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Molly

Age at interview: 21
Age at diagnosis: 4
Brief Outline: Molly has had eczema for as long as she can remember. She found it especially difficult to cope with at age 14/15 but now feels that eczema is part of her identity and that she is a more confident person than she might otherwise have been.
Background: Molly is 21 and a University undergraduate student. She is single and lives in shared accommodation. Her ethnicity is White British.

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Molly has had eczema for as long as she can remember. She remembers other children at primary school making cruel comments and refusing to play with her as they thought her skin condition was contagious. She felt frustrated that she couldn’t ‘fix’ her skin, leading to a “vicious circle of like pent up anger at eczema”. Molly’s eczema worsened and affected more parts of her body as she became older; it was particularly severe on her neck and face when she was 14/15 years old. Molly feels that the biggest “battle” with her eczema when she was younger was trying not to scratch but that now, as a young adult, the most difficult part is remembering the routine of applying creams.

Moving from home to boarding school and then to university means that Molly has had a lot of one-off appointments with different GPs and dermatologists. She thinks this is the reason why she tends to be prescribed relatively weak medications by different GPs who see her for only one or two appointments. Molly has tried using various emollients and steroids during her lifetime with eczema. She is concerned about the potential for steroid creams to weaken her skin, dislikes the way the creams tend to smell, and finds it annoying that they make her skin and hair greasy. She knows that she should not use the steroid cream on her face, especially on the eyelids, but she finds it difficult to refrain from doing so when the eczema flares up. Although she tends to get eczema on her eyelids less often and more mildly than when she was younger, it makes her eyes feel very heavy and tired so that it is especially difficult to concentrate in lectures. 

A key discovery was when a patch test showed that Molly is allergic to parabens. It was difficult at first to find only paraben-free cosmetic and bathing products but this has become easier since many companies now offer these. Molly finds that there are some other key factors which aggravate her eczema, including shifting seasons and sudden changes in temperatures. Her eczema tends to be worse after nights out with friends as she finds that social smoking, drinking alcohol and being tired are all triggers in addition to her skin reacting to the ink of nightclub stamps. She also finds that hormones, for example in relation to the contraceptive pills and her sex life, tend to trigger her eczema.

At the ages of 14/15, Molly’s eczema was quite severe and affected the skin on her face a lot. She described herself as having previously been “quite a confident girl” but the eczema impacted on her self-esteem and she would sometimes avoid seeing friends. Molly dreaded seeing photographs of herself on social media, such as Facebook, and tried to avoid being in group shots by offering to be the one to take the picture. She feels that she missed out on some of the experiences her peers had at that age. For example, because wearing make-up highlighted her eczema, she didn’t feel like a “confident, beautiful girl” and this had knock-on effects for going to parties and meeting boys. The scarring from eczema could also be difficult to cope with. Molly recalls one summer when she developed eczema on her chest and neck; although the eczema went away, tanning in the subsequent summers highlighted blotches on her skin. This made her feel insecure as she felt that the scarring was even harder to explain to other people than the eczema itself would be.

Molly is confident that she now knows how to manager her eczema if she can stick to a routine of applying creams and be aware of triggers. She has made some changes which have helped her skin, such as moving from the contraceptive pill to the coil – although she is unsure how her skin will react if she lives fulltime with a partner in the future. Molly feels that her eczema is a part of her identity and that it has made her a more confident person now than she might otherwise have been. She thinks that having eczema as a teenager and the negative impact it had on her confidence was something that she was able to “pick myself up from and kind of fight against” with the support of her friends and family.
 

Molly scratches her eczema in her sleep without meaning to. It has woken up Molly and her roommates before.

Molly scratches her eczema in her sleep without meaning to. It has woken up Molly and her roommates before.

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At school, when I was at boarding school, I shared a room with a friend and I used to wake her up every night scratching my skin in my sleep so when I was, this is a really bad example today, they usually, my nails when my eczema’s bad – the first thing I do is cut my nails down as far as I can so that I physically cannot scratch and even if I do its just flesh on flesh. So my friend used to make me sleep in gloves just because for whatever reason, even having cut my nails, I’d find a way to wake her up from all the scratching because that's how raw my skin was so how loud the noise was. Really horrible for her but so she’d tie these gloves to my hands, so horrible to sleep in, so that I couldn’t wake her up and also so I couldn’t harm myself cos I’d wake up and just red raw skin bleeding sometimes just from desperately trying to like ease the pain. But I’d never wake myself up in those instances; I have woken myself up before scratching. 
 

