I’ve been suffering with Atopic Dermatitis or Eczema as its popularly known, since I was 2 years old. It’s been a long 25 years. Eczema is an inflammatory disorder in which the skin becomes extremely dry, itchy, red, peeling, often oozing skin, and scaly lesions which causes cracks in the skin’s outer barrier, exposing room for infection. The root cause is still not known on how people develop Eczema and currently there is no known cure. Some will inherit genes from their parents. Others may eat something that they didn’t previously know they were allergic to and develop it, and some people can just develop allergies to foods overnight. Environmental factors, skin coming in contact with certain materials and hormonal changes can also be the cause.
Growing up with Eczema wasn’t so bad; I had little patches on the backs of my knees and front side of my elbows (antecubital), places of my body that were easily covered up with clothing. However, from 16 onwards it started developing on my face and the rest of my body. At my worst it progressively spiralled out of control and took over my whole body to the point I was unable to move properly due to how raw, sore, inflamed and tight it had become. Walking, sitting, any movement was painful and uncomfortable. I started becoming really self-conscious about my appearance, hiding not only my condition but how I was feeling, was all I knew. For me, my eczema can feel like that annoying friend who always needs attention, is demanding and is constantly taking up your time. When it is irritated it feels like my neck is on fire. Trying to resist the itching just irritates and frustrates me. It's keeps me up at night and I’m hardly able to sleep. "Just stop itching" people say... if it were that easy, I'd have stopped years ago. People don’t really understand how hard it is. I’m forever beating myself up about it. A 30 second itch turns into two weeks of healing, but I can’t help that my own body is attacking itself. How do I explain what it's like to people who don’t have to go through it?
The burden of living with eczema is regularly undermined, especially in adults and GPs more often than not only treat the physical aspects. Medically over the years I’ve been prescribed my fair share of medications (different strength steroid creams, various ointments and washes, scalp medication, steroid injections, steroid tablets) and referrals (dermatologists, light therapy, patch testing, dietician). It’s been long and tiring, I feel like I’ve always had to plea with my GP to take me and my condition seriously, but every single time I’d just get sent off with more steroid creams, which is the reason I am now going through TSW (Topical Steroid Withdrawal). TSW is basically the process of weaning yourself off using steroids aka "devil creams" as I like to put it, even though they are specifically prescribed for chronic skin conditions, the effects and symptoms you're left with are altogether unpleasant and cause more damage (in most cases) and daily living is extremely hard and painful. I wake up and spend my days covered in dead skin. Its gross but it's my reality. With the amount of skin I shed I'm surprised I have any skin left on my body. How long this process takes varies between people some take 6 months and some take 2/3 years (possibly even longer). I've been off steroids now for 2 years and it's the best decision I ever made! PLEASE STOP USING THEM. Even though I haven’t healed 100% my skin is in a much better place.
TSW, caused me to develop a condition called skin picking disorder also known as Dermatillomania, BFRB (body focus repetitive behaviour). It is a mental health condition where you cannot stop picking at your skin causing cuts and bleeding (also includes nail biting, hair pulling & cheek biting). I do all of these. It’s not clear what causes skin picking disorder. It can be triggered by stress or anxiety and feeling guilty. I didn’t realise I had this until recently. A lot of people pick at their skin with fingernails, teeth or with tools like tweezers, pins or scissors. Affecting both the psychologically as well as physically. It's like a downwards spiral. The more you pick the more stressed you get, the more your skin is unhappy. You see skin conditions whether it be eczema, acne, psoriasis all go hand in hand with psychological stress and psychiatric diseases. . It's also important to note that not all picking could mean you have this mental health condition, popping pimples and compulsively picking are very different. So, I’d advise talking to your doctor about it first.
With the constant open wounds and cuts in people who suffer with Eczema and TSW, there are many different infections you could get. I have had Eczema Herpeticum a few times, it’s an infection usually caused by the herpes simplex 1 virus – the virus that causes cold sores and can potentially become life threatening if not treated properly. It’s important to be aware of the signs as it only took a week for my skin to go from 0 to 100! An early diagnosis will minimise server complication so GET YO ASS TO THE GP and AVOID anyone with cold sores. The medical industry still has a long way to go when it comes to giving equal treatment to research and care for people of colour. Its needs to be aware and inclusive and it frustrates me because more people of colour are prone to chronic skin disease than those who are not.
