My life with....Keratosis Pilaris by Vivienne Thomas

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Keratosis Pilaris is a harmless though sometimes unsightly skin condition. Often called ‘chicken skin’ due to its rough goose bump like appearance usually on the tops of arms, thighs and sometimes even on the cheeks.

 Keratosis Pilaris on back of arms.

Keratosis Pilaris on back of arms.

Family genes are to thank for the condition, as it’s usually hereditary with at least 1 in 20 sufferers in our population, making it a very common skin condition. 

Keratosis Pilaris is the result of inefficient natural exfoliation of dead cells. Skin cells are made from a protein called Keratin, which when not exfoliated, can build up causing clogging at the opening of hair follicles leaving skin with brownish/blackish bumps that can sometimes raised and irritated. The size and amount of the bumps can change, increasing and decreasing with hormonal changes such as with pregnancy.Whilst there isn't a total cure for Keratosis Pilaris, there are ways in which its appearance can be improved.

It’s a condition that 34 year old Office Manager, Vivienne Thomas has lived with since she was a teenager, so we’re grateful for her experience on how she has manages the condition.

When did you first experience Keratosis Pilaris?

As a teenager during secondary school I started noticing these rough patches on the back of my arms. Then they cropped up on the back of my legs too, virtually overnight. It looked like a rash, but it wouldn’t go away and each time I rubbed my arms, I could feel these tiny bumps and my skin also look dull and dry.

 Keratosis Pilaris on the back of thighs.

Keratosis Pilaris on the back of thighs.

How did it affect you?

I was pretty self conscious about it, and would make sure my legs were always covered up and I would avoid strappy tops, even in warm weather. I just didn't like the look of this black rash on my skin.

How does it affect you now as an adult?

I know it’s there but I try not to let it bother me day to day. I’ve managed it for so long now. For example I would wear a strappy or short sleeve top now if I was just running to the shops for example, but I’d be more considered if I was going to a formal occasion like a wedding.

Did you visit the GP?

No, I just didn’t think it was something to visit the GP for. Would they even take me seriously?

I’ve been happy to look online and get a fair idea of what it is. The only difficulty has been because it’s usually described as raised red angry looking bumps. Mine didn’t look like that. I guess because my skin is darker.  Black people don’t tend to get red, do they? So at first I was unsure.

How did you confirm it was keratosis pilaris?

A friend who works in a skincare clinic told me and also gave me some advice on how to deal with it.

Did you try any at home remedies have your tried?

Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different things. Body brushing but that hurt and made me feel sore, using natural oils and shea butter to moisturise and that did seem to work, but then the Keratosis Pilaris got worse and seemed to increase.

Are there times when it is worse?

It always looks worse in winter, but I suspect that's because of the extra layers and my skin is always drier in winter months, so I guess that contributes to a build up of dead skin.

Do you have a tried and tested method you use now?

For the last few years, I’ve been keeping on top of my body exfoliation all year round as I find this really helps, rather than just waiting till summer time before I take action.  I use a loofah in the shower and I like using body scrubs as well.

After I shower, I use a special dry skin exfoliating body lotion on the areas that I have Keratosis Pilaris. I try and apply whilst my skin is still slightly wet. I was advised to use NeoStrata Problem Dry Skin. It’s the best one I’ve used so far because it has an alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) complex to reduce the dryness and roughness of my skin with good long-term effects. 

In the winter, I add a little shea butter with it to make it even more moisturising.

Any tips for people living with Keratosis Pilaris?

-       Keep on top of your body exfoliation because it helps to keep it under control.

-       Use AHAs in your body skin care – look for lotions with glycolic or lactic acid in them as that will give you consistent exfoliation.

-       Seek help from a professional for a proper diagnosis. If it weren’t for my friend I would never have known for certain that it was Keratosis Pilaris and gotten proper advice on how I could treat it.


Do you have a skin or hair story to tell? Drop us a line at: info@blackskindirectory.

 

My life with...Alopecia by Gina Knight

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Gina Knight is a 30 something almost mother of two. Baby Florence will make a grand entrance any day now! 

A popular and still celebrated former black hair and beauty blogger, she is also the founder and brains behind the award winning wig making brand The Wig Witch. A brand with interesting beginnings, and wholly fuelled by Gina's personal experience with the hair loss condition - Alopecia. 

Hair loss of any type is a condition we take very seriously at Black Skin Directory, especially in women of colour. With so many variants of Alopecia, it is a poorly understood condition that can sometimes be unfairly blamed on black cultural hair care practices and also our medical system (the NHS) isn't always equipped to deal with the complaint through a lack of knowledge and experience with the various sub types of the condition.

