Flaky Fashionista: the blogger giving psoriasis a makeover
Moved by the stories of psoriasis sufferers too embarrassed to go out, I felt compelled to do something
Helen Hanrahan: “AII I found was site after site of relentless misery and depression. Endless pictures of ugly, flaking skin.”
When I was first diagnosed with psoriasis over 20 years ago, I dismissed it as a somewhat inconvenient rash. Initially it was very sporadic. It would appear for a week or two, react well to some over-the-counter creams and disappear for months at a time. Within a few years, however, it reappeared with a vengeance and with the exception of my pregnancy 16 years ago, it has been a constant companion ever since.
Being both stubborn and optimistic, I ignored everything I heard and read, and decided there must be a cure and I would find it. I started my search, not just confining myself to conventional medicine, but also exploring the path of alternative remedies.
For the next 14 years, I applied every known steroid cream to my skin. I spent a small fortune on lotions and potions in health stores and tried every fish oil and supplement they recommended. I travelled to the International Psoriasis Clinic on the Dead Sea, where I spent 10 days in a state of misery and returned home just as flaky as when I had left.
I did UVB phototherapy treatment. Not just one course, but four separate courses of treatment. My remission lasted one week each time, but at least it brought me back to base level. I even flew to Paris to meet a doctor who claimed to have the answer. His answer was diet. Over the next few years I tried them all – dairy-free, gluten-free, salt-free diet, processed-free and organic only.
But still the psoriasis remained. And with it, the cycles of hope and disappointment. Hope that the next “cure” would work. Disappointment when yet again it failed. Sometimes it felt like the psoriasis was fighting back: appearing on the soles of my feet which impeded my walking; developing inside my ears causing temporary and partial deafness; and constantly on my body, which was sore, red, inflamed and itchy.
Yet despite all of this, I maintained a strong anti-medication stance. Convinced the scary sounding side effects of the drugs would outweigh the benefits to my skin, I refused to consider this route.
But four years ago, things began to change. I was invited to a black tie gala event – the sort of event that, years earlier, would have filled me with glee. An opportunity to go shopping and really glam it up for a night. When you have psoriasis, it’s a different story. No backless, strapless creations for me, so I decided to consult the internet to see if I could find advice on what to wear. But there was nothing. Just the suggestion that people with psoriasis should wear “loose, cotton, baggy clothing”, which clearly was not going to work for a night at the ball.
Even more disturbing, was the fact that as I continued my search for information, all I found was site after site of relentless misery and depression. Endless pictures of ugly, flaking skin. The recurring theme that this disease was incurable. No hope. No optimism. I read stories of patients, women especially, who had been so diminished by their disease, who were so embarrassed by how they looked and so humiliated by the nasty comments of others, that they no longer left their houses. They stayed inside, away from the gaze of others.
As bizarre as it may sound, although I had suffered from psoriasis for almost 14 years by then, I had never realised the extent of the depression and the lack of self-esteem that plagued so many patients.
Active social life
Although I had suffered from psoriasis and on some occasions quite badly for most of my adult life, at no point had it defined me. It had never prevented me from having an active social life. And it certainly had never had such a negative mental impact or caused such anguish, that it had caused me to think about taking my own life. This had a profound effect on me. I felt compelled to do something.
It seemed obvious to me that as I have always loved fashion, and as I genuinely do believe that what you wear can affect how you feel, this was the route I should take. From my little corner of the internet, I would offer some practical advice, bring a little hope and even, dare I say it, shed some humour onto what is essentially a fairly sad subject. And so in 2012 the Flaky Fashionista was born.
Because of the blog, I was invited to various dermatology events. I met other patients, researchers, nurses, doctors and dermatologists. I learned more about the options available – the range of treatments is constantly growing. I changed to a dermatologist who understood psoriasis; who took the time to discuss my options; to allay my fears of medication, As a result I started taking biologics almost two years ago, resulting in skin that is now more than 90 per cent clear.
Had I not started my blog, I would never have learned so much about my condition. I would not have realised how much information is now available and how many options are out there.
Psoriasis is a visible condition. In fact, this is what makes it even more distressing as a sufferer. Yet despite the visible signs, we often suffer in silence. I’ve realised that there is no need to do that – help is available and my only regret is that I didn’t realise this earlier. I want to help to remove the stigma so often associated with this highly visible disease.
10 fashion tips: Be flaky and fabulous
1 Summer cover-up Long tea dresses, maxi skirts, light jersey joggers, silk bomber jackets, wide-legged trousers, white trainers, skater shoes, long-sleeved linen tees and gladiator strappy sandals.
2 Loving linen Think safari style and stay cool with belted linen jackets, white linen shirts, khaki linen cargo pants and wide palazzo trousers.
3 Avoiding the dark side White, taupe, camel, pale grey and cream are perfect colours to hide any flaking from your scalp.
4 Fabulous florals A long-sleeve chiffon blouse with a floral pattern is the perfect camouflage top for summer.
5 Happy feet Psoriasis on your feet? Combine comfort and style in patent loafers, metallic plimsolls, classic Converse or trendy trainers.
6 Celeb style Channel your inner Olivia Palermo and team a white tuxedo jacket with a silk vest top, some black skinnies, a clutch and killer heels.
7 Classic camel A camel coat, blazer or jacket never fails. It flatters all skin tones and conceals psoriasis flakes.
8 It’s in the details A leopard clutch; brightly coloured tote; blanket scarf; jaunty fedora; cocktail ring or bling necklace will distract from your skin.
9 Confidence It's the beauty boost best accessory so a pretty manicure, a new hair cut or a bright lipstick can be the perfect boost.
10 Party time A maxi dress and cropped denim jacket. A long- sleeved jumpsuit with killer heels. A sequin jacket with jeans and peep-toe boots. Remember, it is entirely possible to be flaky and fabulous.