Radio Nova DJ and TV presenter Ruth Scott has had psoriasis since the age of 15 and has tried various lotions, potions and lifestyle changes along the way, including a religious experience!
It didn’t happen overnight, but I remember, as a teenager growing up in Roscommon, when my psoriasis became a significant eyesore for me. You’re familiar with leather elbow patches on jumpers? Now imagine that kind of psoriasis coverage on my elbows. It appeared as little dots on my legs, upper arms, and torso. I was, if you can imagine it, a human dot-to-dot puzzle! For ages, I didn’t even know what it was.
A visit to the GP told us that it was psoriasis, and it runs in families. (Not the Scott family.) He prescribed strong steroid creams which cleared it up pretty quickly but – and it’s quite a big but – the effect didn’t last long, and I was steered away from them after a few months. No over-the-counter cream could hydrate the psoriasis away. Coal tar cream sounded almost pleasant as an option but don’t be fooled: in the mid-eighties, the coal tar cream that I dabbed on my psoriasis spots was like rubbing in axle grease. I could only do it on the weekend, otherwise I went to school smelling like a petrochemical plant!
Trial and error
There was a time when the only place that I didn’t have psoriasis was on my face. We had reached peak scaliness! I remember being brought to a few different ‘experts’ – they might now be called ‘alternative healers.’ At one point, I was brought to a ‘holy well’ on the road between Roscommon and Elphin. The family was heaped into the car which we parked up on the side of a ditch. We clambered down to this little ‘well’ where I – wearing my swimming togs that still smelt of chlorine from my most recent swim in the pool in Roscommon – stood in barely ankle-deep freezing water. My sister had the basin from the kitchen. To this day, I think she got a perverse pleasure from scooping up basinfuls of water and throwing it over me. By the way, there was nothing remotely holy about that ice-cold water.
By the time I was in third level education, the patches of psoriasis migrated from my elbows to my chest and neck. It was the era of big woolly jumpers, so people rarely saw below my chin. As it was ‘spreading,’ it was felt that something should be done. Conventional medicine didn’t seem to provide any more options at this stage. I was brought to a man who practised Eastern medicine as well as some totally made-up sounding stuff. I was eating organic chicken, organic rice as well as juicing carrots and apples. I reckon that lasted a few months as it was just way too expensive. One ‘expert’ took me off all dairy for no other reason than a commonly held misconception that it ‘causes’ or ‘irritates’ the skin condition, something that for me had no impact. I found myself willing to believe any old made-up guff from someone that I was willing to pay. More fool me! The lack of accountability and the sheer neck of someone removing several entire food groups from my teen and early twenties diet is something that affected my relationship with food. It took me a long time to trust food again. It’s okay though, I trust it wholeheartedly now! Incidentally, no amount of eating oily fish and taking fish oil supplements made any difference to my skin.
Time has moved on and my elbows have always been a little bit red. A combination of a job loss, a bereavement and a wedding seem to have coincided with the psoriasis flare up; the spots reappeared on my legs, arms, hands, then my face, scalp, ears and nails. It was terrible. Here I was trying to live my life and literally leaving little flakes of skin everywhere I went. Very kind people offer all sorts of advice as to how you can help to clear it. I don’t know if I was just too stubborn for any of these to work! The GP prescribed a coal tar and coconut oil cream for my scalp (to be used in conjunction with a coal tar shampoo) and a medicated ointment for the patches on my face, which started to help.
The night before my wedding, I sat in a warm bath and soaked myself. Not in a luxurious way you understand. I was softening the skin so that I could use a foot file to exfoliate the skin off my elbows and upper arms to be able to wear my wedding dress the next day without providing my own incidental confetti. My ears were cracking on the inside from the psoriasis which made it a real pain when presenting TV as I needed to wear an earpiece. When I wasn’t being watched by either director or husband, I would sneak away to the bathroom, load up a cotton bud with some kind of moisturiser and scratch my ears. If my husband came near me when I was doing this, I would literally shout at him, “DON’T LOOK AT ME!” Yes, I know. Nothing smaller than your elbow is meant to be inserted in your ear. I knew that at the time but try and come between a psoriasis sufferer and their itch and see what happens! Don’t even start me on the head scratching!
A new regime
It was a chance conversation where I learned that science has moved on hugely. I was referred to a skin consultant and she advised me that twice a week I needed to apply the coal tar and coconut oil cream to my scalp, leave it overnight and wash it out the next day with a coal tar shampoo. Then on the other nights, she prescribed a steroid liquid for my scalp to help keep the psoriasis at bay. A medicated ointment was to be applied in miniscule amounts to the patches on my face, in and behind my ears on a nightly basis, with the absolute requirement to wear sun factor every day. This process had to be carried out daily for at least three months. Something about being an adult paying for my own medical treatment finally made me carry out this task to the letter! Lastly, a coal tar lotion applied to dots and patches of psoriasis as they appeared, and they would shrink to nothing after a few days.
Even if you never had to stand in a holy well and get doused in icy water, I can’t urge you enough to seek medical treatment for psoriasis. There is a non-scaly light at the end of the tunnel!