Could our environment be affecting our TSW? (some interesting observations)

I’m almost 3 years dealing with TSW now and have some interesting observations on how the environment has been having very big effects. I really think this is too compelling to be simply coincidence so let me tell you what I’ve seen and you can decide if it makes sense for yourself.

First of all, I live in New Zealand. My dermatologist has told me many times over the years that New Zealand is a very bad place for people with skin allergies. I remember very clearly the first time I ever travelled to Africa, my eczema was playing up a few days before the trip, and I went to see him, worried about if I needed to cancel my trip in case my skin got even worse over there. He shook his head and told me I’ll probably find my skin actually clears up over there (it did). He told me it’s very rare people leave New Zealand and their skin gets worse. New Zealand air is packed with allergens. It almost always gets better when people leave New Zealand. This is a key point that will become relevant later on.

Let’s fast forward to TSW times. Back in 2019 when TSW first started, I committed to a work trip. As some of you know I work in travel so it was going to be a press trip to the Solomon Islands (a tropical island country in the Pacific) for a week. The trip was not for another three months, and since Dr Sato said we only need 90 days, I was very optimistic and committed.

Of course, things didn’t work out so nicely and I was in my huge second flare when the trip came around. I told them I simply cannot do the trip, I was going through a severe “skin condition” and would be useless. I even offered to reimburse them for all the tickets they had already paid for. After a long (friendly) conversation with the tourism board on the phone, they were insistent that I just come and write a few stories so I finally relented and said I would do it, while also thinking how the f*ck am I going to survive this.

So anyway – I get on the plane with three other travel bloggers and after an overnight in Brisbane, I land in the Solomons. The weather is hot and tropical and humid and I’m bracing myself for an absolutely torturous week. But on the first day I actually notice, I’m not scratching a lot. And my skin doesnt really hurt. It’s nowhere near as bad as I thought. Of course I still look like shit but I’m not suffering like I thought. That night I do a massive HIIT workout in my room and sweat up a storm, and get a good nights sleep.

One or two days later, we move to a different resort, arriving in the early afternoon. It’s like an island resort full of fruit plantations. We get there and I remember just sitting in a chair in my room and it suddenly hit me like, “Wow, it’s been so long since I just sat in a chair peacefully, not freezing cold, not scratching, not in pain feeling sorry for myself, just sitting here like a normal person.” I looked at my skin and even though it didn’t look good I noticed it didnt’ look angry. That’s when I started wondering – could this island actually be good for my skin?

Honestly, over the rest of the week, I didn’t even think about my skin. I remember noticing I was even back to my old self, cracking jokes and clowning around like the pre-TSW me. Again, I still looked in the mirror and didn’t look like myself, but my skin didn’t feel bad. I also wasn’t scratching a whole lot. As for shedding and redness, to be honest I don’t really remember, but I just remember my skin was feeling so much more peaceful than it was in New Zealand.

When I finally got back to New Zealand, things really turned bad. Skin flared up again (literally the day I arrived) and a few days later I hit rock bottom (for those of you who have read Iron Skin, yes, I’m talking about that night).

Of course the flare eventually subsided, and slowly my skin made progress over the next year or so, though it was never perfect.

Fast forward about fifteen months or so, to December 2020.

We’d been dealing with Covid for almost a year, so even though my skin had “healed” or at least I felt healed enough that I could start living normally again, I couldn’t because we had a pandemic going on. It’s around this time that my skin started flaring again. It was mostly on my face. My forehead was doing absolutely ridiculous things and while not as bad as the original flares, it was enough to make me hide myself in my house and feel sorry for myself for several months. The worst thing about that particular flare was even though it was more like a 6/10 than a 9/10, it dragged on for sooooooooo long. Fast forward six months to May 2021 and it was still not better. I’d even been to my derm and my GP, been treated for an infection, started doing acupunture and chiro, and a bunch of other things. One of my ideas was I should fly to the Solomon Islands for a while, since I was literally willing to try anything, maybe that place might clear it up again. Unfortunately, the NZ borders were closed so I couldn’t go anywhere.

Then we get news that NZ is opening its border with the Cook Islands since we are both Covid free nations (The Cooks is another Pacific island nation very similar to the Solomons). I decide I have absolutely nothing to lose after dealing with a 5 month flare so I decide to pack up and go.

I get to the Cook Islands and mostly keep to myself for a week – I just run, read and sleep. But then, magically, within 2 or 3 days, my flare 90% disappears. Within two weeks it’s gone completely, and I have perfectly normal skin. I even posted a close up video on Facebook and some of you said I was ‘glowing’. Now I’m thinking, this is too much of a coincidence. First the Solomons, within 3 days my skin is on the mend. Then the Cook Islands 2 years later and it’s the same thing.

I stayed in the Cook Islands for 6 months, solely because of my skin. And my skin literally stayed perfect the entire time, other than a few patches that flared on my arms and went away in 2 or 3 days.

