Coronavirus lockdown has made brave woman’s horrifying skin condition worse
Poppy is not afraid to show the world what living with psoriasis is like (Image: Instagram)
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A woman has bravely laid bare her debilitating skin condition which covers her body with scaly, flaky patches.
The Gloucestershire 25-year-old has opened up about her condition to help others.
Poppy Challinor said her psoriasis had grown worse during the coronavirus lockdown.
She has been posting pictures of her flare-ups on social media in an effort to raise awareness of the incurable auto-immune condition that causes the skin all over her body, scalp and face to become red, itchy and sore, reports Gloucestershire Live.
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From flaking foreheads to bleeding legs, she posts make-up free pictures on “The Girl With Psoriasis” in a bid to raise awareness and help other young people learn to live with the skin they are in.
“The name came from my time at Cleeve School,” said Poppy, who now works for an auction house.
“I was in Year 9 or 10 when I overheard somebody say: ‘You know Poppy’? The girl with the psoriasis. The girl with the weird skin’.
“It stuck with me because it was the way they defined me. Not the girl who is good at art or the girl who is really lovely. They only knew me as the girl who has a strange skin condition.”
The pretty young woman with the flowing blond tresses was 13 when the skin condition which condition which is said to affect 1.8 million people in the UK started to surface.
Poppy says her flare-ups vary from day to day
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“It started behind my ears, went on my scalp then my forehead and crept down my face, then I started noticing on my arms back chest and legs,”she explained.
“I would say it took a few years to being all over my body. There’s no place it doesn’t touch, apart from my hands and my feet.
"My nose is pretty much the only place on my face that it hasn’t covered.”
Although the dermatologist prescribed the usual creams, nothing could stop it and the itching and scratching would keep her up all night.
“School was generally OK,” she said.
“I used to get apprehensive in the changing rooms because I I had to put my hair up for games and it was all around my ears and my hairline.
“I hated people seeing it and tried my best to cover it up. Not because I thought people would say anything nasty but because it was different to everyone else.
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"I wasn’t anywhere as near confident as I am now."
Poppy would wear long-sleeve tops under her clothes to hide her skin in the summer and avoid pretty tops that revealed her arms.
Cold and stress makes it worse so external issues have an impact and young sufferers like Poppy frequently suffer with mental health problems because of the condition.
It was particularly hard when she lost her beloved father Ian, 57, to an industrial accident two years ago this week.
"I thought I was the only one who had it, she said explaining how it is tough being a young person with psoriasis in an age of social media," she said.
"It made me feel really down because I felt so ugly. Unfortunately when you are young that is something that is at the forefront of your mind all the time.
"But stress makes it worse so it's a vicious circle.
"Losing my dad massively impacted my psoriasis.
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"When I became submerged with my grief and began to get depressed and lose myself, scratching became a form of comfort blanket out of habit from when I was stressed with my psoriasis in my teens. My skin was red-raw."
At the time she was having light treatment to clear her psoriasis for her graduation after her father's accident.
"It was such a tough ceremony without him being there so in a way I was lucky that I had that in place or my psoriasis would have been extremely bad," she said.
"It's two years since his accident and my psoriasis has definitely got so much worse in this time."
But she didn't get the light treatment straight away.
Studies show people with skin conditions feel embarrassed going to their GP and it took a “really horrible experience” with a boy when she was 16 to finally make her go back and ask for help.
The flare-ups can spread all over Poppy's face
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“We had been talking for a couple of months and he used to message me every five minutes but the day after I told him about my psoriasis he stopped talking to me,” she said.
"When I did not hear from him for a few days I asked him if it was because of my skin and he said he’d never experienced anything like it before and did not know how it would affect him. Affect him? I was the one living with it.
“I got myself in a right state and phoned the doctor who referred me to Cheltenham General to see a dermatologist. He took one look at my skin and said: 'You should not have to live like this. This has spread too far now. We are going to get you help'."
