What it’s really like to have psoriasis
- December 12, 2019
- William Lewis
Having been recently diagnosed with psoriasis, Hannah Banks-Walker tries to shed some light on the common skin condition
I’m a known hypochondriac. As someone fortunate enough to have pretty good health, I go to see the doctor more regularly than most. I’m quick to jump to conclusions about any sort of symptoms and I genuinely get quite anxious if even the slightest thing is wrong with me. But, for once, my vigilance (as I’m calling it, although I’m sure my friends and family would call it paranoia) seems to have paid off. For, what began as a small rash on my arm, which appeared entirely out of the blue, has resulted in a diagnosis of psoriasis.
Before my own diagnosis, I didn’t know that much about the skin condition. I knew my mum suffers from a mild bout that flared up a few years ago (psoriasis can be hereditary, as mine probably is) and that it had briefly been discussed in the tabloids, after both Cara Delevingne and Kim Kardashian said they suffered from it. But, beyond that, I was pretty clueless. So, when I developed the itchy, red patch in the crook of my arm, I dismissed it as dry skin and slathered it in moisturiser. Of course, it only got worse, eventually becoming a source of worry, not to mention extreme discomfort. Not only was it constantly itchy, it was also getting angrier by the day and made me so self-conscious I would only wear long sleeves. I developed a second patch on the back of my neck, in my hairline, which made my scalp flake, meaning I couldn’t put my hair up and was constantly scratching. It even appeared on my eyelids. Finally, I went to the doctor, who confirmed that this wasn’t just a case of dry, winter skin, but the condition caused by an excess production of skin cells, which build up and create itchy, sore patches.
According to Psoriasis Association, three per cent of the UK population suffers from psoriasis, with cases ranging from mild to chronic. And, while mine is on the former end of the spectrum, it’s something that can be debilitating. The Pool’s Lucy Dunn has suffered from psoriasis on her legs since she was 18 and finds the summer months particularly difficult: “I have a theory that the pollution and dust weakens my immune system and triggers it. I once got so rundown I got a round of guttate psoriasis on top of my normal psoriasis, which is as painful as chicken pox or shingles. I live in constant dread that it might happen again.”
Aside from the physical issues, the main problem with psoriasis is that not much is known about the condition. Despite it being common in both women and men (in fact, three of us in The Pool office have it), traditionally there hasn’t been a lot of research or awareness around the subject, and there is still no known cure. For those suffering from psoriasis, it can feel very isolating. “It can really affect quality of life, knocking confidence, self-esteem and general mood,” explains Dr Alexis Granite, consultant dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic in London. Thankfully, there are a few people working to help ameliorate these effects by raising more awareness about the condition.
After being diagnosed with severe psoriasis two years ago, 26-year-old Celia Martinez started documenting her acute case, which covers her entire body, via Instagram. Encouraging fellow sufferers to celebrate, rather than cover up, their skin, her posts quickly went viral, garnering thousands of supporters.
“I decided to share the photos of my body on Instagram to motivate all those people who have it and suffer from it, so that nobody feels less…. this disease does not define me or how I live my life.” Martinez’s honest and beautiful posts are not only inspirational but, for a fellow suffer, incredibly valuable for bringing psoriasis into the open.
Holly Dillon set up Get Your Skin Out in 2015, after not responding to treatment for the guttate psoriasis she’s had since the age of 14. The initiative campaigns for greater awareness about the disease and lobbies for change in the healthcare system (more research, training and dedicated centres), as well as providing information on available treatments and a community of people sharing products and tips that have worked for them. Launched with a moving photo series documenting Dillon’s own psoriasis treatment, the movement encourages others to share their pictures using the hashtag #GetYourSkinOut.
In February, Dillon staged the first Get Your Skin out event which discussed both the physical and mental side of the condition. For more information and details of further events,
Whether mild or chronic, raising awareness is a vital part of dealing with psoriasis. So, too, is finding the right treatment to help manage it. “While there isn’t currently a cure, there is a multitude of treatment options and lifestyle changes to help manage thefirst step is to seek medical help but, beyond that, try to avoid using harsh products (alcohol- or acid-based ingredients that are found in many soaps and deodorants), avoid smoking and limit alcohol intake, eat a well-rounded diet including fruits, vegetables and whole grains if possible, and try to reduce stress. It’s a common trigger for psoriasis – yoga, meditation, acupuncture and exercise are all effective ways to relieve stress,” advises Dr Granite. “Make sure you get enough sleep, don’t get rundown and moisturise like your life depended on it,” advises The Pool’s Lucy, who uses Boots Aqueous cream – “unscented, creamier than all others and cheap as chips”.
As for me, I was prescribed a steroid cream for short-term use, and Epimax, an in-shower moisturiser (which, incidentally, is possibly my favourite beauty product – albeit not the most glamorous one – of recent years). You can buy it over the counter for about £8 (also available on Amazon). The two products combined are working for now – the patch on my arm is smoother, softer and less itchy. However, I’m still suffering from mini patches on my eyelids and larger areas on my scalp, for which I’m still hunting for a resolution (Dr Granite has outlined some non-prescription products below, which I am hoping might help).
To be honest, the incessant itching does wear me down and, as only a mild sufferer, I have full respect for those managing more severe cases. Psoriasis is something we need to talk about more and we need to celebrate the inspiring people who are doing so. Psoriasis is undoubtedly a pain, but it’s nothing to feel embarrassed about.
DR GRANITE’S PSORIASIS SHOPPING LIST
FOR YOUR HAIR
FOR YOUR SCALP