By Alexis Smith, as told to Keri Wiginton
I don’t really notice my atopic dermatitis (also known as eczema) anymore, which is completely shocking to me. I used to be the polar opposite. I spent so much time and energy worrying if people were looking at my face or wondering why my arm was red. Now, unless my skin gets itchy, I forget I have eczema.
For example, I went on a date recently with a rash on my face. I didn’t even think about what my skin looked like until afterward. In the past, I would’ve thought, “No, I’m not going out on this date. I have a patch on my face. I don’t look good, and I’m not going to make a good first impression. I don’t want them to see me like this.”
I started to feel more comfortable with my bare skin about 5 years ago, when I started posting about atopic dermatitis on Instagram (@eczemalove). And when I look in the mirror now, my eczema isn’t the first thing I see. That’s a huge relief, because it’s all I saw before.
Learning to Love My Skin
Technically, I had eczema as a baby. But I don’t remember that time because, well, I was a baby. I didn’t have symptoms again until I was 11 or 12. That’s when I was diagnosed with atopic dermatitis.
It wasn’t easy going through middle and high school with a rash covering my face. I was very self-conscious for a very long time. But I got tired of feeling down about it. So, when I was 19, I started sharing more about my real skin.
I took to social media because I wanted to normalize the condition. I think people view eczema as weird because they never see it and they don’t know anything about it. I wanted to change that.
Of course, I wasn’t confident right away. It was a process. My first posts included tips on the best makeup to hide eczema. I knew I shouldn’t be ashamed of what my face looked like, and I told other people the same thing. Yet there I was, covering up. I felt like a hypocrite.
I decided to practice what I preached and show my bare skin. Ever since then — and it feels like it happened suddenly — I’ve felt free not worrying about what other people think. That’s changed how I see myself, in a good way.
My symptoms got better, too. This probably goes without saying, but I’ve found that the less I put on my face, the better my skin feels.
I still love doing my makeup. I just put it everywhere except my eczema patches. That’s partly because it’s physically uncomfortable to cover up. It can make my skin very itchy, and it stings a lot of the time. All day, I just want to scratch my foundation off. If I do, my skin ends up looking and feeling worse.
Now, I want to put only helpful products on my skin, like a good moisturizer. That means I don’t have to worry about worsening my symptoms with stuff I don’t really need.
All About Comfort
I also think my symptoms got better because I’m less concerned about my appearance — and stress tends to trigger my eczema. I still worry about other things, just not whether someone is staring at my patches.
I’m not saying you have to uncover your eczema. You may not be able to do that, at least not cold turkey. If you want to show your natural skin, you can think about doing it gradually. Start to show a little more than you normally would, but always do what you’re most comfortable with.
My main advice is this: No one really cares about your eczema. At least they probably don’t care as much as you think they do. Take dating, for example. I thought guys wouldn’t want to talk to me or have anything to do with me. But the people I’ve met are fine with it. My boyfriends have been wonderful. It’s very refreshing.
Plus, I know I don’t focus on someone else’s skin condition. So many people have them. They might have acne, rosacea, vitiligo, or psoriasis. But, personally, that’s not something I pay much attention to.
I honestly don’t think I would have this confidence without my eczema, which sounds crazy. But it gave me a reason to focus on my skin and think about what it means to hide it.
It’s also given me a lot of really cool opportunities. The first company that ever reached out to me was Dove. I was in their DermaSeries campaign about a year after I started on Instagram. That’s a line of products for people with psoriasis, eczema, or really dry skin.
I also work with a lot of other brands now. It’s nice that companies make an effort to feature people who actually have eczema. In the past, you’d see a skin care line where they’d show someone with perfect skin. That’s not realistic for people like me.
I no longer expect my skin to be perfect. It took me a long time to get out of that mindset. When you’re diagnosed with eczema, you think each new product might be the one that’ll make it go away. But the reality is, that’s probably not going to happen.
I’ve accepted this is a lifelong condition. I don’t need to hide it. And whatever makes my skin more comfortable is great.
Connecting With Others
I’ve seen that what I post helps other people. A lot of people tell me, “I’ve never seen anyone who has eczema like me. But yours looks exactly like mine. Thank you for showing people what it really looks like. I feel less alone.”
What I really love is when people message me and say, “You know, I really didn’t want to go to the beach. Normally, I cover up. But yesterday, I decided that I didn’t want to. And I went to the beach and had a really good time, and I didn’t feel self-conscious. It was great.”
When I see other people’s confidence, that boosts my own confidence. That makes me think maybe we’re on to something here.