Women Reveal What It’s Like To Live With Extreme Eczema, Rosacea and Psoriasis
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last year, it's impossible to ignore the inspiring movement that's been making its way across social media where brave women with skin conditions share their stories with the world. Instead of hiding their symptoms, these women celebrate them and make it their mission to help others in the process.
From rosacea to psoriasis, skin disorders vary greatly in symptoms and severity. From itching and redness to full-on breakouts, the triggers behind them are often unknown.
We speak to three inspiring women who have all fought their own battle with a different skin condition and discover their journey through to the other side...
"Just after I was diagnosed, a member of the public approached me as I was working on a high street till counter and said that she thought "people had to be pretty to work here."
Jude Avril Duncan, 26, is a blogger from Gourock, Scotland
"I was first diagnosed with in my early 20s. I had just started my third year at university and noticed a small red mark growing above my left eyebrow - I wasn't sure what it was and went to the doctor after a few weeks when it didn't go away. I've always had many skin issues from adult acne to shingles, and lots of rashes and reactions.
"My doctor thought it was just another reaction or rash and that it would die down soon with some steroid cream. However I went away and started using the cream to no affect and after a few months, I decided to go back to the doctor as my patch was getting bigger. That's when I was told I had psoriasis, but when the doctor gave me another steroid cream which again didn't work, I gave up on the creams and forgot about it.
"In the run-up to Christmas 2013, just after I was diagnosed, a member of the public approached me as I was working on a high street till counter and said that she thought 'people had to be pretty to work here', and it all kind of went downhill from there.
"What followed was a vicious cycle of trying to cover up my psoriasis with makeup, which usually irritated my skin and made it worse. I suffered from severe depression and developed a deep hatred for my appearance. I became very insecure about my psoriasis. I was fearful that everyone was looking at it and judging me for it. It became a very lonely place for me to be I felt no one understood what I was going through.
"In November 2014, almost a year after my initial diagnosis, I was finally referred to a dermatologist to receive oral treatment for psoriasis. After seeing a dermatologist and finding treatments that worked (if only short term), I finally started to get my confidence back and felt more comfortable going out in public - I was finally starting to feel like the old me again!
"Almost two years after the incident in the shop, I decided that I wasn't going to let this comment get me down anymore. It didn't happen overnight but eventually I decided that if anyone had an issue with my skin and how I look, that is a reflection on them and not me. I never wanted to be known by or defined by my psoriasis. This is a condition that I have and I'm living with but I am certainly not defined by.
"I believe that having a holistic routine that you can stick to is very important alongside medication or other treatment. Making sure you're getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising can go a long way to helping your psoriasis. You must remember that psoriasis is autoimmune disease and not just a skin condition.
"Things got worse again at the end of 2018 when I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. I was in severe pain and could barely move some days, so I was referred to the rheumatologist who put me on medication to ease the pain. I was told that the biologic could help my skin as well as my arthritis and it's helped my pain greatly - it's like I don't have arthritis at all. And while I still have some patches of psoriasis, they're are not as angry as they used to be - they're more red and smooth, and that I can deal with.
"I would be lying if I said my skin was no longer in insecurity of mine however it doesn't bother me as much as it used to. I see psoriasis as a part of me but not my defining feature and if anyone judges me then that's on them and not me. I still have days where I don't like what I see in the mirror but I'm proud to say that they are becoming fewer and fewer.
"Living in a world where everyone wants to be Insta-perfect and strive for something that just doesn't exist can be difficult especially when you have a visible difference such as psoriasis. It's so important to convey that despite having these differences it doesn't affect who we are as people.
"My motto in life is 'living with, not defined by' and I believe this to be true for more than just looks. In life you're not defined by how you look, what you wear or how you dress. You're defined by the person that you are and we need to remind ourselves that this is more than our aesthetic."
"I've been in situations where I've thought I'm not going to be able to get a job, I won't find somebody who loves me and I'll never be able to feel confident enough to go out."
Lex Gillies, 35, is a social media manager from York and lives in London
"I was diagnosed with rosacea when I was 21 but looking back at photos I think I probably had it from around 18 - I just didn't know what it was, I just thought I was quite rosy cheeked.