Although it can only be managed not cured, two photo-therapy courses in 2015 and 2017 did give Poppy some temporary relief and normality for a time, but the impact varies from person to person and it’s not a permanent solution for her.
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After leaving school to do an art foundation course followed by a photography degree at the University of Gloucestershire, she started documenting her skin condition for a college project and thinking differently about it.
Outside college she had been working on a make-up counter and had become so good at camouflaging the dry skin on her face few people knew what was happening under the layers of foundation.
Many were surprised when she started to upload her #getyourskinout photos to Instagram as part of a campaign to persuade people to embrace their imperfections rather than solely present airbrushed versions of themselves.
“It was just me in front of the camera showing my skin,” she said.
“I’d never done that before but it gave me confidence.
"People kept saying ‘Gosh, I never knew’ and ‘these pictures are so beautiful’. It really helped me accept my skin.”
But being brave enough to bare has come with it's own challenges.
"I've been been called flaky and told to cover up and go home," she she said.
"One memorable experience was when I was serving a lady with her baby at a previous job on a make up counter.
"She saw my arms and grabbed her baby close to her chest and shouted in front of my other customers that I should be at home and not expose other people to my ‘chicken pox’.
"I had to explain to her all embarrassed with tears in my eyes that it was psoriasis, she couldn’t catch it, but I didn’t have to continue her makeover if she would prefer.
"She told me she’d rather I didn’t. Safe to say that was one of my hardest experiences when I was becoming so confident with getting my skin out."
She is currently supporting a campaign which has harnessed the power of hairdressers and barbers to raise awareness and make it easier for sufferers to talk about the condition which often starts on the scalp where it is stubbornly difficult to get rid of.
People contact her from all over the world about the images which she says are designed to give people a better idea of what is normal for some rather than shock.
“A lot of the time it’s mums thankful that they can show their children that they are not alone,” she said.
“That you can accept your skin and still feel beautiful, strong and confident. You don’t have to hide it.
“When I was younger I hated my skin and if someone had shown me that I wasn’t the only person who had it, I would have felt a lot more normal. No way would I have been so self conscious as I was."
Support from family, friends and her long term boyfriend Kyle Herbert, who she lives with in Longford, Gloucester, with their Labrador Ruby, has helped her become more confident over the years.
“He has just been incredible,” she said.
“I don’t think he realised how much it affected my life until we moved in together.
“Psoriasis flakes off into little pieces and it gets everywhere but he is so, so lovely about it.
"Whenever I say ‘My skin is so bad’ he says to me ‘No it’s not, you look beautiful, don’t worry’.”
And she has a loyal set of friends.
The fact that they flick lakes of skin from her hair or shoulders without a second thought means everything to her.
She would like that to be the new normal for all sufferers so they don't feel embarrassed or that they have to hide in the shadows.
She realised how precious those relationships are after returning from a weekend camping trip with two life long best friends.
"When we were unpacking the car I noticed her lovely clean black seats and footwell were covered in little specks of psoriasis flakes," she said.
"I felt SO bad as her car was previously spotless, I offered to hoover it myself but she said not to worry.
"When I next saw her she said to me ‘By the way, I cleaned my car at the weekend – you are SO satisfying to hoover up!’ … we were in fits of laughter, tears streaming down my face.
"It meant so much to me that she didn’t care about my psoriasis flakes, and she was able to laugh and joke with me about it."
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Cara Delevingne and Kim Kardashian have talked about having psoriasis in interviews.
But the country star LeAnn Rimes and Poppy have gone a step further and actually shown the world what a bad-flare up looks like under the make up and long sleeve tops.
"In an ideal world I would want everybody to know about all skin conditions and for them to be just seen as normal," she said.
"The more people show what skin conditions look like rather than hiding them away, the easier that will be.
“I think it’s lovely that people across the world can see my photographs and that they could potentially make a difference to some young girl who has just been diagnosed with psoriasis and feels very alone."
You can find Poppy's Instagram account here.