University life, especially drinking alcohol, can cause Molly’s eczema to flare-up.

University life, especially drinking alcohol, can cause Molly’s eczema to flare-up.

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For example I had a glass of wine last night, I woke up and my eczema’s like exactly the same but if I went out and got drunk with friends and was in a night club sweating, dancing, outside smoking and then got into bed, fell asleep for a couple of hours, God knows how many hours, anyway – wake up knackered obviously, hung over obviously my skin literally will be red and fiery but usually here [points to body part off screen – to arms?] which is really weird, that’s where I kind of get it from alcohol. And so that’s kind of consistently bad now I’m a student [laughs]. But because it’s kind of there, people don’t think its eczema, people think it’s a rash or I’m really contagious [laughs] and avoid me, they don’t really. And so yeh I know when I go out on a night out that I will wake up with a rash if I’ve had excesses amounts of drink. But kind of on a day-to-day basis, its fine and it never flares up so much. I mean I say that, if I was doing like a week of loads of partying I’d bring, and if I wasn’t at home, I'd being loads and loads of cream and I’d probably be putting on the steroid cream before it was even flared up, knowing that the alcohol was going to kick it all off.
 

Molly worried about what others would think if they saw the marks visible on her skin after tanning a few summers ago.

Molly worried about what others would think if they saw the marks visible on her skin after tanning a few summers ago.

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There was one year when my eczema was really bad and then it scarred that summer and then the following summer I was so nervous about getting tanned and had made such a conscious effort all year not to scratch because it was almost like because you couldn’t see the eczema, the scars were really horrible because no one, everyone, I kind of felt like everyone would’ve been guessing what they were because they were literally just blotchy skin. And I hated it, I was, that was as, I was as insecure about the scars as I was when the eczema was visible. and the scars have gone, so now I do get scars here [points off screen] but like I’ve always, always, always had scars there so I’m used to that and that’s never, I’ve kind of grown like to kind of be unfazed by that. But the scars on my face and my chest I hated, but I don’t get those anymore.
 

Having eczema on her eyelids made Molly’s eyes feel tired which made it more difficult to focus on her studies.

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Having eczema on her eyelids made Molly’s eyes feel tired which made it more difficult to focus on her studies.

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There was like two years where it was really, really bad and on the top of my eyelids as well and it would just make me so tired because my eyelids would be so heavy and it would just kind of knacker me and just cos it was all visible and all on my face then I’d be visibly scratching, just to kind of ease the pain.

My eyelids but it’s just, its agony when it’s up there and in lectures I can’t concentrate because it’s just my eyes are so, so horrid. So that, when my eyelids are bad – that does have a massive impact on life [laughs] more than I probably realise.
 

Molly says it was a “game changer” when she learnt that she is allergic to parabens in cosmetic and bath products.

Molly says it was a “game changer” when she learnt that she is allergic to parabens in cosmetic and bath products.

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At first it was such a chore because you don't realise how much it’s in everything and it literally is in everything and actually really, really luckily – so the first year it was kind of just finding the products that didn’t have it and then now I’ve just got, I know what shampoos I can buy and what shower gels I can buy and what not. And so and kind of like 12 months after we found out about parabens, it kind of came trendy not to have parabens in because I think everyone should avoid them apparently but me especially [laughs] so that’s been really lucky and that like now brands will advertise ‘This is paraben free’ which kind of has broadened what I can use. So now it has like so little effect but for a long time it was really frustrating like taking my whole make-up bag and like chuck, chuck, chuck [laughs] and now, but now I know what to buy so it’s fine.
 

Molly talks about hormones as a trigger for her eczema and how it has affected her choice of contraceptives.

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Molly talks about hormones as a trigger for her eczema and how it has affected her choice of contraceptives.

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Went on the pill and went on so many, because one gave me migraines but, so I came off that and then every one since then gave me reacted with my eczema because I think just, I think my eczema is obviously really linked to my hormones. So now I’ve got the coil and it’s amazing, the hormonal coil as well which is great, fine. But I reckon if I got a non-hormonal one it would have been even better but I didn’t so.