"For a while I would notice that my cheeks would burn and I would flush just like anybody does when they are embarrassed or have just done exercise, but mine was really hot and prickly like heat rash. It would generally happen whenever I'd been drinking, hadn't slept well or if I was in a stressful situation.
"I'd always been a blusher and so as time went on I just thought it was that getting worse, but then my skin started to get so bad that the blushing went dark purple and mottled. Thinking I was suffering from a reaction to something, I went to the university doctors and as soon as I walked in they said it was obviously rosacea.
"They weren't very helpful to be honest - I'd never heard the word before, but they said that it's incurable and I was going to have this for the rest of my life. Then they gave me a cream they said would help and that was it. They didn't tell me any triggers, or anything I could try to make it better.
"The cream made things 100 times worse - it burned and made everything more red and bumpy, so I stopped using that and turned to the internet. Back then was a struggle to find anything to do with rosacea but I found a forum in America with people talking about what they had cut out and stopped doing. That's how I found out everything I knew at first - through other people who were going through the exact same thing.
"All the things that people told me to do were things I rebelled against because I was a 21-year-old at university - give up drinking, get eight hours of sleep, have a healthy diet and don't have any stress in your life. It wasn't realistic, so for a while I just carried on as normal, in denial about the whole thing.
"It was when my skin got so bad the rosacea triggered my seborrheic dermatitis that I really stared to take notice - at that point my skin was so dry it would crack when I smiles. I couldn't put make-up on and it was awful. It was the worst my skin had ever been.
"From that point I basically changed every aspect of my life - I cut so many things out of my diet, I stopped using hair dryers and hair straighteners as much, I stopped having hot showers and baths. So many people think there is a silver bullet thing they can do, just one thing they can change to help their skin, but what I discovered was it's actually all about maintenance and keeping your skin as happy as possible.
"The time I really remember my skin affecting me the most was when I was going for an interview my first proper job after I moved to London. When I woke up that morning, my skin was bright purple and swollen, and it was so hot that I couldn't face sitting in my room. I had to go outside as I felt like I was burning.
"All I could think about was the first impression I was going to make - I was in a situation where you want to impress someone as soon as you walk in the room, but all I could think was 'oh my God my face looks awful'. The more stressed I got the more my skin flared up, and I was trying not to cry the whole time thinking I'd messed it up before id even open my mouth. I thought they would just be looking at me thinking what on earth is going on with her face.
"Today my rosacea is pretty much under control as I maintain what I do in my everyday life - I've managed to find out my triggers through trial and error and now I only have about two flare ups a month, which are usually due to stress.
"When it comes to treating myself, I try to balance everything out. If I'm thinking that I'd really like a big glass of wine or a cheese board, I have to think if it's going to make me feel better than the horrible way I'll feel when I wake up and look at my face in the morning.
"It is a constant balance and sometimes you just have to drink the wine because that's what you want and that little bit of happiness is more important. But I have found over time that a lot of the time its not worth it. If I'm staying in the house the next day and no-one is going to see me other than my husband then it's not a problem. But if I'm in the build up to a big meeting or a job interview, or before my wedding for example, I will cut out everything.
"If you're reading this and suffering from rosacea I would say that although it feels hard to accept when you're really deep in it and you feel like it's the end of the world, it's not the only thing that defines you. I've been in situations where I've thought I'm not going to be able to get a job, I won't find somebody who loves me and I'll never be able to feel confident enough to go out.
"But the important thing to remember is that everyone has things that they are self-conscious about - everybody in the world has something they think everyone is staring at, but rosacea is so tied in with stress that getting upset about your skin is only going to make it worse.
"Learning to accept my skin as it is now was the biggest thing that changed everything for me. I was constantly comparing my skin to how it was before I got rosacea - I had no spots - and it was torture. But now I've accepted that I have an incurable skin condition and it's never going to go back to how it was. All you can do is do your best to control it and understand that any improvement is a victory.
"Social media, and the rosacea community I have found online, has been transformative in my experience. At any time of day I can go online and find people who look like me, who feel the way that I do. I post photos of my rosacea to show others that they are not alone, but I also use my account to educate others.
