Everyone has their insecurities. One of mine covers my entire body.
One of the purposes our skin serves is protection. But what happens when things that are meant to protect us hurt us? I’ve experienced pain, embarrassment, and shame as a result of my lifelong encounter with eczema and more recent affliction with acne.
E is for eczema
Being aware of and managing my skin, particularly eczema, started at a very young age, when I learned not to use products that had pictures of fruit or flowers on them. I’ve always felt very self-conscious about the rashes I’ve gotten on my hands and neck, in my elbow creases, behind my legs, on the back of my head, and even right beneath my belly button, where the button on my jeans rubbed. Basically, having eczema is like wearing a scratchy sweater in which you’re trapped.
The age of acne: the teenage edition
I wouldn’t say that I had a problem with acne in high school, but I experienced occasional breakouts. These occasional breakouts continued through my young-adult years. While I caked on the makeup, my own mother poured salt on my wounds with her words. I was packing to go back to college after Thanksgiving break when she and my stepfather returned from the grocery store with their groceries and a bottle of face wash for me to take back to school. Despite the fact that my needs weren’t always met, I still found it odd that she seemed to be so upset about the $5 she spent on the face wash. So upset that, as I was packing my bags, she threw it at me and tauntingly yelled that there was no amount of face wash in the world that could fix my face.
My own mother – a girl’s first icon of beauty – made me feel ugly and hopeless when she should’ve comforted me.
E is for egregious, exploitative, emotional
Fast forward through college, and I was suddenly living and working in Washington, D.C. As I got acclimated to my first full-time job, a steady big-girl paycheck, and proper skincare regimen, the acne subsided.
Things were looking up.
I started to feel better about the skin on my face – so much so that I didn’t feel the need to wear makeup everywhere I went. However, what followed shortly after was the most depressing eczema flare-up I’ve ever had. I spent the better part of 2011 trying to figure out why I had it all over my face.
Why I couldn’t wear foundation or powder, because it would flake off.
Why I couldn’t wear eyeliner or mascara, because my skin was so irritated that my eyes would water.
Why I got out of the shower covered in rashes.
So I scheduled an appointment with my dermatologist to get to the bottom of this. She ordered a patch test, during which a nurse placed 80 substances on my back and covered them with a big bandage that would be removed to analyze the skin reaction after days of incessant itching and scratching and an allergic reaction to Neosporin. The test revealed that I’m allergic to only four of the substances.
So I learned what triggers my eczema, but that wasn’t enough to treat it. Finally, in August of that year, I visited my primary care physician. Hopeless and vulnerable, I cried for the first time in a doctor’s office that I could recall. I went home from that appointment with a couple of prescriptions and skepticism. Despite my distrust, I quickly got the situation under control, and the acne stayed away, as well. I enjoyed nearly flawless skin until we moved to Augusta a few years later, last year.
The age of acne: the adult edition
A few months later, I went off of the only medication I was on due to its side effects. This medication controlled my hormone levels, so you can probably guess what going off of it did. However, my skin improved about six months after moving to Augusta, when I got settled into my career, leading me to believe that either the water or stress caused the breakout that occurred just after moving. I was leaning toward “water,” because my face was doing what it typically does when I travel.
I thought the worst was over, until the year-long lease on our house was up, and we moved into our new house. Again, this had me wondering: stress, hormones, or water? I hadn’t changed anything with my hormones since the fall, and I didn’t feel stressed, which led me to believe it was the water. However, looking back, I realize that I had just bought my first home, and my husband was on a work schedule that kept us from spending quality time together. Stress very well could’ve been a factor.
And sometimes our bodies feel stress even when we don’t.
I first tried fighting the acne with some older medications, keeping in mind that medications become ineffective over time and that our skin changes. I’ve been treating my eczema with a steroid ointment, but the steroid ointment clogs my pores and gives me acne, which I’ve been treating with tretinoin, which dries my skin, likely causing eczema.
‘Round and ‘round I go.
So I finally established care with a dermatology office in Augusta a couple weeks ago.
The “A” word
I shared my “skin story” with the physician assistant in dermatology whom I saw. She confirmed that what I’m dealing with is hormonal and asked how I felt about Accutane.
Through my career, I’ve learned that interventions (medications, procedures, etc.) are only recommended when the benefits outweigh the harms. I applied that to this situation and what I knew about the harsh side-effects associated with Accutane. In seconds, I went from feeling like a person who’s in optimal health to a person who’s damaged and the only thing that can fix her is to risk other complications from severely dry skin all the way to having a baby with birth defects. Somewhere in the middle is the myth about suicidal tendencies.
I shared my concerns, primarily that I’ve been working toward ridding my body of chemicals and that going on Accutane would go against that. Additionally, I wouldn’t be able to continue with my laser hair removal treatments while taking Accutane, and I’ve already made the investment and am just a little more than halfway through them.
The physician assistant gave me a couple different prescriptions for the acne and a couple new prescriptions for the eczema. We’re going to see how the next six weeks go before discussing the “A” word again.
In addition to starting the new medications, I spent the latter part of last week rethinking my entire skin regimen. A couple Saturdays ago, I parted ways with all of my Clinique skincare products, which include:
- Acne Solutions Cleansing Foam
- Acne Solutions Clarifying Lotion
- Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel
- Acne Solutions Liquid Makeup
- Superpowder Double Face Makeup
I traded all of this in for:
- Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleansing Bar
- Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer SPF 15
- Complexion Rescue™ Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream
- bareSkin® Perfecting Veil
A couple weeks ago marked the first time when I didn’t hide behind my full-coverage makeup when I got dressed up to go out. And I’ve surprisingly stuck with it since. It was a definite step outside my comfort zone, because the perfectionist in me has always wanted to cover everything up. However, it was a step in the right direction.
Nate hugged me and told me I look beautiful – something that my mother should’ve done on that Sunday afternoon when I was packing up to finish my first semester of freshman year of college. He helps me to detoxify not only my skin but also my spirit.