A journey with psoriasis | Freya Brindley Rowell
Secluded in a tranquil cove, we spent a beautiful morning with Freya Brindley Rowell, holding a space to reflect on her insightful experience and thoughtful attitude towards living with psoriasis, an auto-immune skin condition. With great curiosity, maturity and compassion, Freya shared her beautiful healing lessons of self-care and holistic living with us.
Can you tell us about your experience of psoriasis?
My psoriasis is triggered by lack of sunshine, changing in seasons, stress, and alcohol and potentially it could be food related. I have had psoriasis for 8 years, since I was 13 or 14. I suffered with eczema as a child but that seemed to leave on its own accord. My psoriasis became a big impact on my life when I started A levels it spread like wild fire until my arms were practically covered, my scalp riddled with it and the patches were ever cropping up on my face and legs too. It got so painful and sensitive I could only wear natural clothing against my skin as it was so tender. I would wake up in the morning with blood on my fingers from unconsciously scratching my skin in the night. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep because of how uncomfortable and sore I was. I would hide my skin under long sleeves so people couldn’t see how bad it was, and I became used to people asking me if I had weird make up on or if I was contagious.
I turned to the doctors for instant relief from steroids and it wasn’t until I was referred to hospital and offered an intensive treatment that I realised I needed to treat myself from a different approach. This was a very important point in my life for me.
I had a very alternative upbringing but in a way this was the start of my own journey with holistic healing of my skin. I didn’t make a complete switch overnight but I learnt over the years about healing my skin from the inside and how important it is to support your body as psoriasis is an auto immune disease which essentially means the body is attacking itself. The skin is one of the body’s biggest organs in detoxifying, when your body isn’t doing that right the skin kicks in to help. One way of healing and caring for a skin disease is to support the body with healthy eating. This is still confusing for me as there are still a lot of do’s and don’ts with psoriasis and food that I don’t understand yet. In addition, it is harder to see a correlation between food and the skin as it isn’t always an instant reaction when it comes to psoriasis. Eating foods that are good for the liver like leafy greens is important. High quality healthy fats are good like nuts and seeds, although these need to be low quantity as fats are tough on the liver (this is where I get muddled, so best to talk to nutrition professional or do research into psoriasis and food). Alcohol is the only time that I have noticed an instant reaction and my skin was noticeably worse the next day after drinking.
How has it affected your lifestyle in regards to product choices and in a broader sense?
Having psoriasis has definitely influenced what products I use on my skin. I am now really strict about what I use and how. I started googling the ingredients of what was in moisturisers that you could buy in Boots or Superdrug and it was so saddening and scary to read what they contained. Products may say they are free of certain chemicals; however what I often found was there was another nasty chemical in them that replaced it. So now I rarely use creams or moisturisers (even creams in health food shops often contain nasty chemicals in them too) but have turned to balms, oils and nut butters where there is no addition of alcohol, water or ANY nasties. It is also really important for them to be organic, vegan and environmentally friendly. The transition to natural and organic skin care has had a huge impact on my skin as well as my self-awareness of what those ingredients could do not only to my skin but my body and the planet. I’m not saying that you can buy your way out of psoriasis with a fancy cream but a good quality moisturising balm does help tremendously.
Do you have any skincare rituals or routines that are important to you?
I have a ritual of cleaning my skin with rose water and moisturising with oils and balms both morning and night. I carry out this same routine every day and I use it as a way to ground and nurture myself. It is a physical process which brings me out of my mind and into my hands. I love how it is a full sensory experience of washing my skin, smelling the oil and feeing the oil and then finally massaging it into my skin.
What do you find to be the most healing remedies for skin and soul?
Skin diseases are really personal and there isn’t one cure for everyone, but the most healing remedies I have found aren’t necessarily what but how. Definitely find a moisturiser, balm or oil that you get along with (make sure you read the ingredients list and know what each of them are and what their role is) and then keep up the moisturising. Continuous moisturising stops the skin from drying out which for me is when it gets sore and uncomfortable. In addition to this keeping hydrated and having plenty of sleep can help too. Oils and balms are often absorbed into the skin better when the skin is damp. What I like to do is when I have a warm bath, not hot, I gently exfoliate the top layer of skin of the psoriasis with my fingers and then afterwards when the skin is still damp and plump massage in the balm or oil so it is really absorbed in, Whenever my skin feels uncomfortable or sore then I re apply my moisturiser. I do this on the train, in a meeting; in a shop wherever I am I have moisturiser so I can whack it on and feel more comfortable. I used to be embarrassed that one application of balm or oil wouldn’t be enough but now I have come to terms with the fact that if I want to be comfortable then I have to do what is necessary.
Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for anyone else suffering with psoriasis or other auto-immune skin conditions?
Having psoriasis has been a huge learning curve and it can often feel really overwhelming, especially when it is flaring up rapidly and you feel out of control. This is when I find yoga really helpful, letting go of that anxiety over having clear and perfect skin and just breathing. This being said here are some things I wish I’d known when I was 13-
Despite what the doctors told me, you can “cure” your skin disease to a certain point.
Only put on your skin what you can eat, a really good saying if you’re confused about what products you can put on your skin.
Learn to appreciate and be thankful for your skin disease, this can be so tough, however without my skin disease I definitely wouldn’t be the human I am today or know the things that I do.
Treat your body as a whole, so buying a good quality skin product can only work so well if your diet is high in refined sugars.
What works for me or someone else may not work for you and that’s okay.