Disclaimer: I am no guru in this topic and am merely sharing my experience here as I know that there are many people out there fighting this battle too so perhaps whatever I have shared below will be useful to you out there 🙂
How it Started
Shortly after my graduation and starting my first official full-time job, I began experiencing changes in my skin. Redness started to form above my lips whenever I was sweating/feeling “hot” internally, and it happened quite often given Singapore’s heat and humidity. At that time, I did not think much of it and did not attempt to investigate further into my problem as I thought that the redness was just a temporary skin issue caused by hormonal changes. In the meanwhile, I rub concealer over the skin above my lips to conceal the redness whenever it formed. However, weeks went by and the problem persisted. In fact, the condition became worse in which the redness spread to the sides of my mouth. My lips and the area around my lips started becoming very dry too, leading to frequent cracks on my lips. I started feeling very anxious and bothered by it, especially since my job then (I have left since) is a customer-facing role. I also became very self-conscious of my looks and brought my small mirror and concealer around with me all the time so that I could check my lip area. Whenever I felt that the redness was showing, I often pursed my lips or covered my mouth and excused myself to the toilet so that I could “rectify” the redness.
Makeup took twice as long since it was hard to totally conceal the redness and swollenness of the area (I had to put layers of concealer).
What I Have Tried and What Really Helped
I visited a GP to get a diagnosis and got referred to a dermatologist at NSC. But it was a long wait till the appointment so, in the meanwhile, I began researching more about the condition that I have (now that I knew the exact name of it – dermatitis). What I found was that (it was also shocking to find out that) there are several kinds of dermatitis and of course, there were a whole bunch of triggers that may have caused my dermatitis, such as eating food that I am unknowingly allergic/sensitive to, or by irritating substances found in the makeup/skincare products that I use. Since I was working at a customer-facing sector at that time, it was hard for me to cut down on my makeup usage. I was also lazy to track down what could be the possible food that triggered my dermatitis. For the next 2 months before my visit, I did not do any changes to my lifestyle, and of course, the problem persisted.
The d-day came and I went to NSC praying that a miracle would happen after the visit. The dermatologist told me the same thing as what I had found online and recommended me to do a patch test. To do the patch test, I would need to not shower for 2 whole days, which is really a gross and horrible idea to me, given that I live in a very hot and humid country and that I perspire easily. After I turned down the idea, the dermatologist gave me antihistamines and steroid cream to help me control the flare-ups and asked me to reconsider the idea of having the patch test. The medication and cream worked but it was definitely not a solution to cure my dermatitis (if it was even curable in the first place) because these were not meant for the long-term.
In the next few months, I visited several other dermatologists to get a re-diagnosis, in hopes of a better solution, but to no avail. The use of antihistamine and steroid cream continued because I was afraid that the redness would become worse if I stopped. I also invested in a ton of skincare that were advertised as products that helped with eczema/dermatitis – only 1 or 2 of them worked for me. In the midst of trial-and-error, my dermatitis worsened as the redness and dryness spread to the sides of my chin. The redness never went away (even with steroid cream) and my self-confidence plummeted.
Two months back, I came across an ad on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for eczema relief and as desperate as I already was, I decided to explore the Eastern method. I googled for reviews on the clinics before calling to make an appointment with one of the TCMs (branded as a “premium” TCM). The Chinese doctor told me (with awfully strong Eastern accent) that my condition is called “唇风” – the literal translation is “lip wind” and in the Western term, “cheilitis”. In the Eastern medical industry (AKA TCM), they believe that cheilitis is caused by an imbalance in the liver/spleen and addressing the imbalance would cure eczema. This also meant that the food I eat might be a possible trigger for this imbalance. The doctor proceeded to prescribe 2 weeks worth of (bitter) chinese herbs, which I had to dissolve the mixture in warm water and drink 1 hour after meals. A week later, I realized that the redness has subsided and the dry patch had become less itchy. During this period of time, I applied a lot of moisturizers on my lip area as well.
After 2 weeks, I decided to visit a more economical TCM (since the previous one caused me over S$200 for both the consultation and medication) and received another week’s dose of herbal medication. As per the doctor’s advice, I decided to keep a food diary to jot down what I have eaten in a day and what are the food that might trigger my dermatitis. From the “trends”, I cut away dairy, soy, spicy food from my diet so that I could monitor my progress and hopefully speed up my recovery.
I stopped visiting the TCM after my 3rd visit since I was getting better and as I hated drinking the ultra bitter medication. Presently, the redness above my lips reduce significantly but the redness at the sides of my chin still persist (faint red but at times redder). Till date, I do not know what exactly (food/product) caused my dermatitis but I am going to continue monitoring my condition and perhaps give another update a few months later 🙂