A call centre operator plagued by such virulent eczema she was left balding, bedbound and slept in a balaclava to stop her oozing face from sticking to the pillow says a “life-changing” £9 cream cleared her skin “overnight.”
While Kimberley Reardon, 30, suffered with mild baby eczema until she was three-years-old, it did not flare-up again until her teens and it was only in her 20s that her catastrophic problems began and she was covered from head-to-toe in red raw patches of the dry, flaking skin condition.
For the next decade, her eczema frequently developed into painful, weeping sores and saw Kimberley trying numerous steroid creams, which would work briefly, only for the angry condition to return with such vigour she would be unable to move without her skin weeping or peeling.
After several hospitalisations, infections and periods of being bedbound, by March 2022 Kimberley, who lives with her boyfriend of 12 years, healthcare assistant, Scott Hannah, 31, had lost hope only for her mum to stumble upon an £8.99 over-the-counter cream that practically cleared her skin overnight.
Kimberley, of Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland, said: “I was exhausted and hopeless. It felt like it was never ending.
“I had spent nearly 10 years in chronic pain and it was an achievement for me to just get myself washed and dressed in the morning.
“I have tried so many creams that don’t work, so when my mum suggested I tried this one, I was very sceptical about it working.
“But, when I woke up the next day, my face was almost clear – it was unbelievable.”
Despite suffering with mild baby eczema, her skin complaints only really started in her teens.
She said: “My parents would usually use a cream on me as a baby which would work, but then the eczema appeared again when I was going through exams at 15.
“It started on my back and spread to the creases in my elbows, with patches of redness.
“It bothered me, but it hadn’t spread to my face at that point, so I could just hide it.”
To ease the eczema, Kimberley was prescribed a steroid cream which was steadily increased in dosage to match her increasing flare ups.
But hitting 20, the steroid creams seemed to stop working and during the next three years her condition intensified and spread to her face.
She said: “I was studying for my social sciences degree at university, working part-time in a call centre and caring for my grandad because he was poorly and he had pneumonia.
“Stress was definitely a trigger for my eczema, which went from some scaly patches to covering my whole body in red, inflamed dry skin that was just falling off my face.”
She added: “My arms looked like red sleeves, while my legs were also covered and my neck was incredibly sore.
“It was unmanageable. I was trying to use creams, emollients and moisturisers and wrapping myself in bandages, to try and help them to be absorbed into my skin.”
Diagnosed with severe and widespread erythema at 23 – a rash caused by injured or inflamed blood capillaries, usually in response to a drug, disease or infection – Kimberley’s skin became worse and worse.
“I wasn’t functioning at all, I was exhausted,” she said.
“I felt ruined, like my body was fighting against me constantly.
“It felt like I had severe sunburn over my whole body – as if it was burning me from the inside out. ”
After years fighting the eczema without success, Kimberley felt depressed, although she still tried to go out and have a normal life.
She said: “I remember putting foundation on the top of my hands to try and cover the red patches,
“One time a woman saw my hand when I pushed the lift button at work and she said, ‘Oh! Have you been burnt?’ I felt so embarrassed.
“I started wearing foundation to try and cover the patches, as well as long sleeves and big jumpers, even in the summer to try and hide my skin.”
“I felt so out of control of my skin that I started to micromanage everything else that I could to compensate.
“Even though it hurt to move, I was hoovering six times a day to clear my skin up.
“I was in so much pain, but I became obsessive about things.
“I couldn’t leave dishes out and I became totally over the top with cleaning and constantly checking my money, even though I knew I could pay my bills.”
In 2018, Kimberley’s skin condition became so bad she was hospitalised.
She said: “My mum took one look at me and was horrified.
“Ninety five per cent of my body was covered in red, swollen and burning skin.
“I was losing too much fluid through my skin, where I was oozing out.”
She added: “And the doctors said I was critically ill. My skin was so weak and I wasn’t able to regulate my temperature.”
After two weeks on an IV drip in hospital, Kimberley was placed on immunosuppressants and five months of oral steroids, to try and tame her excruciating eczema.
And when 2020 hit, she found herself completely bedbound.
She said: “From January to March, my skin was the worst it had even been.
“Doctors doubled my doses of immunosuppressants but nothing worked.
“I had to have spare sheets to change and lie on every few hours. I was ruining the bed sheets where my skin was so flaky and oozy.
“I was spending hours lying in really hot baths, because they seemed to be the only thing that relieved my skin, although it would be worse when I got out.”
She added: “I was crying constantly and I didn’t look like me at all.
“I would think, ‘Am I ever going to get better, is this it?'”
When the March 2020 lockdown came in, it was a saving grace for Kimberley, as she was able to better manage her pain while she was working from home.
