Best to warn you, this may is a long and rather boring post, but I kind of needed to write it... I will try and be more interesting later, I promise.
I've had sensitive skin my whole life, but around five years ago, I started developing severe and debilitating eczema.
I say 'debilitating' because it was on my face. A bright red slash down the right side of my cheek and jaw. It itched and hurt like hell. And it looked awful. At this time I was working as a television presenter for a major news channel. I had to buy the thickest television makeup around in order to cover it and stay "camera worthy". I'm sure my eczema looooved being slathered in thick, chemical, panstick makeup. Best thing for it... not.
The eczema was only on this one side of my face and it wasn't there all the time. It would flare up once every week or two weeks, and then stick around for several days. Before looking in the mirror, I would wake up in the middle of the night and crinkle my face with sadness when I realised it was back. I could feel the pain and itch before I touched it.
I became quite depressed over it (a common symptom for eczema and psoriasis sufferers). It really sucked.
Of course, I seeked help. I regularly visited a well-known dermatologist; a youngish woman with a designer handbag who always seemed a bit "put out" to see me and barked orders at her receptionist. She barely even looked at me or my skin and dismissively explained I just had sensitive skin, worked with TV makeup, and needed steroid cream to maintain it. She said unless I stopped working in television it's likely it wouldn't go away, and that all I could do was control the flare ups. But, just in case, she put me on antibiotics. For six months.
Nope. Six months later, eczema still there and getting worse. I urged her to try an allergy test, almost begged really, as the eczema had started two years before I started working with thick television makeup. So her explanation really didn't compute. She didn't listen and told me it definitely wasn't allergy-related.
Three years later, I had now met and was dating B, and was terribly embarrassed when flare ups occurred. I mean, no oone could call eczema sexy. Of course he was kind, and helpful, and stroked my hair in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep. As it progressed and became worse, after more tears, we decided I needed to try another dermatologist.
She had me at hello. She actually looked at my skin (who would have thought!) and immediately told me I didn't need that six-month course of antibiotics, as my eczema was of a different type. Great. She then said, considering how many years it had been, that steroid treatment was clearly not working and we needed to move to a skin patch allergy test right away. She apologised as the procedure is expensive. I practically kissed her and told her I would pay anything to make this problem go away!
The next week I was asked to bring in all my beauty products. Alongwith a series of other common household allergens they had in the lab, a series of patches were placed all over my back with a concentrated dose of each item, to see if any would cause a reaction. I was only allowed shallow baths.
As I was sitting there in the lab waiting for my patches, the doctor sat down and looked at my flare up quizzically. He said to me, "do you ever sit like this?" and placed his elbow on the table, leaning his chin and cheek into the palm of his hand.
It was then that the penny dropped. After years of tinkering on the edge, I knew immediately.
I did not ever sit like that. But I did sleep with my face on my right hand - always have.
I told him that, and he said, "I think you might be allergic to nailpolish."
I looked down at the tangerine orange tips of my fingers. I loved nailpolish. I'd wear it in all the colours of the rainbow, and refresh it every few days, according to what I was wearing. It was one of my favourite accessories.
The thing was, nailpolish is apparently not a common allergen. There was no patch for it on my back. So he asked me to come back with some nailpolish from home. Meanwhile, the patches I already had on my back didn't make a peep.
Several days later, I now had a nailpolish patch on my back and was out at dinner with B. I started contorting and frowning in my seat. "My back really hurts," I said. We went home and I reached my hand around to point out the painful and itchy spot to B. He looked at the corresponding chart and practically beamed.
"It's the nailpolish patch!" he said. He gently lifted it up and said the mark looked like someone had burned a cigar into my back.
The next day I went to the clinic and the doctor confirmed that I was indeed allergic to nailpolish. I had been sleeping on my hand all these years, and who knew, it was practically burning holes into my face. If I had not persevered, changed dermatologists, even if that doctor had not noticed the odd-shaped rash on my face and put two-and-two together, it scares me what might have been.
All I hope is for others in the same situation to keep looking for the cause until they find it.
I have not worn nailpolish since that day (except on my toes or during video shoots, which I rapidly remove afterwards) and have not had an eczema flare up since.
I MISS nailpolish. I envy those who can wear it. But I feel so lucky to have uncovered such an unusual cause.
Plus, it could have been worse... I could have been allergic to wine! But then, perhaps I would have had more flare ups ;).
Are you still reading?
Are you allergic to anything?