A life-long search for an eczema cure sees Rebecca Blithe soaking in a bath of apple cider vinegar.
Have you ever been so desperate to cure an ailment you'd try anything? I have. From potent steroid cream to trying to track down a man in an Indian village whose "miracle balm" apparently cured my boyfriend's mum's friend's son of eczema, I've tried it.
As a kid Mum would baste my arms with prescription cream and wrap them in cling film to stop me tearing myself to shreds in the night.
As an adult I've taken evening primrose oil, fish oil, used soap-free soaps, doused myself in coconut oil before showering - and after - avoided wearing wool and switched to hypo-allergenic washing powder. Each thing helps to a small extent but nothing's ever completely cleared my skin of eczema.
Last winter was the worst. I was an itchy, irritable, reptilian mess. My boyfriend joined an eczema sub-Reddit to look for a cure. "This is awful" was his first response. Followed by, "maybe you should cut out dairy?" Saying goodbye to cheese and full milk flat whites was tough, but it's made a noticeable difference - more than anything else I've tried.
My eczema's not completely gone, though. And winter is coming.
So after hearing that adding a cup of apple cider vinegar (ACV) to a bath could do wonders for alleviating eczema's itch and inflammation, I decided to give it a go.
Apple cider vinegar has long held a place in history as a health and beauty cure-all. From a weight loss tonic to an elixir for smooth locks and a chemical-free cleaning product, ACV has been praised for an unusually broad range of benefits over many millennia.
As far back as Roman times ACV was used as both a skin-care product and a tool for conquering terrain: While ancient beauties were dabbing it on their cheeks as a toner, the empire was using it with fire to break through rocks.
Later, Japanese Samurai swigged ACV believing it would bolster their strength.
In World War I it was used on battlefields to treat soldiers' wounds, and since the late 1950s has resurfaced as a popular alternative to more chemical-based treatments. It's said a major catalyst at this time was a book by D.C. Jarvis. Folk Medicine: A Vermont Doctor's Guide to Good Health . Jarvis touted ACV as an alternative to modern medicines capable of aiding weight loss, combating diabetes and high cholesterol and easing skin problems.
When it comes to the effectiveness of apple cider vinegar on eczema, scientific theory goes that because people with this condition tend to have elevated PH levels in their skin, a mild acid such as ACV can help rebalance the skin's acidity. Indeed, at the other end of the PH scale, a study in the South African Journal of Child Health concluded that highly alkaline, or basic soaps and cleansers can irritate the skin and aggravate eczema.
According to a study published in the scientific journal, Nature, ACV may reduce inflammation and infection for eczema sufferers - the latter is due to ACV's microbial properties which can kill off bacteria.
And a 2016 study, published in the Ad annals of Dermatology, documented the effect of applying a vinegar-based cream to the skin of mice. The results showed that it helped stop eczema lesions developing. However, this is yet to be tested on humans.
It stinks. And it stings. It did a brilliant job of setting fire to the broken skin on my wrist and knees. Foolishly – and did I mention desperately? - I continued marinating in the stuff for 15 minutes, distracting myself with tea and Instagram.
After I'd rinsed off the acrid smell in the shower I noticed my skin felt particularly dry, inflamed and itchy. I spent the rest of the evening coating myself in moisturiser.
Seemingly a sucker for punishment, round two a few days later was worse. I didn't last as long in the bath and couldn't get to sleep afterward. I ended up back in the bathroom at 11pm dabbing my skin with calamine lotion.
I won't be taking a dip in anything that involves ACV anytime soon. While the findings around its ability to rebalance skin's PH levels sounded promising, it didn't work for me. Maybe it would help someone with milder eczema who doesn't also have patches of broken skin. For now, I'll just continue avoiding cheese and keeping moisturiser on hand.