I grew up with eczema, which is also known as dermatitis. When I was in kindergarten, I was told by my teacher that scratching is grotesque and un-lady-like. I was living in Hong Kong, which is a city with only one season all year: hot and humid summer. I found myself irritable when I was not allowed to scratch. I also found myself irritated, but this time at myself, when I scratched. I would leave marks and abrasions as sign of my lack of discipline. My parents would chide me, although sympathetically, for having scratched my itches.
My father grew up with eczema more severe than mine. Has warned me about the overuse of the corticosteroid cream that is prescribed for our shared condition. When I was younger, I couldn’t understand why we can’t keep using the medicine prescribed as a solution to our condition. After years of dependence, I now experience withdrawal symptoms that can best be described as extremely flaky skin.
The other day, I met with a professor I work for at a coffee shop patio. I absentmindedly began to rub the bridge of my nose as he was speaking, only to realize the dandruff-like deposits on my fingers. I was horrified that he would be disgusted, as my kindergarten teachers were, by my flaky, red skin. Or worse: my tendency to itch. I don’t think he noticed in retrospect.
I have met friends in university who also struggle with skin conditions, whether that be acne or hand eczema. We discuss our remedies in the context of skin care, but seldom is there discussion on the way our skin makes us feel. How well do we feel in our own skin today? Today, I am feeling much better due not to just the state of my skin, but the relationship I have developed with it.
Skincare has become a part of my self-care routine. It is a routine from which I have seen changes in both the quality of my skin and my mood. I enjoy the variety of products I can try, as well as the sense of control that a daily skincare routine gives me. I have looked to online sources for tips on what products to try, and I have also consulted with my family doctor on what medicated creams I can use for my eczema and mild acne. In addition to skincare, I have revisited a childhood hobby: painting my nails. Even though the color chips often, I enjoy seeing my shiny nails when I type or when I write. The joy that painting my nails has given me led me to realize how the little things can make all the difference in my mood. 💅
The intersection between skin health and mental health is also a topic of discussion in the medical community. According to a widely cited 2015 study by Dalgard et al., “The association with depression and anxiety was highest for patients with psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, hand eczema, and leg ulcers”. I am an advocate for more discussion on the psychological impact of skin conditions in the context of mental health. Take a moment to check in on yourself and your loved ones. If you are struggling with skin health, check in with a doctor—even if it is a virtual consultation. Having someone to talk to about how your skin has been feeling and how your skin has made you feel can make a big difference.