Skin deep: what it’s like living with an extreme skin condition

If you're one of the millions of people worldwide living with a chronic health condition, whether it's itchy eczema or psoriasis; a hidden illness like fatigue, depression or PTSD; or a physical disability; you'll know it's not just skin deep. These conditions impact the lives of women every single day – physically, mentally and emotionally. Our latest series ‘Skin Deep’ dives into some of the most common and rare health conditions and shares the stories of the people who have them


Globally, we spend millions – €385.5 million, in fact – a year on the beauty industry. We pump our skin with serums and injections, undergoing weird beauty treatments and using expensive creams; all to make us feel better about ourselves.

Lesley Goulding is a 24-year old designer and skin activist who is reshaping the idea that we need smooth, blemish-free skin in order to feel and look beautiful. Lesley lives with atopic dermatitis that, at it's worst, leaves her covered from top to bottom in painful blistered and cracked skin, accompanied by an unbearable itch. Atopic dermatitis is a compilation of different types of eczema.

Lesley uses her Instagram account to share her experiences and raise awareness about living with a chronic skin condition. By sharing intimate photos of herself she is, in turn, helping others with visible and non-visible skin conditions.  This is her story.

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What is the name of your condition and how does it affect you?

I have Atopic Dermatitis, also known as eczema. I have several different types of dermatitis which all have their own range of symptoms and characteristics. But the intolerable itch; dry, damaged and inflamed skin are always present regardless of which dermatitis is flared. Currently, I’m going through a great clear phase with my eczema, but I am very mindful about the type of products I apply to my body and how certain situations, environments and food can affect my skin.

Has it restricted you in any way?

My time in college was very much clouded over by the day-to-day struggle with eczema. I went through several rounds of treatments – including UV light treatment and a type of chemotherapy drug – in a bid to help manage it, and the side effects were tough to deal with. I used to have to wear a cami top and no jumper during winter because my body used to overheat from all the unnatural heat causing me to itch. Now, I choose what to wear based on how the clothes interact with my skin: can I wear a bra today? No, because the eczema on my boobs is too angry. Having eczema means that you constantly have to consider how your skin will react if you do something new.

How have you overcome your condition?

Modern medicine has helped me a lot, but I still have a long way to go, both physically and mentally. It’s a constant battle. I’ve accepted that my eczema will always be a factor in my life, and like a dormant volcano can flare at any moment.

1 March -1 July. #skinupdate #dermatitisjourney I am now 6 months on azathioprine, the first three were indeed a bit rough, but since being prescribed a low dose of #Zovirax three weeks ago AND taking lychen twice a day for the last two months, has really helped with keeping any cold sores reappearing and because of that, no rebound of an infection in the slightest! I feel back to normal at long last, back to me physically. And while if there is one thing I've learnt through all of this is that the people that matter don't care about how you look, just how you feel, and they want you to feel happy. // During the whole infection and for god knows how long I had been looking forward to wearing makeup again, now that I can, I am preferring to go bare faced! And as much I enjoy putting makeup on and getting glam, I'm enjoying going bare faced even more. That doesn't mean I'm not gonna go full glam tonight tho so watch my Instagram stories tonight as I get myself ready ?

A post shared by Lesley Goulding (@denim_and_silk) on

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What's your stance on the beauty industry when it comes to skin conditions?

There’s been a lot of focus on skin conditions recently in mainstream media. This has been fantastic to normalise skin conditions like mine. For example, I really liked the recent Missguided #inyourownskin campaign that challenges perceptions of traditional beauty. But there are times where I feel like the beauty and fashion industries try to romanticize these types of disorders. And, unfortunately,  because eczema can come and go and can sometimes be invisible to other people,  it doesn’t get as much airtime.

What are your go-to hero products?

The hero products in my arsenal will always be Ria Organics Energising Day Cream, Lush Dream Cream and my go-to tub of Epaderm.

Energising day cream, €40 at riaorganics.ie, Dream cream body lotion, €15.88 at lush.com, Epaderm cream, €4.99 at boots.com

Energising day cream, €40 at riaorganics.ie, Dream cream body lotion, €15.88 at lush.com, Epaderm cream, €4.99 at boots.com

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What has been the lowest point on your skin journey?

I suffered multiple, difficult infections last year. I couldn’t recognise my own face (what I call my ‘dermatitis face’). In the space of a few weeks, I felt like I had taken a thousand steps backwards. The infections left me unable to work and some days I couldn’t wash my own hair because my hands were so cracked and dry. I wasn’t able to socialise because I was contagious. I was being judged on how I looked and I had to deal with people staring a lot of the time. During this time I wasn’t able to wear any makeup to help cover my skin and had to soak in baths of medical diluted bleach to ease the pain, infection and itch.

Lesley during a bad flare-up during 2017. Source: @denim_and_silk

Lesley during a bad flare-up during 2017. Source: @denim_and_silk

What has been the highest point on your skin journey?

Doing this. Talking about dermatitis, discussing the low points for me has always been very therapeutic - it's why I started sharing my battle with eczema online. It gives me a sense of empowerment and ownership over my skin, not letting it define me and hopefully giving someone else the power and confidence to not let their own battle with eczema become what defines them.

What have you learned about yourself by dealing with a chronic condition like this?

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I’ve learned about my resilience. I’ve found a way to carry on with my life and not allow my eczema to dominate how I live. And from this came a greater understanding that the more I took ownership of my “flaws”,  as cliche as it sounds, my inner beauty began to shine. I’m regaining my confidence again. I feel lucky to have learned to accept my skin condition, and body, in a world full of Instagram-perfect people.

Who inspires you?

@scieneandskincare. Farwa is an Instagram friend and a biochemist who talks about skin issues. She breaks down the scientific ingredients in our favourite skincare products so we can better understand what they do to our skin. Science and skincare are gradually morphing into one amazing platform.

@radiantbambi. Ash is a young woman who has vitiligo and she amazes me and, for me, really encompasses what body positivity is all about.

@dothehotpants. I've followed dana since joining Instagram way back when and is one of my favourite accounts; not just for her activism on eating disorders and body positivity, but for being completely transparent online. She shares her bad days and good days, her tummy rolls and Sudocrem face. I’m enthralled by her and what seems like her neverending drive to be a spokesperson and educator on self-acceptance.

What’s next?

I’m moving halfway around the world to Australia to help heal my skin. I went for eight weeks this year and my skin has never looked so good. I love Ireland - it will always be home, but Irish winters are cruel to me. I’m also allergic to a type of native tree here in Ireland, which is part of why the environment isn't great for my skin. I’m planning my move in November.

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Follow Lesley's progress at @denim_and_silk.

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