For the past 10 years, my skin has been a bloody nightmare.
Unfortunately, it’s not a place where I can hide. It’s a slap in the middle of my face. It all started about 10 years ago. I had a burning sensation on my face, which within hours caused horrible reading stains to appear on my cheeks and nose. Sometimes I also had rashes that scratched my neck and beard (or the pathetic amount of facial hair that I consider a beard).
There seemed to be no reason for this to happen. Sometimes it happened after a night out so I quit drinking for a few months – nothing happened. Tried all kinds of moisturizers under the sun – still nothing. I even tried to cover myself in sunscreen every time I left the house in case it was caused by UV – now. I gave up dairy, but really struggled without cheese.
Read more: “I gave up my phone for a week and that’s how it changed my life”
All kidding aside, it’s hard to describe the impact my skin condition has had on my life. Physically it can be very painful, but it is usually uncomfortable. The real impact is how it hits my self-esteem. I am a young (rather) single. I have a fairly public job and I speak on camera fairly regularly. Spending the majority of my life looking like a mummy suit (from The Mummy movie) before she fully regenerated and one of the cursed sailors from Pirates of the Caribbean made me extremely embarrassed. When a flare was at its height, I didn’t want to leave the house, canceled dates I had arranged, and never had my camera turned on during video calls.
Four years ago, I had the first of many false dawns when a dermatologist diagnosed me with rosacea. This condition causes redness or redness and visible blood vessels on your face and can also produce small pus-filled bumps. He gave me a few different creams to deal with it and I left hoping that maybe this problem would be fixed. He also suggested I give up caffeine because it’s a common rosacea trigger. So I applied the creams, ditched the caffeine (damn that was difficult, especially since it included all the chocolate) and my face improved a bit.
However, there were still some problems. Although the low level redness was diminished a bit, the mega flare ups were just as bad and happening just as often. The other issue is that while my cheeks looked better, the redness and spots on my neck and chest were just as bad. So I went back to the dermatologist.
This time he also diagnosed me with seborrheic dermatitis – a condition that people with rosacea often have too. The problem is that one of the treatments, steroids, makes rosacea much worse. Long story short, I stuck to my caffeine-free diet, my antibiotic rosacea cream, and added a special shampoo to the mix.
But despite that, things seemed to get worse until the day we went into lockdown. Over the weeks, my skin has improved dramatically. Sometimes it was still a little bad, but at the start of the pandemic my skin was better than it had been for years. I didn’t understand but I wasn’t complaining! Then, when the world started to reopen, I started going out more and my skin gradually deteriorated. This was especially true when I returned to the office after a year and a half last fall. So I was back to square one, in fact, it was worse.
This is what my skin looked like when I worked from home (that’s me on the right):
This image shows how much my skin has deteriorated:
It then became extremely flaky:
Angry, I went to my GP who put me on antibiotics and referred me to another dermatologist. This doctor suggested I do a patch test. If you haven’t seen them before you basically have piles of different potential allergens stuck to your back on Monday (including a range of chemicals including things like nickel), on Wednesday they’re all removed , then you come back on Friday to see which pieces of your skin had an allergic reaction.
Even if there were no allergic reactions, this process is really uncomfortable. You can’t shower, you have duct tape all over your back and you have to sleep on your stomach. However, there was an allergic reaction, two in fact, and on Wednesday two spots on my back were really sore, almost burning.
From there, we discovered that I am allergic to two things:
- Methylisothiazolinone (let’s call it chemical)
- 2-brom-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (let’s call this chemical two)
So, since I was really allergic to these chemicals, the next step was to figure out if they were actually what was affecting my face. To do this, I had to go three months without exposure to these two chemicals to see if my skin improved. The second chemical wasn’t too hard to avoid, it was used a lot 20 years ago but was phased out because so many people reacted to it.
The chemical was a completely different beast. It is found in a wide range of household products including soaps, shower gels, shampoos and sunscreens in which it is used as a preservative. As soon as I got home I searched everything in my house and pulled out all the products that had it in it and there were quite a few, including furniture polish and quite a liquid.
As anyone who’s tried to read the tiny writing on the back of a bottle can tell you, it’s hard to tell the ingredients apart, especially when they’re loaded and look a lot alike. My task was made even more difficult because a chemical has so many alternate names that mean the same thing including: Acticide MBS/MBR, Algucid CH50, Amerstat 250, Euxyl K 100, Fennosan IT 21, Grotan K/TK2, Isocile (R) PC , Kathon CG / LX / WT, Lonzaserve(R) PC, Mergal K7, Metatin GT, Mitco CC 31/32 L, Neolone CapG / 950 / MxP, Optiphen, Parmetol A / DF / K, Piror P109, Promex Alpha / BM, Proxel AQ/PL/XL2, Salicat MM/MI-10/K100/K145, Salimix MCI, Sharomix MI/, T/MCI, and Special Mx 323!
Eventually I purged my house of everything and the skin was fine. Then I went back to the office (I hadn’t been in a while due to Covid). A few hours after being in the office my skin started to burn and that night I was back to square one. I was so upset. How the hell had this happened? That’s when I remembered that inside the men’s restroom was one of those self-spray air fresheners. Knowing that the chemical was very common in air fresheners, I checked with our building owner. The spray turned out to have the chemical in it, which meant that every minute three of those sprays were basically swamping my face with something I was very allergic to.
Luckily I have a very supportive employer and they pulled the product. I am now sitting at the desk writing this article and for the first time in years I am at my desk and my skin is not hurting!
Now, I may be ahead of myself here. I haven’t been back to the doc yet and I’m still on antibiotics. However, I think after a decade, I have finally understood my condition and know how to deal with it. Over the next few months I’m going to quit antibiotics and various creams and potentially reintroduce chocolate into my life (I’d love my first Twix in four years) to see what impact it has.
The reason I’m writing this article is that while it’s easier for me than many people with chronic skin conditions, having a visible skin condition affects you far beyond your skin. physical discomfort. It erodes your confidence, it’s the first part of you the world sees and it takes someone much more confident than me to stop it from getting to you. Hopefully this gives some insight for those who don’t have such a problem and reason for hope for those who do.