If you have experienced any kind of skin condition, you'll know that the effects can be both mental and physical. From acne and eczema to vitiligo and alopecia, the emotional toll can be one of the most difficult symptoms to deal with, especially when you feel like no one is listening and understanding.
SKIN, a new series on BBC Three, aims to debunk misconceptions and myths about skin conditions, one of the most talked about topics for young people today. In the six-part show, we meet a number of young people who have the chance to be treated by some of the leading experts in the UK. Entering a specialist clinic for the first time, each are grappling with their appearance, confidence and lifestyles.
First we meet Daniel who has been living with a cyst in the middle of his forehead for the past four years. He tells cosmetic surgeon, Dr Paul, that he feels ugly and depressed and wishes he could leave the house without having to cover up. We also meet Amy, who was born with a port wine birthmark on her face. After 15 years without treatment, Amy meets with Dr Tim to discuss the possibilities of lightening her birthmark.
In episode two, Ivy Bell visits Dr Tim to discuss the negative impact acne has had on her life. She says she never leaves the house without a full face of makeup, describes her acne as "thousands of bugs running underneath her skin", and has been affected by negative comments in the past. Ahead, the 25-year-old admin clerk who lives in Carlisle, describes her frustrating battle with acne, from when she first developed symptoms to the outstanding treatment she received in the clinic with Doctor Tim.
When I was 21, I dropped out of university and moved back home. Shortly afterwards, my grandfather died and that was when I noticed that my skin was breaking out. At first I thought it was hormonal, that it would go away. But it came back and it kept getting worse. I had periods where it cleared up a little bit for a couple of months, but then it would come back twice as bad.
I decided to visit my GP to see if I could get treatment to help. Initially I was prescribed antibiotics. I was on them for a year before I could say it was working and by that point, my skin had got severe. I was really insecure about it.
It felt like my world was ending and my skin progressively got worse where I felt I couldn't leave the house. I would go to the supermarket and people would stare at me. Makeup didn't help either because it looks lumpy. But then if you don't wear makeup, you get younger people telling you that you should put makeup on.
"Most summers I stayed indoors because the sweat would irritate my skin. It felt like something was eating my face."
Ivy Bell, 25, Carlisle
The anxiety I felt overcame my life at this point. But it wasn't just the mental torment that affected me, it was the physical pain I was in that was hard to bear. I remember saying at one point that I wouldn't care if it looked like this, I just can't stand the pain. Showering made it painful; the water hitting my face made it sting. Most summers I stayed indoors because the sweat would irritate my skin. It felt like something was eating my face.
Then one day I just realised that I was letting this skin condition ruin my life and I was missing out on so many opportunities. I was fed up of having to explain to everyone I saw that I have acne or that my skin was bad. So I put out a post on Instagram highlighting my skin condition so I didn't have to explain myself anymore. I said yes to more outings, and even went to a festival with my friends, which I never would've done before because sleeping in a sweaty tent would have been a nightmare. It was a nightmare, but I'm glad I went.
From that point onwards, I started to care less about how I looked. I was happy with myself and made more effort. I'd wear the same clothes that I used to wear, wasn't afraid of wearing my hair back and did other things that made me feel good. I'd think, I may not like what's on my face but I should make an effort with everything else.
"One day I realised that I was letting this skin condition ruin my life and I was missing out on so many opportunities."
Ivy Bell, 25, carlisle
When I first visited Dr Tim at the clinic, I was terrified. I was scared that there was nothing he could do or offer me. I was also terrified that what I had wasn't acne. I had been told by numerous GPs in the past that it was a fungal infection, so I just wanted to see a skin specialist to give me a diagnosis and proper treatment. When he confirmed that my skin condition was acne, I was relieved because he discussed with me all the options. I also met so many other young people like myself who were suffering with skin conditions and we could relate to each other.
Finding a community of support has also helped. I found the skin positivity community on Instagram and they shared a lot of useful information and had all experienced it first hand. I really wish I had found the community three years ago when I was going through it. It's nice to see influencers and skincare lovers talk openly about their skin conditions because it normalises it. It's great to see brands featuring them and talking about conditions such as acne or vitiligo. It's nice to see brands actually using healthy, normal skin that has pores!
The common misconception about skin conditions is that you're not clean or you're not washing your pillows, or maybe you should change your diet and drink more water. But I was doing all of those things and nothing was helping. This messaging creates an awful stigma because you then start to think that you're dirty. So it was frustrating to hear this from some people, but I was glad to not feel alone when I made friends through Instagram. It was there that I heard about the Isotretinoin treatment for acne, so I was glad that Dr Tim offered this to me.
After I saw Dr Tim, I was on the treatment for three months then my acne completely cleared, although I do still have a little bit of scarring. I came off the treatment two months ago, and I have had to change my skincare routine twice. Isotretinoin dries out your skin, so I had to get rid of all my products for acne and use sensitive skin products and lots of moisturiser. Now I'm off the treatment, my skin has got really oily again, so I've had to revert back to my acne products.
The one thing I've learnt about my experience is that your happiness is not dependent on what you look like. They are two separate things. You can still be happy and work on yourself, and still want to get somewhere. There's a quote I really love: "you can be a work in progress and a masterpiece at the same time". I'm not saying give up, but you can still be happy and confident while you're working on this and treating yourself.
I know now that if my acne comes back, it wouldn't affect me mentally anywhere near as much as it had. I obviously don't ever want it to come back but I'm pretty confident that I'll be able to carry on and not let it affect my mental health.
All episodes of SKIN are available to stream on BBC iPlayer from 6am on Sunday 30th August and will air on BBC One from Tuesday 1st September at 10.45pm.