Prescribed new immunosuppressants, her skin briefly cleared – but even then, she was plagued with a litany of other side effects.
“My skin was amazing but I was having other problems,” she said.
“I was vomiting all the time, sleeping all the time and I couldn’t keep food down.”
Then, in July 2020, her skin flared up again so severely that she was hospitalised once more and signed off work for five months.
She said: “I was bitten by an insect, which caused an abscess and cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection, because I had no immunity.”
Kimberley added: “I was in hospital for two weeks on a drip again and antibiotics, followed by another three weeks of antibiotics at home.
“I was bedbound, I barely got up and my poor boyfriend was carrying me to the toilet and running the bath for me.
“I barely got changed, as it would take me hours to get dressed.
“I lost my hair from the stress on my head, eyebrows and even my eyelashes.
“And I didn’t sleep for months because of the pain. ”
Kimberley tried to go “cold turkey” without any medication to see if her body could heal itself, but nothing seemed to improve.
“My face was covered, my body was covered,” she said.
“My boyfriend had to care for me, I couldn’t do anything.
“I spent my days in pain, just watching TV, or I sat in the bath for hours for some relief.
“The worst thing for me was feeling like such a burden.”
In a bid to help moisturising remedies to be absorbed and to stop her skin from weeping on everything, Kimberley would wrap herself up like a parcel.
She said: “I was living in my eczema jammies, with long sleeves and long legs.
“I would use bandages for my neck and my mum even got me a balaclava to sleep in at night, to stop my face sticking onto my pillows where it wept so much.”
Kimberley felt very grateful for the support from her boyfriend, family and friends, but still felt mortified by her situation.
“I was so embarrassed, I was completely mortified to be seen,” she said.
“If I went for a walk, I would just stare at the ground and never look anyone in the eye.
“My boyfriend would always be so lovely. Whenever I started to feel bad, he would always bring me straight back up again.”
In another attempt to clear her skin, in December 2020 Kimberley was prescribed a biologic – an injection which targets the gene that causes inflammation – which for three months cleared her skin.
“I felt amazing,” she said.
“I was fatigued and achy from the side effects, but I felt so happy that something was working.
“I had my first date night since 2019 at Frankie and Benny’s with my boyfriend.”
But, just as things were looking up, she developed a fungal infection across her arms and chest in February 2021.
She said:: “It was so itchy. I was scratching so much I was ripping my skin off.”
So desperate to find something that worked, Kimberley even tried cryotherapy – the use of extreme cold to freeze abnormal tissue – for six weeks in July 2021.
She said: “Once a week, I would stand in this freezing chamber, with temperatures at minus 110 to reduce inflammation.
“It didn’t work, it made me go purple, but I tried it as I was so desperate to do something and so scared of being bedbound again.”
Just when she believed there was nothing else left to try, Kimberley’s mum, Janey Reardon, 56, a retired receptionist, discovered Balmonds Skin Salvation cream in March this year.
Picking up a 30ml bottle for £8.99, she handed it to her daughter who cautiously applied some to a small patch on her finger.
She said: “There had been no reaction in an hour, so I thought hopefully it would be okay.
“I slathered it on and overnight and when I got up, my face was almost clear.
“I couldn’t believe it.”
Using the cream every day, within one week, Kimberley was astounded to see that her skin was still miraculously clear.
And for the first time since 2019, she felt confident enough about her appearance to go to a coffee shop alone.
She said: “I had a green tea in the coffee shop and for the first time in as long as I could remember, I wasn’t worrying about people looking at my face.
“I had three date nights that week, one at the cinema and two foodie dates.
“Even just going for a walk again was amazing. ”
Most excitingly for Kimberley, she was able to wear a full face of make up again for the first time in years.
“I can’t remember the last time I wore make up,” she said.
“I was so excited to wear mascara again – it was amazing.
“I finally felt like myself again.”
While her skin has cleared, Kimberley also strongly believes she is suffering from topical steroid withdrawal (TSW) – something she is keen to raise awareness of.
She said: “Steroid creams do not work anymore for me. They would only give me 10 per cent relief for a day then the eczema would come back with a vengeance.
“There’s no awareness of TSW for people using steroids and it was hugely detrimental for me.
“I wish I had known about more natural remedies like Balmonds. The difference it has made is incredible.”
With her newfound confidence, Kimberley is now filling up her social diary.
She said: “I have been out and about with my mum and dad and I have gone to yoga.
“It is such a relief to be comfortable again.
“There is still some eczema on my left hand and arm, but it isn’t bad and the rest of me is clear. It is nothing short of a miracle. ”
For more information about the cream go to: www.balmonds.co.uk
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.