We are pleased that Gina has agreed to share her story with the BSD community, giving us all a chance to learn from her experiences.


  • What was your hair regime prior to hair loss?

I’ve kept my hair natural since 2008 and started to experience hair loss issues in 2012, so my hair practices were actually very good. I only used natural hair care products, rarely wore my hair in protective styles such as braids or twists and I maintained a relatively healthy scalp.

  • What was the hair loss trigger?

After I had my first baby in 2012, I suffered from Post Natal Depression and Post Traumatic Stress. Unbeknownst to me, I didn’t realise that this could trigger hair loss and I ignored my hair loss for a year thinking it was a natural pattern of post partum hair shedding. It was almost two years into my hair loss that I was finally diagnosed with Alopecia.

Images courtesy of Gina Knight. Copyright protected.

  • What was the emotional and physical impact of hair loss? 

It was extremely stressful which made the hair loss even worse. The more I worried, the more patches I would find and the more thinning I’d encounter. It really knocked my confidence especially as I was a popular hair blogger at the time and worked in the salon industry so my hair was a big deal.

  • How soon did you visit a GP once you noticed the hair loss? 

I visited my GP after a year as I was told the hair loss was normal.

  • What was your experience at the GP? Did they understand your concerns/show empathy?

My GP wasn’t very helpful or knowledgeable about hair especially black hair conditions. My GP tried to pass it off as a result of pregnancy, but by then I had huge bald patches all over my head.

Then my GP blamed my hair practices, though I’d been natural for years, rarely wore braids and never worn a weave. Finally the GP said it’s was a fungal infection and prescribed me a topical shampoo, and later suggested steroids and a possible biopsy which I declined as I didn’t see how pumping drugs into my body or cutting open my head was useful when they had already shown incompetence in diagnosis.

  • Were you referred to a dermatologist? Did you attend an appointment? If not, why? If you did, what was the outcome?

I was never referred I had to seek my help for myself. I finally saw a doctor, a black woman who said that perhaps the hair loss was linked to my PND she was the only one who spoke about alternatives as opposed to this culture of blaming the patient or diagnosing based on stereotypes. She suggested that the hair loss could be stress induced which could also be affecting my immune system.

  • What sort of hair loss were you diagnosed with? 

I was diagnosed with Telegen Effluvium which can be triggered by child birth and illness.

"Telegen Effluvium is a hair and scalp disorder that can be caused by physical or emotional stress such as pregnancy or childbirth. Hair loss starts to be noticed approximately three months after the stressor." Black Skin Directory
  • What remedies where you given e.g drugs, creams?

I was offered over the counter topical ointments however I found these to not be as effective as changing my lifestyle.

  •  Where you given any lifestyle advice. e.g lower stress levels, dietary changes?

I took it upon myself to change my lifestyle when I was diagnosed with PND as I didn’t want to be medicated in anyway. I looked into a lot of holistic remedies. Meditation really helped me with my stress level as well as a more balanced diet.

  • Were you advised to stop any hair regimes you had previously followed or currently practicing?

I made the decision to practice a very simple hair care regimen that I follow to this day. I only use natural products and I don’t style my hair with braids, twists or use heat. I wear wigs most of the time to avoid having to manipulate my hair.

  • Has the hair loss now ceased?

The hair loss has slowed, I still get flare ups and where the hair was most severely lost, it did not grow back.

  • What is your post hair loss hair care regime? 

I follow a protective styling regime 90% of the time, using wigs which I learnt to make myself. I use natural products such as black soap to cleanse my hair and scalp; natural oils such as Castor Oil to seal in moisture.  

I try not to do too much to my hair. When I wear it out I wear it in its natural state in a cropped style that masks the hair loss.

  • How has this experience changed your life? 

The experience changed my life in many ways - I started a business selling my wigs filling a gap in the U.K. market for wigs that truly protect Afro hair with no glues and importantly they realistically mimic black women's hair texture.

It’s helped me gain a lot more knowledge of hair and scalp issues and see what’s lacking in the industry and healthcare system.

  • What are your top three tips to other people experiencing hair loss? 

  1. Don’t be put off by doctors.
  2. Do your own research and trust your instincts. Get a second, third and forth opinion if need be.
  3. Stay positive!

 

Further reading - why not read our post on Trichologists? - they specialise in disorders of the hair and scalp.


Do you have a skin or hair story to tell? Drop us a line at: info@blackskindirectory.