For as long as I can remember, my life has revolved around my skin in one way or another. We've had a weird relationship for the last 23 years, and my poor skin has had a number of beatings. I'd say it started with my Strawberry Nevus and eczema I had as a toddler, both of which faded with age. Like many babies, I also had a case of chickenpox, but I don't think this necessarily comes under 'skin conditions'. Finally, my babyhood left me with a big-ish burn scar on my left shoulder after an accident. Other than some trauma for my poor parents, this has never caused any issues in life. I barely noticed it's existence until kids in school asked what it was, and after hearing the story they usually just said 'cool' and carried on. I don't intend to write a woe-is-me I've had all of the skin conditions post, but I write to perhaps comfort someone who has also been in this rocky boat or, at least, begin a discussion about said boat. It's wonderful to see our media learning that a one-body-fits-all approach is not what we want to see on our screens, and our selection of role-models is diversifying. However, from the Lizzos to the J-Los to the Instagram models, still, all I see is perfect skin. I also write to give a lump answer to the question 'what's wrong with your skin?', which has plagued me more as an adult than it ever has, and the answer is not quite as straightforward as you might think. Time for a bit of #SkinPositivity maybe?
The Acne Phase
Did anyone else grow 7 inches in 9 months and then never grow again? No? Just my puberty then. If you tell me puberty wasn't an awful time for you, you're either a liar or won a genetic lottery. Mine mostly consisted of being oddly tall and other 11-year-olds asking me why I have boobs already and, of course, acne. I looked for photos that I could share of this time but couldn't find anything which I think suggests how I felt about my acne all through secondary school. Many trips to the doctors ended the same way, being told that I would grow out of it and being prescribed something new that I knew wouldn't work. I think as adults it's easy to dismiss the acne worries of a teenager, but it can destroy confidence at a sensitive age. I was always conscious of how my skin looked and would rarely go out without some kind of cover-up on. I'm very grateful that social media didn't exist when I grew up because I know all of the clear-skinned girls on TikTok or Instagram would've made me feel like even more of a pariah. I also feel lucky that my skin didn't cause me any bullying at school, just the occasional comment of 'at least you don't have skin like Kelsey'. I didn't grow out of it and I took my acne with me to Uni. Unrelated to the acne but still on the topic of my skin- at this time I also held the title of the youngest person my pharmacist had treated for shingles when I was 19!
I was 21 when I was finally prescribed Roaccutane. My doctor in Taunton was great and wasn't about to faff around with treatments that probably won't do anything. This came as quite the surprise to me, as I'd marched into his office with my well-rehearsed sob story about how my acne is ruining my life, my career, and how I NEED this miracle treatment. I burst into tears when he referred me for my first consultation, as that felt like the first time I'd been taken seriously. I knew it came with side effects and meant I had to travel to from Taunton to Derriford hospital once a month for routine blood tests and check-ups, but I couldn't have cared less. In hindsight, I probably should've cared once the problems started, but hindsight is a wonderful thing that we don't have when making decisions. Dry skin, especially lips, was an expected side-effect of the drug, and I was cool with that for a while. Cool with anything that promised me crystal-clear skin. However, after just 2 weeks my skin on my face was coming off in flakes. By the time I had my first dermatologist check-up appointment it had toned down, so I made more excuses to myself about how I had it under control and carried on with the Roaccutane.
Fast forward to 6 months and I am wearing a face-mask of dry skin. The flaking, bleeding, and pain was fairly constant. Every moisturiser I tried worked at first, but not for long. I was ready for my dermatologist to see what was happening and get their advice. But, once again, it was kind-of okay by the time my monthly appointment rolled around again. I was so far into my course of treatment that I didn't want to stop it now, but I showed the doctor this picture to see what I could do, and find out why it was happening in this sheet-mask shape. Despite it being November, the doctor said that this was due to how sensitive my skin now was to the sun, and it was sunburn. Mum and I trawled Boots for a suncream that wouldn't burn. It helped a bit and, after 9 months, I was finally free of the Roaccutane and my acne was gone (along with my ability to drink a bottle of wine, I found out later). The next few weeks would determine whether I would need a second course of treatment, but my final check-up considered me a success story. To this day I am acne free, I maybe get one spot a year, and my scarring is clearing up wonderfully. For anyone considering Roaccutane, I am the only person I have ever heard of who reacted in this way, so I think it would still be worth going for. I can now look in the mirror with more confidence, apply makeup better, and am happy to leave the house barefaced. I wish it had stayed this simple!
The Eczema Phase
I can't remember when or where my first patches of eczema appeared, but they were nothing to worry about for quite a while and I didn't really think much of them, just kept them moisturised. I also didn't know anything about the dangers of steroid cream at the time and used the one prescribed to me quite liberally, as it cleared any irritation I had almost overnight. I also can't remember when it started to get worse, but it has slowly crept to the condition I am in now. I know it was starting to spread before I went to Australia in Feb 2019, because mum and I commented on how well it had cleared up in the sunshine, except the seawater stung the skin around my eyes so I had to keep them dry.