It was so pivotal in my decision to get the coil cos I went to the doctor here and was like “I’m so bored with the pill, it’s so bad for my eczema” and then just like “I need an alternative” and she was like “Well, the coil’s really great – a) cos there’s an non-hormonal one and b) because the hormonal one is only the equivalent of half a pill a week, so you’re taking six and a half less pills than you would be on the pill”. So I was like “That sounds great” and it has been great, it really has been fine with my eczema, thank God.
 

Molly finds that doctors are sometimes reluctant to give her steroid creams.

Molly finds that doctors are sometimes reluctant to give her steroid creams.

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There was one cream that was amazing which they discontinued and I can’t remember what it was called. And then the steroids are just really hard to get hold of even if someone’s prescribed them to me before, they’re always like “Are you sure you need them again?” and it’s like well now you’ve given them to me and I’ve like adjusted my life and like routine with eczema to be with this cream I kind of do need it [laughs]. But they always do prescribe it eventually.
 

Molly’s mum encouraged her to try alternative medicine for her eczema when she was younger.

Molly’s mum encouraged her to try alternative medicine for her eczema when she was younger.

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Oh like 15, 16, 17 – when it was affecting my self-confidence, that was when it was kind of like trial and error of everything and we, mum was taking me to these witch doctors, not witch doctors, but these people who were like trying to figure out if it was because I had a weak liver or weak lungs or whatever that was making it particularly bad or whether my like circle was broken and like kind of weird stuff like that, which mum thinks is the bees knees and I’m really not sure about to this day. 

She would come home with kind of creams from like health stores and stuff and those like tried and kind of like herbal like pills to take that would like cure from the inside and stuff and like definitely tried them but if, I’d get so frustrated because if I didn't get an initial, an immediate, if it didn’t immediately get any better – I’d just get so angry that it wasn’t fixing it.
 

Molly and her mum talked to her GPs about the alternative medicines she was trying around age 16.

Molly and her mum talked to her GPs about the alternative medicines she was trying around age 16.

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We’d kind of tell them what we were doing every time we went to see them and it was always, 90% of the time frowned upon but like obviously not to a point where they were like “Do not do that, that’s such a stupid idea” but it was never kind of well that, it was always kind of “That’s not what we would recommend but good luck”. the only kind of, as quirky as the doctor recommendations got was like recommending excluding such and such from my diet and stuff but other than that it was just pots and pots of cream [laughs].
 

Molly was upset that couldn’t wear make-up like her friends when she was younger.

Molly was upset that couldn’t wear make-up like her friends when she was younger.

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I just wanted to do what everyone else was doing cos I was that age when it was like everyone wore the same clothes, awful clothes, and everyone was like trying make-up for the first time and everyone was kissing boys for the first time and I just wanted to be doing all of that and because I couldn’t do the make-up thing then I felt like I've been robbed of everything because obviously the make-up thing was so like linked like kissing your first boy and like going to parties and being this confident, beautiful girl. Like I felt like all of that was because of the lack of make-up and therefore the double lack of confidence, it all kind of started to kind of knock on to all the other stuff.
 

Molly felt very self-conscious as a teenager but feels she’s more confident for having got through it.

Molly felt very self-conscious as a teenager but feels she’s more confident for having got through it.

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I think in a weird way it’s actually made me like more confident. Because, since it’s got better, I’ve now been like ‘two fingers to you, eczema’ and [laughs] like taking back my life.  and it kind of doubly doesn’t faze me and I’m almost proud of my eczema to be like “What’s wrong with it, like if you’ve got a problem with it – I don’t really want to hang out with you”, not that I’ve ever had that confrontation with someone [laughs]. But yeh no I think actually now it’s better, it’s only had positive impacts. Obviously like if I hadn’t had it in the first place I'd be, I actually think I’d be such a different person today if I hadn’t had it in the first place, which I’ve never really thought about [laughs].

In what sort of ways do you think you’d be different?

I think I’d have never had, I actually potentially might not, might not have been as confident as I am now – just because I’d never of had the wobble to kind of teach, like pick myself up from and kind of fight against. And I think, I don’t know, yeh, that’s probably like the key one I think – my confidence is probably actually up on the fact that I’ve suffered eczema in a really weird way, I don’t know. 
 

