A woman whose psoriasis coated 95 per cent of her body has bravely embraced her condition - vowing to talk openly about it and not let it hold her back.
For years, Hannah Williams, now 24, tried to hide her flaky, red and painful skin, hating how other people stared and their eyes “drifted over” to her psoriasis patches as they talked to her.
By the time she finally sought help from a dermatologist, she said her condition was so severe that she “looked like a burns victim.”
Hannah, from Liverpool, was just 12 when she first noticed dry flakes of skin in her hair.
Initially, doctors thought she simply had dandruff, but around a year later, she was diagnosed with psoriasis – an incurable condition that sees red, crusty or scaly patches of skin spring up across the body.
Over time, her symptoms worsened until 95 per cent of her body was covered, shattering her confidence, so she hated anyone seeing her arms or legs and was too self-conscious even to visit the hairdressers.
But now Hannah, a receptionist, is determined to embrace her skin – and is encouraging others to do the same by supporting Heads Up to Psoriasis, a campaign aiming to empower people living with scalp psoriasis to speak out.
She said: “Over the years, I have had some tough times with psoriasis.
“It wasn’t necessarily other people – it was me, feeling as if everyone was constantly staring at me. But now I have come to embrace my condition. It’s not going anywhere – it’s a part of me. Why should I let it hold me back?”
Hannah had not long started secondary school when her first symptoms – flaky patches on her scalp – appeared and she did not initially believe they were anything to worry about, particularly when doctors reassured her she likely just had dandruff.
“Luckily I didn’t have any problems with people being nasty at school,” she said.
“Everybody else just thought it was dandruff, too. I was only young at the time so didn’t really realise what was going on.”
But when the patches in her scalp did not disappear over time, Hannah returned to the doctors and, just before turning 13, was diagnosed with psoriasis.
According to the NHS, the condition is caused by the overproduction of skin cells.
Usually, skin cells are made and replaced every three to four weeks, but in people living with psoriasis, the process takes just three to seven days.
The resulting build-up is what creates the patches, which can be flaky, red and painful.
“For a few years, my skin was fairly manageable,” said Hannah. “But when I left school at 16 to go to college, things suddenly got a lot worse. The patches migrated down from my scalp until they were covering the rest of my body.
“It was especially bad on my arms and hands. I was studying science at college, so had my sleeves rolled up and arms on show a lot, which made me feel self-conscious. I could feel people looking.”
Eventually, when she was around 18, Hannah was referred to a dermatologist.
She continued: “By that point, the psoriasis was really severe. It was covering about 95 per cent of my body and doctors told me it was one of the worst cases they’d ever seen.
“I looked like a burns victim. My skin would constantly flake, and I would feel so self-conscious that I would always cover up and hide away.”
Since then, Hannah has tried various treatments, including injections and creams.
She has found phototherapy, where the skin is exposed to certain types of ultraviolet light, to be the most helpful – but is wary of having it too often as long-term treatment with ultraviolet A (UVA) could increase her risk of developing skin cancer.
Currently, her skin is manageable, meaning it is not impacting her day-to-day life, and thankfully, her confidence has been restored, too.
However, getting to a place of acceptance has not been an easy road for Hannah.
She said: “Over the years, I’d try and make myself as comfortable as possible, but it was tough. I never wanted my skin to be on show. People would mistakenly think psoriasis is contagious, or conflate it with being dirty in their heads.
“I would almost always cover up, but I remember one time, going on holiday to Rome for my 21st and deciding to bare my legs. All day, I could feel eyes staring at me. It just made me want to hide away.”
As Hannah’s psoriasis stems from her scalp, going to the hairdressers is something that is especially difficult.
She added: “I’ve actually never had my hair done in a salon. As a youngster, I was one of those kids whose mum cut their hair.
“But as I’ve got older, certainly over the last few years, I have definitely made the conscious decision to stay away due to psoriasis. I just don’t want to be uncomfortable, so I’m the girl who gives myself slightly wonky haircuts at home.”
Hannah is still trying to figure out what her particular triggers are, so far identifying stress, alcohol and any skin products that are overly perfumed.
By sharing her story, she wants to both raise awareness of psoriasis and encourage others living with skin conditions to embrace them.
She said: “I completely understand why people feel self-conscious. I’ve been there, when someone is talking to you and you feel their eyes drifting over to one of your psoriasis patches.”
“Psoriasis is incurable, so I know it isn’t going anywhere. It’s part of who I am, and if people don’t like it, that’s their problem, not mine.
“I’m not going to let it hold me back. Why should it?”
For information on the campaign, click here