Eczema, mental health and body acceptance

Eczema is a chronic skin condition that affects around 5-10% percent of adults in the UK but that is not talked about enough in relation to mental health.

Erika Armanino
10th March 2022
Credits: Canva
Eczema is a medical condition in which the skin becomes red and inflamed with blisters which cause itching and bleeding. There are seven different types of eczema but the most common is Atopic Dermatitis, the one I suffer from. Atopic Dermatitis is chronic and there is no cure for it and it affects 5-10% of adults in the UK. Despite being common among children and adults, the mental health and psychological awareness around this skin condition is still behind the times.

WARNING!: This article contains graphic images of skin conditions. If you consider yourself as extremely sensitive to this do not scroll any further.

The first time red patches appeared on my skin I was three years old, when my mother noticed that my nursery uniform was irritating my skin. Since then, a part of my life has been devoted to finding relief. It is useless to say that this relief never arrived. In my childhood and teenage years I must have seen at least forty different doctors as I was literally tearing my skin apart. 

One of the first things that I learned having eczema is that the mental triggers are way stronger than the physical ones. This was hard to accept as harder to control.

For people who don’t have any skin conditions it is nearly impossible to understand how this can affect you both physically and mentally. I’m not only talking about having irritated and red skin, it’s way more complicated than that. When I was younger I used to scratch myself so hard to the point of bleeding, which forced my parents to bandage my arms and to force me to wear gloves when going to bed because I could seriously injure myself. As a kid I kept asking myself why my skin wasn’t as flawless as my classmates’ and why I could not use the ‘trendy’ body products everybody else was. Some kids wouldn’t touch me because they were afraid of getting ‘the plague’. We all know that kids have no boundaries and they cannot control their opinions and I hold no grudge. But it is something I don’t forget. Growing up I realised that the looks of adults hurt more than the ones of kids.

One of the first things that I learned having eczema is that the mental triggers are way stronger than the physical ones. This was hard to accept as harder to control. Materials such as wool and nickel cannot be in contact with my skin as it would create a rash. Food such as mussels, whole grain products and tomatoes were only a few of the foods I couldn’t eat. But, what really triggers my skin is anxiety and stress. It is automatic and I have no control over it: when anxious or stressed about something I start scratching my arms, seeing what I’ve done to my skin makes me more stressed, which makes me want to scratch more. It’s basically a vicious circle that I still haven’t learned how to control after twenty-three years of my life.

Accepting that my skin is different was hard. I remember when I was in school and during the period of April-May you could start feeling the summer arriving. Where I’m from - Italy - students pass the months of April, May and June in t-shirts as the classrooms transform into massive ovens. While the other kids could not wait to get into their summer clothes, heat only meant one thing to me: having to take my hoodie off. Taking my hoodie off meant showing the world my skin. I remember I dragged that moment for as long as I could, while severely sweating. Sometimes I’d like to give my younger self a hug. I should also specify that eczema is not talked about in Italy and that I only met two people who had my same condition during my childhood. This did not make the acceptance any easier.

Realising my skin is different has been a long journey that has not come to an end yet. Eczema is something that I’ll never heal from and I finally accept it. When I look at my skin now I don’t see something to hide, instead I see scars that tells a story: my story. I take my eczema as a physical warning for my body to tell me that there is something wrong with my mental health, which pushes me to take action. I am grateful for all the effort and time my parents put into making me feel better and into finding a solution that best fit me. I still haven’t found that solution but I definitely learnt to love my skin the way it is. As Joseph Goldstein said: ‘You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf’.

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