Cold Thermogenesis II: Moisturize

By | May 3, 2014

The whole premise of biohacking is to learn lessons tied to your own biology to improve your environment and wellbeing. Sometimes those lessons are learned painfully; this is one of those times. Before you get scared and stop CT or stop considering it, you should know I still continue to do it now, successfully, and reap the benefits after a slight adjustment. Now, better informed, I can hopefully save someone from making the same mistake I made! So with that, here’s another step to add to the CT protocol: moisturize.

I had been doing CT daily and loving the results for about two months. Then one day I started to notice some irritated skin on my chest. It was coming towards the end of winter, and a harsh, cold winter at that, so it’s not uncommon for me to get some dry, irritated skin anyway. But then when I looked closer in the mirror and felt it, I noticed a bit of a bumpy rash developing. I didn’t think much of it until about a week later when it got more irritable, more red, and began spreading. I started trying a few over-the-counter things like lotion and aloe gel, and it helped a little, but it wasn’t solving the problem. It would be a little better in the mornings but then get progressively worse during the day, especially an hour or so after a long, cold shower. Starting to feel a little distressed, especially since I’d never had any real rash before outside of some sweat irritations back when I did more distance running years ago, I decided to go to a dermatologist for the first time.

In the days leading up to my appointment, the “skin distortions” that I’ll call them, for the sake of less disturbing connotations, had spread even more. They were most prominent on my forearms, my stomach, my biceps, and my back. It wasn’t lost on my that these were also the spots most targeted during my cold showers. I started to worry that there was a connection and that I would have to give up CT, which I did for a while as I treated my skin.

Upon the Pimple Popper MD’s review – anyone get the Seinfeld reference? Just a playful joke – she said we would go with a diagnosis of eczema and treat it as such for the first few weeks. I was a little skeptical at the time, but she was certain there was no fungal infection and that it wasn’t scabies (duh!). She asked me a lot of questions about any changes in skin products, medication, diet, or other behavior. I told her about my recent food journey, which she said could make skin reactions possible too, but it was unlikely given that I had my diet pretty dialed in for quite a while now. After covering that, I figured I’d mention my recent cold shower experiments. She didn’t think they were causing it, at least not because of the cold because cool or warm showers were actually preferred to hot showers as part of the treatment plan. She did, however, say the frequency and length, along with the winter weather, could have created excess dryness that was a very likely cause of the problem.

The full treatment plan was a peanut oil corticosteroid twice per day (the steroid part I wasn’t thrilled with but was willing to try short term to clear things up), colloidal oatmeal baths (which didn’t sound much fun and weren’t but did help some), short showers with warm to cool water, no soap or scrubbing, and frequent moisturizing with oil and cream. Moisturizing good; drying bad. The peanut oil prescription was pretty good for that, but I also used coconut oil periodically, which I continue to do to this day now after showers or when feeling dry and itchy. Here arises yet another applicable use for the amazing coconut! No wonder the paleo crowd is obsessed with those things. When the apocalypse comes, I’m predicting I’ll use coconuts as currency.

Initially the “skin distortions” got worse, more widespread with more intense itching, but after three days or so it turned the corner. Within probably ten or twelve days all visible signs were gone, though I still got some rather intense itching, which I think was actually a side effect of the steroid itself based on my own intuition coupled with research and online forum comments I had read, so I did discontinue before the bottle was empty. Within another three days or so, I seemed to be back to normal. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that as my skin cleared the weather started to get a little warmer, giving me more time to spend outside in the sun.

In the end I think the issue likely all stemmed from overly dry skin and perhaps a breakdown in the skin’s lines of defense, things like natural oils and probiotic populations. I tend to get dryness in the winter anyway, not to mention a winter as cold, windy, and dry as this one had been, and taking longer and more frequent showers probably exacerbated the issue. Lesson learned: extra showers may dry you up if you fail to moisturize during the process. It’s likely a bit similar to doing strenuous exercise without giving yourself time to recover or replenishing nutrients with a good diet and supplementation. I think adding a little coconut oil to the CT protocol, and perhaps lessening the duration in particularly cold and dry weather, should prevent another skin issue in the future. It might even be a good idea to apply some oil ten or fifteen minutes before CT, assuming it’s just CT and not going to involve any soaping and washing, to prevent moisture loss during the session as well. As I said, I’m back at it now, and all seems to be going well, so I still believe CT is a beneficial and worthwhile endeavor. To be sure, check out the video!

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