Moving with my skin

By: Fernanda Dobal

The feeling of moving to a new city is special. There’s excitement, planning, and some wondering what it will be like to spend an average Tuesday afternoon at your yet-to-be-discovered favourite coffee shop. I have moved a lot in my life, but never more than in the last year, which has taken me first to London and now to Tokyo as part of my postgraduate degree. Throughout, I have welcomed the challenge of reducing my essentials to just a big suitcase and enjoyed meandering my way between the beaten track and the hidden gems. But there is one thing that I cannot plan for when I move, and it usually has me in nervous trepidation. I’m always waiting to see how my skin will react.  

I have suffered from eczema since I can remember. It changed as I grew, finding different spots on my skin as I got older. It spent a few years hanging out on the back of my neck, before taking time to explore my chest and visit my forearms. At it's worst, it landed on my face and eyelids, though thankfully never for long. It now oscillates between hiding and flare ups on my hands and under-jaw, which I have mostly learned to control over the years. I say mostly, because treating eczema is a little like witchcraft. For all it’s advancements, modern medicine still cannot say with certainty what causes it in the first place. Some contenders are: genetics, immune system, stress and the environment.

The last one, the environment is the one that keeps me on my toes when I’m packing a suitcase and getting ready to go. Somewhere between the hardness of the water, the pollution in the air, humidity levels, and general energy of the city, my skin decides how to react when I am in a new place. It happens when I travel, too, and not always in the way you would expect. I once went to Delhi while having a flare up and despite it's infamous air pollution, my skin healed completely. Then there was the time I visited family in Rio and, still for unknown factors (current theory is a chemical in the sunscreen), caused my face to flare up so terribly I had to take steroids for the first time. Of course, I never let it keep me from traveling. I pack lots of shea butter and my own pillow case. More often than not, nothing happens. I stop thinking about it after a couple of days. I come home. But that’s vacation travel. When you move somewhere new, however, home is shifted and the stakes are higher. So, naturally, I chose to move every 4 to 5 months for two years. I am doing this as part of my studies, and in many ways it is a dream come true. I refuse to let my skin stop me.

When I moved to London there was a flare up with mysterious triggers. I won’t ever know if it was the change in environment or the stress of changing environments. It got better after a few weeks, but not before it became the foremost thing on my mind. This time it was visible on my neck and as I met new people, I couldn’t help but worry about what they thought. The British are generally too polite to ask, which was both, good and bad. Good because I could ignore it, but bad because the itching made it impossible to  ignore it and I couldn’t explain it away either. There was some mental confusion about not wanting to feel sorry for myself, when I was starting the program I had been anticipating for over a year. I talked about it with my friends, which helped. After some time and some treatments, the eczema and the worries subsided, and I’m still not sure which followed which.

Now I am living in Japan. I arrived in Tokyo a month ago and kept up my preventative habits. Once my airplane sized bottles of cream ran out, I ventured to the local stores. Using a combination of google translate and miming, I managed to find some non-perfumed moisturiser I liked. So far, I have been here a month without any incidents, and have stopped holding my breath for a flare up to be triggered. I’ve accepted I won’t know if it’s the fermented food and seaweed I am eating, or just the local energy, but my skin is happy in Japan.

** Do you feel like your skin condition limits you? If so, how? What are your tips for keeping eczema at bay? Share below :)**

Fernanda grew up between São Paulo and Sydney. She is currently living in Japan, pursuing her masters in Global Innovation Design through the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Philosophy, Politics & Economics before working in education technology and discovering how design can help solve global problems. You can find her on Instagram @fernandadobal or


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