Amara Howe has tried just about everything to cure her severe eczema, and yes, that includes E45 cream. Here, she discusses coming to terms with the condition and learning to fight the itch in a world where perfect skin is treated as the norm.
Have you ever had to hoover up your skin? I have. Actually that’s a lie – my boyfriend does it. I know it’s not a nice thought, but when you shed skin on a daily basis the only option is getting Henry to suck that shit up (the hoover, not my boyfriend).
Being a twenty-something in 2018 is hard enough. We’re living in an Instagram-obsessed society (guilty), mental health problems are increasing, we’re unable to earn a decent enough wage to actually live and McDonald’s still don’t stock mayonnaise. When you consider all this and then add a skin condition into the equation, it’s a hard knock life for us itchy individuals.
Eczema is a very common condition. With an estimate of 15 million people in the UK living with the skin disorder – that’s about one in every four – you’d think we would have found a cure already. Unfortunately, chronic illnesses are on the rise and I’m still itching myself to death on a daily basis.
I’ve suffered with eczema since I was 18 – I’m 24 now. From bloodied pillow cases to extreme flaking, orgasmic scratching followed by self-loathing and crying hysterically in the mirror, the adjective ‘severe’ is pretty damn accurate. Sure, I can laugh at the idea I resemble an actual reptile but the reality is, eczema can be an extremely depressing illness.
The average person is likely to assume eczema is just a patch of dry skin. Don’t get me wrong, I would too if I saw a Neutrogena advert featuring a model looking frustrated as she rubs cream into her perfectly normal elbows. And sometimes it is. But a lot of the time this dry patch of skin can affect both your physical and mental health.
Let’s consider my physical health. I have itched every single day for the past six years, I wake up 2 to 3 times a night, every night, I shed so much skin I could probably start collecting it in jars, my orgasms come in the form of 5 minute scratch-sessions, I have hour long baths every night (can’t really complain) and I have to change my bed sheets twice a week.
And my mental health? I am constantly thinking about my eczema, moisturisers and creams cost a bomb, I rarely feel sexy, I’m sick of wearing turtlenecks and I’ll forever be heartbroken I can’t jump on the Eurostar to Paris spontaneously – I’d have to pack my eczema-kit first.
This ongoing cycle is quite simply a pain in the ass and I’m sick of it. As a twenty-something female with dreams of growing a fashion blog, I’ve currently had to put my life on hold until I grow a new layer of skin. Believe me, I would love to embrace my eczema but when perfect skin still appears to be the epitome of beauty it’s pretty fucking hard to embrace.
Now, I love social media, it’s inspiring, exciting and super addicting but when the majority of our role models are botoxed and photoshopped to the max it’s no wonder we’re all obsessed with definition ‘perfect’. With more face tuning apps than there are facial features, if it wasn’t for #bodypositive Instagram’s slowly taking the lead on feminism we’d probably all grow up unaware that anyone else besides us has flaws.
There are, at least, some small positives to this hell hole. I’ve made a lot of friends thanks to my condition. Thanks to numerous eczema groups on Facebook, I’ve been able to track down these warriors and create a kind of impromptu skin support group. Yes, once a month I meet up with my fellow scratchies to unload whatever skin issue we might be having on one another. From diet dilemmas to moisturiser mishaps, having someone listen to me moan other than my boyfriend is a God send.
Hearing a doctor tell you you “just need to moisturise more” and offering no alternative to the dreaded steroid cream gets a little repetitive so I stopped going to my GP about 3 years ago and started looking at alternative treatments, and heck have I tried a lot. In a bid to cure the skin demon I’ve tried a number of different treatments within the last couple of years. From being plunged into -90 degree temperatures (cryotherapy) to allergy testing while a small bottle of fish lay on my stomach (kinesiology). Sure, none of it worked, but at least I’m trying.
I am constantly in hope of finding a cure for my skin condition. Most recently I’ve been testing my diet and realised I’m extremely sensitive to wheat – goodbye lunchtime sarnies. My boyfriend’s mum has also just bought back a tube of turmeric cream from India which I am super excited to try. So far nothing seems to be budging the itch but any minimal improvement is an achievement. And I’ve been making achievements in other ways too.
In January of this year I took part in a photoshoot in celebration of scars. The project Behind the Scars, curated by renowned photographer Sophie Mayanne enabled those with scars or a skin condition in my case, to celebrate the body they were in. When the pictures were released I was overwhelmed, not because I liked them, but because I was finally a face for eczema. It was me in a spaghetti-strap playsuit, scratches everywhere with a huge smile on my face.
After the pictures were released the response was overwhelming. I was inundated with messages – all positive. Some people told me my pictures made them cry, others told me it had made them feel a lot more confident about their skin and some guy told me he still would (thank you, random citizen!).
And now I’m writing about eczema, fighting the itch to give into insecurity one day at a time. I don’t know how long this is going to last and I’m never going to love it, I don’t want to and I shouldn’t have to – it’s an unfortunate illness I just so happen to have. I do not believe that we must love absolutely everything little thing about ourselves; sometimes our bodies betray us, and learning to handle the everyday reality of that is a challenge enough. What I do know is I’m learning, I’m learning to control my itching, I’m finding other ways to relieve my stress and one day, there is going to be a cure.
Being a twenty-something female with eczema is bloody hard work, but I’m doing what I can to get the word out and for the record, I didn’t itch while I wrote this.
Follow Amara on Instagram: @amarahowe
Photography: Sophie Mayanne