Self-confidence hasn’t always come easy to Linette Roungchun. The 35-year-old eczema advocate spent the first half of her life worried about how her skin looked to others. But over time, she says, living with the skin condition helped her form “incredibly real” connections.
“Everyone has that vulnerable side to them,” Roungchun says. “When they see you be vulnerable first, they feel like they can be themselves. That’s why I’ve had very good fortune when it comes to relationships and friendships in my life.”
There’s no cure for eczema. But your symptoms don’t have to get in the way of your relationships. And you might be surprised by what happens when you’re comfortable with yourself and open about your condition.
Roungchun, who also has topical steroid withdrawal (TSW), met her current partner on Instagram. He’s also a part of the eczema and TSW community. (TSW is a condition in which you develop symptoms like burning, stinging, and bright red skin after you stop taking topical steroid medications.)
But she’s used dating apps in the past. She’d post photos without any skin-smoothing filters. And just in case they didn’t get a close look at her pics, she’d bring up her eczema before the first date.
“It’s not that I’m insecure about it, but it’s a physical attribute that’s a huge part of my life,” she says. “And I wanted them to know.”
She says her honesty led to some “beautiful moments.” Her dates didn’t seem concerned about her looks. Instead, they’d check in to see how she was feeling. Would a certain restaurant be better for her allergies? Did she have her medicine?
“They wanted to make sure I was comfortable, that I was OK and had the things that I needed,” Roungchun says.
Beyond being up-front about your eczema, Roungchun recommends some practical preparations before you head out on dates. This is especially important if they may last overnight. Consider packing a bag with:
- Eczema-friendly moisturizer
- Your preferred cleanser and shampoo
- Any eczema treatments you use
- Your towel and pillowcase
- A robe or wrap to guard your skin from itchy sheets or blankets
Lindsey Bordone, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center, says one reason to bring skin care products with you is that eczema can feel worse at night. That’s because your body’s cortisol levels naturally go down in the evening. This stress hormone acts as a natural anti-inflammatory during the day.
If first-date jitters have you stressed out, think twice about having a cocktail to calm your nerves. Drinking makes some people itchier, Bordone says.
Whether you’re looking for love, friendship, or support, you might feel more at ease around people who understand what you’re going through. Roungchun says she can see someone from afar and know whether they share her symptoms.
“I know that skin pattern. I know that look. I’ve experienced it my whole life,” she says. “They don’t even have to say anything and we’re family already.”
Roungchun lives in California, where she leads in-person and virtual meetups with others in the eczema and TSW communities. Sometimes she hosts a global remote chat with the help of her partner, who lives in London.
“We started something called The Itch Factor, which is basically itchy performing arts people trying to get through this crazy condition together,” she says.
Search for online groups, local meetups, or social media hashtags to find like-minded folks. You can find groups on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Your friends and family may know more about eczema than you think. But Bordone says an easy way to explain your symptoms is to say you have a skin condition that flares up from time to time. It can cause lots of itching and pain.
Roungchun describes her eczema in a little more detail. She likens it to an injury that gives you a big open scab, except the wound covers your whole body — and it itches at the same time.
When talking to your family, she says, you could point out that eczema ranks just below cerebral palsy in how much it can affect quality of life. “It really does have such a large impact,” she says.
However you explain them, don’t keep your symptoms to yourself. The support of spouses, partners, friends, and family can make a big difference in your life.
And when they know what’s going on with you, they’ll be more understanding when you need to cancel a social outing or don’t want to wear an itchy lace bridesmaid dress.
Let your loved ones know if eczema gets in the way of your daily life, like if it:
- Disrupts your sleep
- Makes it hard to go to work
- Affects your mental health
Not only can eczema make you feel embarrassed about your skin, but the itching and pain might sometimes get so bad that you don’t want to leave the house. But staying engaged with others is important for your mental — and physical — health. To help save your social life:
Don’t isolate yourself. You might feel less self-conscious when you avoid others. But an ongoing condition, such as eczema, raises your risk of anxiety and depression. Loneliness may make these feelings even worse. “It’s better for your mental health to be around people,” Bordone says.
Make time for big events. You don’t need to go to every social outing. But Roungchun tries not to miss out on a niece or nephew’s birthday party or a friend’s wedding. “Go to the things that’ll never happen again,” she says.
Get out of your head. Roungchun says she forgets about her skin when she’s on stage. That’s one reason she loves performing arts, such as opera. But everyone’s different. “You just need to find that thing that really grabs you and makes the rest of the world fall away,” she says.
Seek mental health care. A psychiatrist or psychologist can help you manage life with an ongoing illness. They’ll also give you an outlet to talk about how eczema makes you feel. That can be a big help when you’re really troubled by your condition, Bordone says.
The bottom line is there’s no need to hide your eczema or let it keep you from the good things in life. That includes strong friendships and intimate relationships. “This illness can’t take that away from you,” Roungchun says.