Late last year, my perpetually dry, rosy skin started developing angry, oozing, and itchy patches. They flared painfully across my chin, cheeks, and eyelids, occurring weekly. Nothing I tried to calm them with worked.
While I’ve always had mild acne and dry skin, my worsening symptoms led to an extensive Google search and eventually a trip to the doctor, who confirmed my suspicions: I had eczema, rosacea, and contact dermatitis — three skin conditions that worsen with exposure to triggers.
Because of this, I felt trapped in my house. I found myself skipping classes and avoiding friends because I was too embarrassed to be seen. I wondered how long I could live in what felt like hiding.
Along with the diagnosis came the loss of many things I used to enjoy
Everything from alcohol, cold weather, overheating, sunlight, and stress can trigger my flare-ups. For a university student who lives in Montreal, Canada, these things are hard to avoid. To this day, any exposure to the elements, stress during exam season, or even a sip of alcohol causes nearly two-thirds of my face to break out in painful, peeling, bright-red splotches.
I was 20 years old when I got my diagnoses and the idea of anything being lifelong was never a concept I had to manage. And rather than physical pain, it was the social and emotional impact that was the initial challenge. As someone who’s lucky enough to fit into the most conventional beauty standards, the impact of having pain, discomfort, and embarrassment attached to my visible condition affected my self-esteem a lot.
Having the safety net of makeup taken away was especially hard. Neither the flushed, acne-like patches of rosacea nor the dry spots of eczema are coverable with makeup. In fact, both are made worse by attempting to cover them, turning the patches into oozing and painful contact dermatitis.
Because of this, I felt trapped in my house.
I found myself skipping classes and avoiding friends because I was too embarrassed to be seen and too scared I’d make my skin worse through exposure to the cold and sun. I didn’t understand my skin, which made the permanence of my diagnoses even more difficult. I wondered how long I could live in what felt like hiding.
The first day I was forced to leave my apartment to visit my doctor, I had a particularly bad flare-up. It was also the day I really noticed the stares. The majority of my face looked burned and slick from all of oils I had put on to protect it. People on my commute were staring and taking second glances at me.
Later that day, after staring at me with a concerned look, a classmate asked me what was wrong with my face. I smiled, explained my conditions, and then cried the entire commute home.
I felt like I’d never be able to leave the house feeling confident about my appearance again. Things I love about my face, like my blue eyes and my eyebrows, were lost in a sea of red. It was easy to feel powerless, especially because I still didn’t fully understand what was happening to me — or why.
It was on that emotional day that I made the choice to learn about my skin and take care of it
I wanted to reduce my flare-ups, not just treat them when they occur.
The first thing my doctor prescribed — steroid ointments — was the first thing that really worked. At first, I thought it was the cure. It calmed my contact dermatitis flare-ups, it eased the dry patches of eczema, and even decreased my rosacea-covered cheeks.
My cheeks are almost always flushed. I often have darker red patches around my nose, and my rosacea sometimes causes acne-like bumps on my chin. These are parts of me that no makeup can cover and no steroids can cure, and that’s OK.
I didn’t love the idea of daily steroids on my face, so I started looking for alternatives. I tested which products work best for my skin and which caused flare-ups and irritation.
I ended up using mostly natural products, as my skin is often too sensitive for much else. I use calming face wash and always carry coconut oil in my bag for when I need extra moisture. In fact, topical coconut oil, vitamin E, and green tea compresses ease my flare-ups the best.
I’m lucky to live in a city where fashion and dressing warmly are often one and the same. To protect my skin from outside triggers, I never leave the house without SPF and a scarf to protect my face. I also stay away from alcohol, work out in shorter intervals so I won’t overheat, take B-vitamins and omega-3s to strengthen the skin barrier and help repair damage, and do my best to eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
Avoiding steroids meant I needed to accept my skin
I’m still learning how to rethink how I look at my flare-ups. My cheeks are almost always flushed. I often have darker red patches around my nose, and my rosacea still causes acne-like bumps on my chin. These are parts of me that no makeup can cover and no steroids can cure. And that’s OK.
On days I decide to use my makeup, I highlight the parts of my face I love with mascara and eyebrow gel. I look at my rosy cheeks and think how lucky I am to never have to buy blush again.
I love learning how to let my skin shine on its own. With a new routine and all the attention, my skin is healthier and clearer than it’s ever been. After days and nights of putting effort into my skin, I’ve also started to embrace my skin for what it is, including the parts I didn’t like before.
I’m starting to feel beautiful — not despite of my skin but because of it.
I no longer think that my skin conditions have taken things from me. My ability to work out for long periods of time and drinking with friends are just old habits I had to change. As a result, I’ve gained much more than I’ve lost. The balance I’ve found has brought me peace and confidence. Because I finally took the time to understand my skins’ needs, flare-ups rarely happen. When they do, they’re often mild, and I embrace red as my new color.
I love the blue of my eyes in contrast to my blushed cheeks. I love my smile, eyebrows, and the skin I’ve felt at war with for years. I celebrate parts of myself that I’ve always had but never praised before.
Georgia Hawkins-Seagram is a writer and student based in Montreal, Canada. She is passionate about self-love and body positivity and writes about her experiences in hopes to inspire others.