Molly’s mum often encouraged her to try alternative therapies and shop-bought treatments.

Molly’s mum often encouraged her to try alternative therapies and shop-bought treatments.

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She would come home with kind of creams from like health stores and stuff and those like tried and kind of like herbal like pills to take that would like cure from the inside and stuff and like definitely tried them but if, I’d get so frustrated because if I didn't get an initial, an immediate, if it didn’t immediately get any better – I’d just get so angry that it wasn’t fixing it. And just there’s, there’s nothing, to this day there’s nothing that like will, other than the steroid cream, that will overnight fix it. And so obviously none of that was when it was really, really bad because today the steroid cream fixes it overnight but I never, it’s not as bad as it was then so I’d just get so frustrated I wouldn't actually like see through all these hints and tips, that was probably half the problem [laughs].

Did your mum sort of also do online research about eczema and?

Yeh I think that’s probably where she picked it up. Also mum’s really good at chatting so I think a lot of chatting to people and obviously loads of people suffer from eczema so I think, when it was really bad she was talking about it a lot because she was obviously worried about me and anyone, anyone who kind of, had the magic tip or like “Oh this really helped for my son and daughter”, she’d come home with immediately [laughs].
 

Molly finds that the change in hormones from sex, as well as contraceptives and her periods, flare-up her eczema.

Molly finds that the change in hormones from sex, as well as contraceptives and her periods, flare-up her eczema.

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I’ll always come back with like worse eczema than when I started out at the weekend and I know that’s because of sex and like yeh it is definitely linked and I think that’s why the doctor, the smart doctor, didn’t let him come in because he was wanting to talk about that. And I think it’s the hormones, I think when my hormones go all over the shop which is the same thing from periods stuff, as soon as my hormones are kind of like jangled – my skin reacts to it.

It was so pivotal in my decision to get the coil cos I went to the doctor here and was like “I’m so bored with the pill, it’s so bad for my eczema” and then just like “I need an alternative” and she was like “Well, the coil’s really great – a) cos there’s an non-hormonal one and b) because the hormonal one is only the equivalent of half a pill a week, so you’re taking six and a half less pills than you would be on the pill”. So I was like “That sounds great” and it has been great, it really has been fine with my eczema, thank God.
 

Molly disliked photos being taken of her and having them posted online.

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Molly disliked photos being taken of her and having them posted online.

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I remember at the time dreading, absolutely dreading going to a party for the sake of the photos that would go up the next day because I knew that like even if I’d covered up my eczema, the flash of a camera would bring it all out and I hated putting make-up, I’m not really a make-up-y girl and I hated putting make-up on anyway and I never actually put make-up on top of my eczema when it was that bad because it would kind of make it worse, it would almost draw attention to it because the stuff I couldn’t cover up would look more aggressive. And so these photos would go up of me and I can like picture them in my head now and I just remember being so mortified and like I’m smiling and I’m with my friends and like they’re still my friends now and whatever so they are, were all like really easy people who knew about my eczema and really it didn’t faze them – but I was just so aware of it and because it was going on this public space and I was just like, it was just horrible. 

Loads of removing tags and photos, loads of emailing people like “Please take that photo down”. And like desperately like cos at that age everyone is changing their profile photo like every week and just being like ‘oh my profile photo from summer’ when my eczema wasn’t good, ‘when my eczema was fine’. 
 

Molly talks about her experiences of waitressing and working in a school.

Molly talks about her experiences of waitressing and working in a school.

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My first job was waitressing and I remember being so mortified that I was serving food with like flaky skin falling off my face and obviously like I couldn’t cover it because I was asked to wear like black T-shirts so I had my arms out and my neck out and I remember being like, every time being so nervous someone would confront me and be like “That girl shouldn’t be serving food cos her skin”, because when it’s dry, obviously it comes off and that was really horrid and I was so aware of it whenever I was working. But other than that, no – I worked in a school on my year abroad and, with 11 year old boys, they have some nerve when speaking to adults and they would make remarks but like by then I could like stand up for myself and by then I’d be like “Actually like that’s really unfair and it’s completely out of my power and I could say just has horrible things about you and you’re facial figures which are equally out of your power” and that’s kind of, cos I was a teacher I was able to kind of take it back and like teach them a lesson and be like “You can’t say that”. 
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