Magenta is a 23-year-old social media executive by day, and a freelance writer by night from Sydney, Australia. She shared her experience with psoriasis as part of Psoriasis Awareness Month this August.
What skin condition do you have?
I have pretty severe psoriasis, which is a genetic autoimmune skin disease, triggered by sickness, stress, or both. The type of psoriasis I have is called guttate psoriasis, which means that when I have a flare-up, I am covered in a red, flaky, bumpy, and itchy rash, from my scalp, right down to my toes.
When were you diagnosed with psoriasis? When/ how did you first notice something was different in your skin?
I was diagnosed in October 2015, during my year 12 trial exams. I had just had tonsillitis for the first time, and after a round of antibiotics, I thought I was all clear and good to go. Little did I know that tonsillitis, combined with a lot of suppressed stress due to exams, was what would trigger this autoimmune response, and spark my chronic psoriasis journey. I simply woke up itchy one morning, and within the week, was covered head to toe in a red, raw rash.
What is it like living with this skin condition?
At times, it has been very difficult. When I was diagnosed, I was about to sit the most important exams of my entire life so far – I placed a lot of stress and pressure on myself to get the highest marks possible, in the hope of getting into law school. I had just entered my first proper relationship, and I was about to graduate high school and have the ‘best summer’ of my life before beginning university. It was quite possibly the worst time to be covered in an extremely itchy, often painful rash – especially during a long, hot, Perth summer. All I wanted to do was cover my arms and legs as much as possible, but the heat was almost unbearable. Ironically, a little sun and saltwater are good for psoriasis, but the last thing I wanted to do was strip down to a bikini at the beach.
It’s been nearly six years now since I was first diagnosed, and due to psoriasis being an incurable condition, it has been a long six years of finding the right combination of treatment that works for me. Although, despite the rarity of my flare-ups these days, whenever I notice the first sign of red, patchy skin, I am still filled with distress, because I know what is coming. A big flare-up can affect my confidence and impact my mental health. It can be quite depressing to hate what your skin looks like, and it can be hard to handle the mental and physical burden of being constantly itchy, uncomfortable and in pain.
What do you do to manage the symptoms? Are there things that make them worse?
After years of trialling different medications and treatments, I’ve finally found something that works for me. I currently have an immunosuppressant injection once every three months, which keeps the flare-ups at bay. I am also very into skincare. Moisturising and exfoliating is a MUST. If I don’t moisturise my whole body after a shower, my skin gets very itchy and dry.
Phototherapy light treatment is a common psoriasis treatment. A little bit of sun will also help, but all in moderation of course – using SPF 50+, only staying in the sun for 10 to 15 minutes, etc. Sunburn can worsen my flareups, as it can make my skin even more itchy and hot.
What have you had to change in your lifestyle to manage your psoriasis?
Yes, especially my diet. Before I was approved to start my immunosuppressant injections, I had to watch what I ate and drank, as certain foods would trigger flare-ups or make me itchier. At one stage, I was totally gluten-free and vegan, which really helped. But it wasn’t sustainable in the long term.
What’s one thing you want people to know about living with psoriasis?
That psoriasis doesn’t just affect your appearance. It can also affect your joints internally, causing inflammation and pain. I think the BEST thing you can do if you know someone living with psoriasis is to understand that they might not be feeling their best and to support them in whatever way possible. There’s nothing worse than when people overcompensate and say “I can barely see anything! No one will notice!” when you know that if you saw someone with a red rash on their legs, arms and face, you would probably wonder what was wrong – it’s only natural, of course. The best way to support someone with psoriasis is to simply be understanding, especially when they don’t feel up to being overly social!
What are your best sun protection tips?
SPF 50+ always!! Even if I’m just spending the day around the house, I always put sunscreen on my face in the morning. And if you’re headed for a day by the pool, always re-apply, wear a hat, and cover-up if you’re going to be hanging around for a while. I am also a huge advocate for regular mole checks – and always go for fake tan (if that’s what you’re after)! Never the real deal.
How do you feel about your skin today?
Today I feel great – I haven’t had a flare-up in about a year, so it’s probably the best I’ve ever felt.
What would you say to others who are struggling to feel comfortable in their skin?
Take each day as it comes. If you’re having a flare-up, try and remember that it will pass, as tricky as that sounds. Your true friends and family won’t care about what you look like, but I understand that being out in public and being social when you’re not feeling your best is hard, and it’s okay if you don’t always feel up to it.
When I am having a flare-up and I have to be sociable, I try my best not to hide it – I think being open is the best way forward. More often than not, whenever someone has asked me about my rash, they have always been super understanding – people are naturally curious, and once you tell them what it is, they are satisfied! You’d also be surprised about the number of people who suffer from some kind of skin condition – I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve met fellow psoriasis suffers. Wearing your skin loud and proud is invigorating and powerful – most people are impressed by your confidence and admire you for not being afraid of judgement.