And now we are on Chapter 3 of this story. I returned to New Zealand from the Cooks in early January, and within about 2 weeks my skin was flaring again. It was quite noticeable as even my Mum and Dad commented on it and asked what was happening. All three of us are now reasonably certain one of the main causes of my skin issues is New Zealand. So, I decided to leave again.

I am now in East Africa (Tanzania), which is a country I’ve lived in in the past so am very familiar. Guess what – literally within 2 days my flare cleared up. When I arrived I even had friends ask me “what’s wrong” with my skin, I just told them I had a reaction to some medication. After a week they were saying – your skin is better now. Once again, within a week, I have completely normal skin.

That is three times I’ve left New Zealand during a flare and every single time, it has cleared up within days.

Another anecdote – when I got back to NZ from the Cooks, I went to see my chiropracter. I had started seeing him during my big five month flare before I left for the Cooks, wondering if maybe something with my nervous system had something to do with it (like I said, I will literally try everything). So this chiropracter had literally never seen me with a “normal” face. He’s only seen my TSW face.

So I am waiting in his office and he comes in and he doesn’t even recognise me. After a few seconds he clicks and he just asks, where have you been? I tell him I’ve been in the Cooks for 6 months. He says – your skin is AMAZING! During the appointment while he’s cranking my back, I tell him about the trip and that I have a theory New Zealand is what is terrorising my skin and every time I leave it gets better. He says, that’s very funny you say that – the other chiro here was telling me a very similar story about his best friend. So, at the end of our session he pokes his head out the door, yells at the other chiro if he has a minute. When he comes in he tells him – “This is Brendan, he’s been dealing with eczema his whole life and he’s just been in the Cooks and look at his skin, it’s literally improved 1,000 times, I didn’t even recognise him!” And then he asks the other chiro, “What was that thing you were telling me about your friend’s kid?”

So he sits down and he tells me his best friend’s son has had terrible eczema his whole life. And then one year, they took him to Taiwan. Then he points to the chair which is bright red and he says “His skin was as red as that chair, literally, and then within 20 hours in Taiwan, his skin turned brown. Never in his life could he fix his skin, but literally 20 hours in Taiwan, brown skin. So we figured out that it was some genetic environmental thing – different people just respond differently to different environments. But now every year he goes back to Taiwan for 2 months, just to reset his skin and his immune system.”

A few other examples I remember are a cousin I have with terrible eczema from Australia, she moved to Canada for a 6 month work assignment and skin totally cleared up. She moved back to Australia afterward and got bad again. A similar thing happened to a friend of mine from high school who also had eczema as bad as mine, then he went to the UK to work for a few years and had “normal skin”, then moved back to NZ and in his words “skin got totally fucked again”. This particular friend actually reached out to me when I was going through TSW and started telling me about his skin reacting differently in different countries.

So now as I sit here in Tanzania typing this with perfectly normal skin, I feel like this is too many “coincidences” to just be coincidences. The question is – if you’re dealing with TSW, how can you use this information?

The good news is, if you think your environment might be the cause, the results will be very fast. At least for me, and for my chiro’s friend, it has been very fast. As you can see, it’s literally been less than a day in some cases. So if you have the opportunity to just fly somewhere tropical for the weekend, then that’s enough time for you to try this “experiment”. In my cases, it has been warm tropical climates that have given results, but obviously for you it might be different. Like I said, us TSW warriors are often ready to try anything, so flying to a different country for a few days probably won’t sound so extreme for some of you.

Now if it does turn out your flares are environment related, what’s the solution? Move countries forever? That sounds more extreme, but for me personally, I would say that would absolutely be worth it and has been worth it for me to live with normal skin. I will happily never live in New Zealand again if it means my skin issues are solved forever. Of course all our living situations are different and not everyone can just pack up and move to the Cook Islands, but I really hope this opens some possibilities for some of you out there and gives you something hopeful to try. Again – this is not based on any kind of scientific study this is just observations from the last few years and conversations with my derm/chiro etc, but in saying that, I think it makes absolute sense! Like I said, it shouldn’t take you a long time to figure out – results have always happened within just a few days for me.

If you do try anything, please do come back and let us know the results.

Best of luck and wishing healing and love to all of you!

2 thoughts on “Could our environment be affecting our TSW? (some interesting observations)

  1. Claire says:

    Absolutely fascinating stuff! I truly believe my allergies make my skin worse, although I have been lucky to be seeing improvements in my TSW regardless. Now my question is, based on your theory, what if you got allergy shots to address the root cause instead and then no longer need to move?

    1. Bren says:

      The thing is – it is hard to determine exactly what in the environment is causing the problem, and it might not be a histamine based reaction, so antihistamines may not work, and same logic applies to any other treatment. Of course you can keep trying different solutions until you find an answer – for some people it will be easier just to move quite honestly.

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