We returned home in March, and I was thrilled that my makeup work with military training picked up pretty well. This job sees me driving all over the country and when it's busy, it's busy! My diet, sleep schedule, and general lifestyle were all a bit up in the air, and I was loving it. I wish I could say the same for my skin. My eczema spread fast, and I think I was unknowingly making it worse with my panic-applications of steroid cream. One night we had a party that was a bit of a heavier drinking session than I had expected. This, combined with the 5am start that day, was enough to make moving my body agony (even more so with that hangover) and I had considered giving up the job altogether because I didn't think I could cope. Back to the dermatologist! I can't remember the exact timeline but I think it was at this point I had said no more steriods, as it was stopping steroids that I believe got me into this situation. Instead, I was prescribed Protopic, which I believe did help things along for a while.
I had tried to wean myself from these creams altogether because it was also getting expensive. Back to the doctors. This time she asked me whether I had been on holiday recently, and I recalled how my skin was in Australia. She prescribed me UV light treatment and, if possible, move to a warmer country! During my 3 week stay on the waiting list, I became impatient and started using sunbeds at the gym. Well well, dear reader, never would I have expected such a result. I know, I know, sunbeds are dangerous etc, I've read it all. But, in my time of desperation, they were exactly what I needed! My skin started to clear and I felt great.
During my South American trip my eczema did flare, which I expected. It's the first time in my life I'd been nervous to put a bikini on. My skin quite often bleeds without my noticing and there's a lot of scabs and scarring, so I felt a bit monstrous to be exposing it all when in the land of beautiful Brazilians. A few people asked me about it, and this was almost a relief when they did. No judgement, just curiosity and conversation. Party on!
I have had to make adjustments in my life. I can't break a sweat whilst exercising, can't always wear makeup, and can't take Lush bath bomb baths anymore. For a long while, these things beat me up, and all I could think about was what I CAN'T do. I have always wanted to run a marathon, but running causes awful flairs, and I felt like I was back at square one with my face. I've wondered over and over again whether this would have happened if I could've learnt to accept my acne. I loved those baths, too, and have a beautiful unused gift box sitting on my bedroom floor that would often get me down. Recently I had a flare-up that left me unable to leave the sofa for a few days, and this brought my frustrations back. I haven't left the house in weeks and have had plenty of time to think about my diet and exercise, so what else could be causing this? Bad luck, I think. I'm back on the steroid cream momentarily because my dermatologist and UV treatment centre are closed and it's all the relief I can get, and it has cleared that flare wonderfully (FINGERS CROSSED PEOPLE!) if I continue to take it easy.
Well, not meaning to reflect our current crisis, but who knows?! I can tell you for sure that, whilst I still have down days, my attitude has changed for the better towards my skin. It's the largest organ I have, and it's doing a lot of work! I get stressed if I have a lot of work on, so it makes sense my skin does too. I wish I could tell you I woke up one morning and realised that my skin doesn't define my life and I'm a strong and powerful woman, but that, of course, isn't the case. It's been a process so gradual that I haven't really noticed it at all. Okay, sure, I probably won't run a marathon, but I've found new goals at the gym that satisfy my need for self-competition and have kept me so entertained that I had forgotten the marathon thing until just now. I also hop in the bath as quickly as possible when I'm having a good spell, and enjoy the few minutes I have in there before the itching starts. A good bath or shower is now way more appreciated than it used to be! I have also found a love for skincare and beauty, which of course has influenced my business. I have to wash my bedsheets about once a week, and even this has turned from a chore to a bit of a joy. Who doesn't love clean bedsheets? Is lockdown driving me mad?
What may have made a more significant difference to my attitude was understanding that I had been holding myself to some weird, non-existent standard that I would never judge anyone else by, and I think we're all guilty of doing this a little bit. I have a lifelong friend who, to me, has always been the it-girl, strikingly attractive and equally kind, and someone I admire (hi if you're reading). She also has psoriasis. I realised that her skin condition has never inhibited her cool-ness to me in any way, nor her ability to be a good friend and all-rounder, so why would mine? I'm still the same lady underneath this slightly scabby exterior.
So, dear reader, you might be asking yourself what the point of all of this was. Why did you just spend 10 minutes reading about my skin complications? To be honest with you, I'm not really sure either. Are you also running out of things to do? It sure felt good to get it all out and reflect on the journey my skin and I have been on, though, so thank you for taking the time to read it. If anyone can relate to any of this emotional rollercoaster, it's good to know that you're not alone. As mentioned, I think it's something we can all relate to, unfortunately, in one way or another, but it might not be about your skin. All I ask is that you be kind to yourself. Think of all of the things your body does for you, and how AMAZING that really is! Love it, squeeze it, nourish and feed it. It's the only one you have, after all.