strategy is to keep stress at bay. This is particularly important because if I am stressed and get eczema I can’t work and being self-employed I need to stay healthy to be able to treat my clients and to run my business.
My worst eczema flare ups were when I worked in offices and my hands were bleeding and painful when I tried to type or move my fingers. In my first year as a massage therapist when I set up my practice after leaving a well paid office job my stress levels were very high and I had to manage my condition while trying to gain clients. Saying it was a difficult time is an understatement!
Marcie Mom: I haven’t had many massages before, and I think even for those who do, we may not be aware of the chemicals that we come into contact with, and therefore, a massage therapist would also be in contact with. Can you share some of these chemicals in the more common types of massages and whether they cause eczema rashes for you?
Paola: Chemicals don’t tend to be used in the massage industry in general and scent-free natural oils are often used. During the consultation form with a new client the therapist asks if there’s any allergies and will act accordingly. However, in salon and spas offering for example manicures and pedicures therapists are in daily contact with chemicals.
Aromatherapy oils (which I don’t use because of my eczema) can irritate the skin even if they are organic. These oils contain natural chemicals so when they come into contact with the skin they can cause reactions even after years of safe use.
Marcie Mom: Definitely there’s a lot of hand-washing and sanitizing involved in your work, how has it affected you?
Paola: I have become more aware of the types of soaps and detergents I use. I have to wash my hands constantly between clients and I only use mild soaps that don’t strip the skin from its own protection barrier. I then moisturise with creams I have tested that don’t give me an allergic or comedogenic reaction; however every so often I need to change the cream I use as over time I become either over-sensitive or it stops being effective.
Marcie Mom: One final question – you made amazing progress, and was awarded by the Chamber of Commerce for running your business in UK and raising the profile of your Italy hometown, Trieste. You must have known from the onset of your massage therapist career that hand-washing would be an issue, yet you persisted and even set up your own practice and won numerous awards. How did you manage this part of your job, and what advice would you give to others who have eczema and want to pursue an occupation they love (say massage therapist, nursing, dentist) that requires hand-washing?
Paola: Thank you Mei for the compliment. Well, looking back at my life I would say that my worst cases of eczema happened when I felt extremely stressed and did not have control over my work environment. So in that sense it doesn’t matter what job I was doing or what country I was in: it was all to do with mental attitude. Yes, of course contact with allergens and chemicals triggered some reactions but I was at my worst when I felt that my life was going nowhere and I needed more positive challenges and projects.
I would advise anyone who suffers from eczema and chooses a profession that requires frequent hand-washing to look at all these factors:
– Nutrition. Do you have any food allergies or sensitivities? Can you make some changes to your diet to reduce the intake of inflammatory foods?
– Stress. How stressed are you and what can you do to reduce your stress levels? Take time for yoruself and practice forms of relaxation like yoga and meditation
– Products. Do your research and look for cleaning products that are tested against allergies and apply barrier cream when you can.
Marcie Mom: Thanks Paola for taking time to share your journey with us, managing eczema and an occupation that has frequent hand-washing, and going on to be so successful in massage therapy is indeed inspiring!