Dermatologist frequently aren’t thoroughly trained to identify the nuances between lighter and darker skin tones and how they manifest in different skin conditions. This usually ends in misdiagnoses or ineffective treatment. All the books and blogs I’ve read and the majority of research that is done mainly focuses on the study of fairer complexions so white bodies are always represented in pictures and in words used to relate to the skin condition. For example, the term “Red Skin Syndrome” used when it comes to topical steroid withdrawal, thoughtlessly ignores people with darker skin who also suffer with being affected by TSW but their skin does not show the same red discoloration, it often comes up as grey or dark brown. So there really needs to be a greater emphasis on inclusivity and tougher research within the field of dermatology.
Living through the pandemic with eczema hasn’t been anything new. To us eczema and TSW sufferers we literally have to forcibly put ourselves into lockdown a lot of the time. Isolation is our lives. We need time to heal and the outside world doesn’t allow for that to happen. While everyone is worried about losing a year of their life, we lose chunks of our life year in and year out. Our lives are constantly put-on hold. We don't get to live our lives to the fullest. We are constantly in pain and constantly stressed. The world passes us by, while everyone else is moving. But now everything and everyone has been put on pause, the social pressures of having to go to work, going to see friends/family or go to special occasions have been lifted. We don’t have to feel bad or worried about not doing everyday things (that to most isn’t a struggle like taking a shower or spending an hour before work prepping our skin) because no one else has to either. It’s given me time to take care and heal my skin, so I am grateful.
It’s been quite the rollercoaster when it comes to taking care and coping with my skin. No one in my nuclear family has it or ever really had skin problems and no one around me suffered with eczema in the severe way I did. Having seen rare to no representation throughout the majority of my life, to say I’ve felt lost, depressed and lonely doesn’t even cut it, not only as a chronic skin disease sufferer but especially as a dark skinned South Asian Women. All I used to see on social media platforms, advertisements, on the TV, in magazines etc. was perfect skin and all I felt like doing was crying. I didn’t understand why brands were only showcasing good skin. Even the adverts for dry skin... doesn't actually show anyone with dry skin?! Funny that ey?
There have been a lot of wins and losses, but both are good! The losses give me a learning curve and more knowledge and the wins, they uplift me and remind me to water my own flowers once in a while and remember how far I’ve come on my skin journey. It’s made me realise just how resilient, brave and strong I am. Helping me gain the perspective that beauty is and has always been WAY more than surface level‼ As I've aged, I've learnt how to deal with the flare ups, I take more care in what products I'm using on my skin, I know a good amount of what triggers my eczema by doing a food elimination process and I've started taking better care of my diet. It’s really all trial and error as everyone’s skin is different. You might share the same type/condition of skin with someone but one remedy that has worked for them may not work for you. A lot of patients is involved and it can become extremely frustrating from time to time, well a lot of the time. There is no miracle remedy unfortunately. I’ve had to through the years figure out what works best for my skin and what doesn't. I've still got a long way to go but I'm in a happier place with my skin, accepting that it is what it is and not hiding from the world is probably one of the best things that could have happened for me. Eczema has helped strengthen and give me power I never knew I had. Beauty is more than skin deep and I'm learning to be kinder to myself.
My goal is to continue pushing for more awareness about Eczema and TSW, tackling the stigma around the skin conditions, get people being more open and honest when it comes to their skin conditions, bringing more attention to getting people of colour equality represented in research and patient care when it comes to chronic skin conditions and scream and shout for more brands that we love to acknowledge us and understand that they can't just keep pushing one standard. There are so many of us dealing with different skin condition and living with it day in day out and we deserve to be a part of the beauty community.
Karishma Leckraz is a Content Creator and Eczema/TSW Awareness Activist. Since coming out about her Eczema in 2019 it's allowed her work to flourish and be acknowledged by big industry's and brands as she strives to make a change in the beauty industry. Whilst creating extravagant out of the box makeup looks, Karishma hopes to bring action towards fighting for inclusivity and against colourism, to push the beauty industry to acknowledge and start working with people that have skin condition as she believe we all deserve to be a part of the community and getting people of colour equally representation in research and patient care when it comes to chronic skin condition.