Get To Know: Bodewell Co-Founder & Eczema Sufferer Jamie Duff

Bodewell Editor | May 4, 2020

It takes one to know one, and Bodewell co-founder Jamie Duff is no stranger to living with eczema. We sat down with him to learn more about his journey and how a holistic approach has had an impact on the health of his skin.

Jamie, with his father in New Zealand, 1979

Bodewell: Tell us about your personal skin journey.

Jamie Duff: I’ve had eczema since I was 4 years old. As a kid I didn’t think much of it, it was just something I’d learned to live with, but as I got older and more self conscious (especially as a teenager), it became a lot harder to ignore.

I had eczema symptoms in my arm folds, knees and a bit on my face - all of which would only get worse in winter. I remember when I started University, I just wanted to fit in and be like everyone else. But having raw, red panda-eyes and blotches on my face made it really difficult. It started to affect my self-confidence and definitely contributed to an increased social anxiety. Back then I was using prescription steroid creams and over the counter moisturizers. I worked out from reading, and then trial and error, that gluten and dairy made it worse, so I stopped eating those types of foods completely. That combo of creams and a change in diet definitely helped, but the flares would often come back and were pretty severe.

Jamie, with his sister and father, celebrating his sister's 21st birthday

After University I moved to London to work in law and investment banking. It was during this time that the symptoms became extreme and really unmanageable - burning, cracked, red skin over my entire body as well as intense fatigue. People forget that our skin is our biggest organ, so when my eczema was bad it had an overall effect of making me feel really rundown. No creams or tweaks to my diet worked to abate these symptoms, and my health started to go downhill. At this point, I knew there was something deeper going on, so I committed to learning as much as I could about the condition (and myself) to try and work it out.

Jamie in London, 2007

My skin had been clear for three years when in 2016 I had a really bad relapse and actually ended up in hospital in the United States. I’d been living there with a previous start-up I co-founded which had just been taken over by a private equity fund. It was a very stressful time, and my body became covered with eczema again. It got really out of control.

Jamie during a year long flare, 2016-2017

I had sworn off steroid treatments because I was convinced I had everything under control and hadn’t been to see a dermatologist in a really long time. I didn't have US-based health insurance back then, so I avoided seeing a doctor and my eczema got so bad I eventually had to go on really strong steroids along with oral immunosuppressants (cyclosporine). As a result of the cyclosporine use, I lost three teeth and because I didn’t have the right health insurance in the US, it cost me thousands of dollars to see various dermatologists. I wondered how people would fare if they were worse off than I was - the US health system is crazy.

There just didn’t seem to be a solution for in-between treatments in the US. It really got me thinking.

Image courtesy of Dani Drasin

Bodewell: As a sufferer, what was missing?

Jamie Duff:The biggest challenge was finding solutions and advice, and keeping positive when there was none.

I went through so many dermatologists, doctors and alternative practitioners over the years, but there was no roadmap or solutions available as a sufferer except for ‘use more creams.'

Image courtesy of Dani Drasin

Bodewell: You've found a holistic approach has really helped manage your eczema - what led you to these discoveries?

Jamie Duff: During law school I had been reading a lot about Eastern philosophy and Eastern and Western mind-body theory, so I started wondering if there was a deeper aspect to the condition - a reason why creams and a change in diet alone wasn’t working. Something I read in particular from Deepak Chopra made me start to think about emotions. so I actually wrote to him and asked him a question: ‘Could unprocessed trauma and emotions be a form of inflammation?’

I’d had a difficult time when my parents divorced, and wondered if this might have something to do with it. I’ll admit it seemed like an unusual concept at the time, but he came back with a ‘yes’ and after further investigation (there is some good science on this), I learnt about the links between childhood trauma and adult inflammation.

I also discovered cranial acupuncture, which helped my body relax and let go. It essentially helped with emotional stress. The more I learned about Eastern medicine practices and delved into yoga, I realized that the breath was an important aspect of connecting with one's body.

I had been to Thailand three times and had been reading about Taoism and attending Taoist retreats. After researching breath practitioners, I met an instructor who taught me different types of breathwork - Wilhel Reich, advanced yogic breathing and Taoist breathing.

This was when things began to turn around for me. All the research, and trial and error over a seven year period was starting to pay off and I felt like I finally had things under control.

Image courtesy of Dani Drasin

Bodewell: What do you do now to manage your skin?

Jamie Duff: I’ve learnt that you need to consider how various treatments work in synergy.

Steroids and creams don’t always tackle the root cause of inflammation. Stress reduction (or whatever that means for you) doesn’t work alone, neither does a change in diet and so on.

I can highlight a few key areas that helped me clear and heal my eczema. It is important to note that all worked in synergy and you can’t have one without the others.

Diet and Supplementation: For me, this involves eating really basic food which is something I started doing when I was 16 or 17 years old. Vegetables, simple grains, lean meat, no preservatives - I avoid anything inflammatory. I’ve also removed gluten, most dairy and sugar from my diet and I avoid drinking too much alcohol. I’ve used various supplements over the years, and now have a fairly consistent regime that includes: Vitamin B complex, Omega 3, Ashwagandha, Vitamin D, Magnesium and high potency CBD.

Prescription and Non-Prescription Topical Creams: Since my early teens, I’ve used different types of over-the-counter moisturizing creams. Most of them didn’t do much, but with eczema my skin would get really dry and a compromised skin barrier is a real issue for eczema sufferers, so having a good cream on hand is important. There are very polarizing views on the use of prescription steroid creams and I can understand that some people are reluctant to use them due to the potential side effects. I think it’s a very personal decision whether or not to use them, but for me they played an important role at various times in my healing journey. I do not use them today. I use Bodewell full-time. What I will say is that they definitely affected my immune system, especially in winter.

Image courtesy of Dani Drasin

Stress management and emotional release through breathing and body techniques was really the key part of the equation for me. Without applying a good few years of stress-reduction work through breathing, meditation, and deep breathing techniques and mindfulness, I do not think I would have ever got on top of eczema management. Let’s break it down by each method

Meditation: I learnt Vedic meditation with Ben Turschen in NYC, and have been doing that for two years. It’s a branch off from T.M. and is Mantra based. I really like it and there have been a bunch of studies that show it is effective at stress reduction. It also seems to be creatively energizing, so I do recommend it to anyone.

Deep Breathing Techniques: I have learnt different types of breathing techniques over the years: different yogic breathing techniques around the world (Thailand, India, London), Reichian breathwork in London, holotropic breathing, and various dynamic breathing techniques. There are two that I now use every week or every other day: relaxing diaphramic breathing (nose), and holotropic breathing (mouth). I find both help release negative emotions and act like a stress and emotional detox. I’m going to write a lot more about these in the coming months.

Home/Living Lifestyle: For me, sticking to fragrance-free detergents and sensitive skin and soap-free products has been really important. For example, I use Tide ‘Free & Gentle’ as a detergent, and for cleansing I use Aesop Animal Shampoo (yeah, it’s for dogs! They have very sensitive skin, so it works great for me). Bodewell Body Wash works well for me, too. For deodorant, I need to mix it up, but Native is good; so is Dove. Everyone is really different so it can take some trial and error.