An open letter to make-up from an eczema sufferer

You know what? I can’t wear make-up.

I can’t post before and after make-up pictures like British-based fitness blogger Carys Gray of @busybeefitness did this week:

@busybeefitnessIt’s not just that I’m completely inept (I am) it’s because applying make-up to my face is akin to spending 10 minutes trapped in a lift with a swarm of bees.

Not only am I allergic to most of the ingredients, but the eczema on my face means that any covering-up I try only makes it look much worse – like smearing liquid foundation on a Saharan sand dune and hoping for a flawless finish.

Before AND after:

eczema faceFor thirty years, this has really bothered me. I have railed at the injustice of my position – “why can I not look pretty like all the other girls?”

I have felt the need to apologise and explain myself to employers. I have felt inadequate and, on many occasions, not fully dressed.

I have noticed the looks of other women at weddings and parties, “why hasn’t she bothered to make the effort?” But this is only half the story. In fact, I didn’t now how lucky I was.

I have suffered from eczema all of my life. It has moved around my body like a team of nomadic herdsman reigning their itchy, cracked and scaly terror on each area of skin as they went.

When I was at school, it targeted my hands meaning I found it hard to grip a pencil. When I was at university it was all over my arms and legs.

As a graduate trainee, it was my feet. Now, as a fully-fledged grown-up, the eczema has landed squarely on my face.

eczema faceAs I look back on my life of being unable to paste a load of slap all over my face, I have realised that being excluded from the cosmetics merry-go-round has afforded me a freedom that many women will never know.

This was brought home to me by the British-based fitness blogger Carys Gray of @busybeefitness — who’s is also, according to Teen Vogue, “a major proponent of self-love and body positivity.” She is an undeniably beautiful young woman, but this week she posted a picture of her unmade-up face including patches of eczema. A great gesture and certainly a tick in the box for visual difference, but what really shocked me was the thousands of comments from mums, young girls and women just saying thank you for being real. In a world of Instagram filters and digital perfection just showing your real skin has become an act of bravery.

This was her post:

Apparently, the average British woman spends around 474 days in their lifetime applying make-up, according to a study from a Harley Street clinic and who knows how many more hours are spent on taking selfies with filters to blur out the bumps and blemishes that even make-up can’t hide.

Now, I’m not about to tell you I’ve spent those 474 days skydiving, surfing and swimming with dolphins. However, it is close to a year and half of not staring hopelessly into the mirror, examining every tiny flaw and witnessing my face inching towards the inevitable decline.

I’ll be honest though, it is also 474 days where I have glanced into the mirror and seen a horrible mess staring back at me.

eczema face

Reddened, scaly, flaky skin one day – allergic bumps and lumps the next. There are days when I have had to head out into the world feeling and looking like utter crap.

And I’m not alone. Skin diseases have psychological effects, including feelings of “stress, anxiety, anger, depression, shame, social isolation, low self-esteem and embarrassment”, according to a government report.

“I feel like I am disgusting,” said one woman in a research group. “I feel unattractive and I have such little confidence in myself as a result of how I look. People stare at my face and it makes me feel completely worthless.”

But even more importantly, feeling depressed about your eczema only makes it worse. How’s that for a Catch-22?

So, if the only thing that you can slap on your face is a handful of white grease prescribed by a GP, what do you do?

eczema cream

Cutting the rope between the incredibly unhelpful link between ‘looking good’ and ‘feeling good’ is a good place to start. It’s not easy though.

“We are increasingly living in an appearance saturated society,” says Professor Nichola Rumsey, co-director of the Centre for Appearance Research.

“By focusing too much attention on appearance, other important attributes such as intelligence, kindness and determination were seen to be becoming less important.”

“There are some things you don’t learn until it’s too late,” writes journalist Melanie Reid who broke her neck and back falling off a horse and is now tetraplegic.

“One is that a woman’s relationship with her own body image is a totally unnecessary war. If I could reclaim even half of [my time], how much better I would have spent it – dancing, running, travelling, kissing, talking, laughing, reading, playing sport.”

So consider this. If, like me, you suffer from a skin condition maybe, just maybe, the doors to a life free of appearance anxiety have been thrown wide open.

When you can’t look good or even hope to make slight improvements by the waving of a mascara wand, focusing on your appearance becomes a complete waste of time.

Instead, you are entirely free to focus on intelligence, kindness and determination – and all for the good of your health.

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