Aljaz Skorjanec: “Psoriasis affected my mental health”

Aljaz Skorjanec

“The first thing I did that really helped me change my sleep pattern for the better was change when and how I eat,” says the dancer, who tries to leave good “some hours” between eating and going to bed.

“And I like to sleep when it’s not too hot. Unfortunately, Janette is completely different from me. So it’s a difficult balance! he adds, laughing.

His wife – Cuban-American presenter and fellow professional dancer Janette Manrara – may prefer a warmer sleeping environment, but judging by Skorjanec’s glowing energy as we video chat, something is working for him. .

The pair – who met in 2010, when Manrara performed alongside pros Strictly on the live dance show Burn The Floor, and married in 2017 – are currently touring the UK together in Remembering The Oscars, which runs until May 7.

At the end of March, Skorjanec announced that after nine years he was leaving Strictly Come Dancing – and while he is “eternally grateful” for the BBC show that made him a household name, he has “a lot of things planned exciting”. We’ve already seen him release a cookbook with his sister Lara, filled with family recipes and memories of his childhood in Slovenia.

The 32-year-old also recently started talking about his experiences with psoriasis – the chronic skin condition that causes red, crusty patches, which can become painful and itchy. Experts believe it is an autoimmune disease, which means that a person’s own immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells. So it’s not contagious, but it sometimes runs in families.

“I always knew psoriasis was in my family,” recalls Skorjanec – but it wasn’t until he was 18 and after moving to Australia for his first job, that he started to have patches on elbows and knees. “The good thing is because I was on the Gold Coast, a surfer’s paradise, I was able to go into the ocean and the salt water is really helpful, it calmed him down.”

He eventually left Australia and over time his psoriasis got worse. Skorjanec remembers trying all sorts of different creams, tracking down different treatments on his travels: “At one point I had about 50 different creams from different countries. I was testing what worked best.

“When I started doing Strictly, my stress levels went up a bit because of the workload and the schedule – I’m not complaining, it was just a lot more responsibility that comes with the job – and that’s when my psoriasis started to get much worse,” he adds. “It wasn’t just a few little spots, it started showing up more in different parts of my body.”

It wasn’t just a visual problem – psoriasis was also physically uncomfortable and painful. At this point, Skorjanec started using steroid treatments, even getting injected during a severe flare-up. Eventually, however, he found himself in a vicious cycle. Although often effective in the short term, long-term use of strong steroid treatments can be associated with side effects, and some people report that it causes them more serious skin problems.

“Steroid creams work – they got rid of them for a few days or weeks and then more than likely came back with a vengeance. So I was in this vicious circle,” he explains. “It was frustrating , and it went on for a long time. A year ago on Strictly [when he was partnered with Daisy Lowe in 2016] when I could only pretty much wear turtlenecks, because my psoriasis was so bad.

Deciding to speak about his health battle on BBC One’s Morning Live a year and a half ago proved to be a turning point. Skorjanec was contacted by Medovie, a skincare range producing creams and capsules targeting dry and irritated skin issues.

Now he says his skin has been in the ‘most manageable and best condition’ for years – and breaking free from the ‘vicious circle’ he was in with the treatment has been a ‘massive relief’. He is so pleased with the results he has personally experienced that he has now become a brand ambassador.

Going public about his psoriasis was an eye-opener in other ways as well. “People’s response – how many people contacted me and sent me photos – really touched me. That’s when I decided I wanted to connect with something I really believe,” he explains. “Being a teenager and then in your twenties, especially how the world is – it’s all about how you look, how you look. And in television and in the dance industry, it’s all about expressing yourself through your body. And then if your body is covered in psoriasis…I’m not going to lie to you, it was tough. It was hard on my mental health and I was really embarrassed.

“I still don’t wear shorts, it kind of stuck with me,” admits Skorjanec. “T-shirts, I’m ok with it now. I feel like I’m very at peace with who I am and what I look like, but when you grow up, and God forbid, you’re in an environment where nobody knows psoriasis and people think it’s contagious – they’ll get it if they touch you I’ve been through so many times like this and it’s not nice.

Skincare aside, for the dancer, managing their psoriasis is also about their overall lifestyle, avoiding their individual triggers and taking steps to relax — hence those steps to improve their sleep. He also avoids too many certain foods after discovering he’s intolerant to them, including dairy – “and the worst for my skin is hot peppers and then grapes” – and uses a UV light machine a few minutes a day at home. . “And what really works for me, too, are these bags of Dead Sea salt, or unscented bath salt,” he adds.

He says he’s “too dizzy” to meditate, but likes to turn off movies and TV with Manrara whenever he can. “We’ve always had that outlet,” he says. “And we go for walks or just go out into nature. The place where I grew up in Slovenia was so beautiful that I missed living in a big city like London very much.

“But you have to go back to your roots, even if it’s five minutes standing outside on your balcony or in your garden,” says Skorjanec. “Just to give you some peace.”