"Rosacea is still so misunderstood, even thought it's incredibly common, so if I can help spread information and skin positivity then something positive has come out of having this condition. The media is dominated by airbrushed and photoshopped faces, but I feel like the tide is turning and I'm proud to play a small part in that."
"I've always been a very strong character so none of my friends would have ever known that it bothered me or upset me. I was always outgoing, but underneath my eczema really affected me."
Rebecca Bonneteau, 37, is a naturopath and online eczema coach from Derby
"I was born with eczema - my mum said that when I came out I was all dry and wrinkly; I definitely didn't have the perfect baby skin most kids are born with. Throughout my younger years I suffered from severe eczema all over my body - lots of itching and redness. I was taken for lots of allergy tests at the doctors - I was basically a regular.
"My mum was always looking for ways to help relieve the itch - the only thing that was really offered at that time was moisturising creams and steroids but they really didn't do anything other than suppress the symptoms and make my eczema a little bit more comfortable - it never went away. We even tried homeopathy, essential oil creams etc, but to no avail.
"When I was at school I had a lot of ear infections and I was in pain most of the time. Just holding a pen would be painful as my hands were one of the worst areas for me, and I couldn't write during the winter months because my hands would be cracked and I'd end up bleeding all over the paper while I was writing. It was difficult - I'd also have severe hay fever on top of the eczema so for most of the summer my eyes would be streaming and itching and I couldn't concentrate at school. Exam season was a struggle to say the least.
"I used a lot of steroids when I was a teenager because I just wanted to control my skin and have it look 'normal.' My mum and dad weren't aware that I was managing it on my own or that I was using steroids on a regular basis and in the end my health just started to deteriorate. When I hit my early twenties, they led to a lot of other problems - I always had a UTI or a kidney infections, I have severe food allergies and had to carry an EpiPen and things just kept going from bad to worse.
One of my lowest points was during my early teens when, because my immune system was so low, I developed warts all over my body. And we're not just talking about one or two, I had thousands of them. I just remember going through school thinking no-one would want to go out with me because I looked horrendous, that no-one would love me - all that kind of stuff. Its difficult enough when you're a teenager but when you have this extra level on top, it's tricky to come through.
"It got to the point where I was heading towards my 30s and I had a bit of an emotional breakdown. I realised I needed to take responsibility and figure it out for myself so I went back to school and studied the body. I did biomedicine, nutrition and naturopathy, and learnt so much about the body. I realised if my parents had known what I was learning when I was a child then most of my health issues later on might have been avoided.
"I did four years back at school to retrain as a naturopath and during that time I started using supplements, vitamins and minerals and herbal supplementation. I tried changing my diet. I basically experimented with myself and started to learn what worked for me. And what I realised was that while no vitamin or mineral supplement helped me, herbs were incredibly effective. They gave me the nutrition to strengthen my body and get it working the way it should and even when I came off them, I still had that benefit.
"Dietary wise I don't like to label myself but typically I don't eat meat or dairy very often, have very little alcohol, no sugary beverages and I eat very small amounts of processed food. I buy lots of fresh organic fruits and veggies and I make everything from scratch. I have a lot of fresh fruit in my diet, as well as herbal teas. I'm a bit of a foodie and do enjoy going out for a nice meal so I make sure that I eat well for 80% of the time and then I can enjoy the foods that I know aren't really benefiting my body.
"Over time I've got to the point where my eczema has completely gone, most people who meet me question whether I ever had it. Now I have what I would class as normal skin.' I no longer need moisturisers, an Epipen or steroids, I don't have hay fever and the health issues I had as a teenager are slowly going away.
"I've always been a very strong character so none of my friends would have ever known that it bothered me or upset me. I was always outgoing with them, but underneath it was always in the back of my mind and it really affected me.
"However today I work with families who have children with eczema. I help them understand what's going on, how their child might be feeling, how it will influence their emotional development as they're growing - the traumas and behavioural impact it has. I love it because I now really feel there's a reason I went through everything I did growing up. I love seeing the results as I work with families and they can start living again!
"To anyone suffering now I would highly recommend you prioritise your health. If you can get on top of it then you don't have to live with it and the burden of medication your whole life. Don't ever stop searching for freedom."
Featured Image Credit: Instagram/judeavrilduncan/talontedlex