Jan 24, 2020
Interviews & Inspiration | Rhiannon Wardle
More and more conversations about body positivity are taking place online, but the topic of skin has fallen slightly under the radar. Discussions about skinny-shaming, fat-shaming, and the shapes of our bodies are coming under the spotlight in mainstream media, but you have to delve a little deeper into Instagram to find people talking openly about their skin conditions.
There is no doubt that we are obsessed with having good skin. Clear, smooth, dewy looking skin has been an indicator of good health for thousands of years, but it is also an expression of youth and a signal of beauty. Additionally, having clear skin makes your face the perfect canvas to paint with make-up, which can become an important part of self-expression. So, one can imagine how having skin that is more than a little ‘imperfect’ can lead to difficulties in self-confidence. While in some cases, you may be able to cover up your insecurities with make-up, for many of us with sensitive skin, this isn’t an option. Even if it is, make-up can be a temporary fix to make us forget how much we dislike the state of our skin.
Going beyond beauty standards and the physical appearance of skin conditions, the real bane of them lies in the discomfort that they can bring. Right this minute, I am picking at the dry skin at the nape of my neck and I have dozens of tiny red cuts and spots on my arms from where I’ve been scratching. I have eczema, and it’s definitely not always pretty. Luckily I have it pretty mildly compared to some, but it’s still something that bothers me almost every day. It first started on my arms when I was about 7, then spread to my neck by age 10. Although I’ve had two points in my life when it seemed to be completely eradicated, now at 22, my eczema covers virtually my entire upper body, including parts of my face (albeit mildly). Yes, it bothers me that my skin looks red and patchy, and that people have mistaken my neck scratches for lovebites (yes, really), but that’s not the true struggle. I hate that I can’t wear certain clothes, that sweating makes me itch, that my bed is covered in dry skin and that I never truly know how to stop a flare up.
What some people don’t understand, is that eczema and psoriasis are auto-immune diseases, not just dry skin, and that they are not just conditions that people suffer in childhood. There is no cure, so if you’re not fortunate enough to grow out of your condition (I thought I had at one point, but it came back even stronger than ever), then you will likely always have it. It really sucks, to be honest, and while most people might wish they could change something else about their bodies, I would always choose my skin.
However, as Instagram grows uncontrollably and exponentially, it is getting easier to find people talking about different kinds of body positivity. Although you won’t find many people with eczema, psoriasis or acne being ‘Insta-famous’, there is a community growing where people are proud of their skin and share tips with each other. It’s about acknowledging that you’re not alone - approximately 15 million people in the UK have eczema, and 1.8 million have psoriasis, and almost everyone goes through acne at some point. For me, I’ve definitely found that seeing other people going through the same thing - or much worse - is humbling and gives me the strength to not care if I’m having a bad skin day. The thing to remember is that you are not disgusting. Your skin is the largest organ on your body and is exposed to so many irritants and weather conditions and people - it can be difficult to take care of! It can feel powerful to take care of it and be proud of it, even if you wish you could shed it like a snake.
I am no doctor, but sadly conditions like eczema are not fully understood by medical professionals, because everybody is different. One cream that might work for my friend will burn my skin and make me look like a beetroot. With that in mind, I feel that my own tips are valid - I have 15 years of experience after all!
Don’t overuse steroids - this is a big one for me. I went cold turkey on them a few months ago, because I suspect them to be the cause of some really terrible sunburn I experienced over the summer. They have thinned my skin and caused a lot of discolouration. At times, they have truly saved my skin, but I advise you to be really careful and not become reliant on them.
Gently exfoliate weekly - emphasis on GENTLY, but I use a soft flannel in the shower to get rid of dead skin. This means when I moisturise afterwards my skin is so soft and absorbs all of the moisture.
Put on an emollient straight after showering - and don’t put clothes on straight after! Emollients work best when your skin is still wet, so don’t waste time after you bathe.
Switch your shower to freezing - if you’re really brave then you can have a completely cold shower, but in winter I can’t face this, and I just turn it to freezing at the end, trying to numb my skin from the itch as much as possible. It kind of sucks, but feels incredible after.
Cut your nails short - for some reason, I can always scratch myself, no matter how short my nails are. But having them as short as possible reduces the risk of those nasty bleeds.
Check out skincare sections on Reddit - there are numerous sub-reddits, some for eczema, some for psoriasis and basically anything you can think of. People really go into detail about everything they’ve tried, and you can even ask your own questions!
Follow some Insta accounts - once you find one, lots of others will appear. You can even talk to other people who post, whether this means asking them for tips, sharing your problems or just encouraging them so that they feel more comfortable in their skin too.