As a professional in the media industry, one would think I would love being on camera and having my face in the spotlight. However, that isn’t always the case for me. At the age of two, I was diagnosed with severe atopic dermatitis, commonly known as eczema. According to the National Eczema Association, “eczema (eg-zuh-MUH) is the name for a group of conditions that cause the skin to become itchy, inflamed, or have a rash-like appearance. There are seven types of eczema: atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, and stasis dermatitis.” A number of triggers can affect the severity of eczema flare-ups and appear differently on everyone. There is also no known cure.
Growing to love and accept my skin has been an ongoing journey for me, and one that I’m still on. When I was younger, my eczema was a huge source of insecurity.
As the National Association of Eczema says, “One person’s triggers may not be the same as another’s. You might experience eczema symptoms at certain times of the year or on different areas of your body.”
My symptoms, also known as “flare-ups,” were constant.
I experience noticeable flare-ups on my cheeks, around my mouth and chin regularly. When I was in grade school, I often faked being sick to get out of picture day if a severe flare-up occurred. No matter what I tried over the years, my flare-ups would last for days. When I was younger, I would scratch my face a lot due to the itching. Now as an adult, I’ve been dealing with scarring as a result of scratching too much.
I spent years testing products and home remedies looking for a solution that wouldn’t irritate my eczema and would help fade scars. For a time, I gave up on achieving “perfect” skin; I swore off skin care because nothing was working.
My insecurities grew, leaving a feeling of disgust whenever I looked in the mirror. Seeing constant media portrayals of beauty standards and what “perfect skin” looked like didn’t help. This was my emotional and mental state throughout my teen years up to college. I avoided any and everything that would bring attention to my eczema.
Now at 24 years old, I unfortunately still deal with flare-ups. It’s affected my mental health in ways I never knew were possible. In March, I was diagnosed with anxiety, and for many people, myself included, eczema and stress are inextricably linked. According to the National Association of Eczema, "Emotional stress can be an eczema trigger, but it’s not exactly known why. Some people’s eczema symptoms get worse when they’re feeling “stressed.” Others may become stressed just knowing they have eczema, and this can make their skin flare-up." Stress is typically the culprit for my eczema flare-ups, and I learned that it takes the right combination of products and taking care of my mental health to manage it. I work each day to manage my stress because everything’s connected.
For the past few months, I’ve been actively trying to work on my overall well-being. A part of that has been relearning my skin and what’s best for it. I’ve been attempting to mend my relationship with beauty standards in the skin care industry, understanding that pimples, blemishes, dark spots, textured skin, etc. are more common than portrayed by media in magazines to Instagram influencers. Since realizing this, I have discovered more about myself and learned to love the skin I’m in.
In this process, I finally found the skincare regimen that feels like it was made for me — focused on healthy skin rather than helping you achieve so-called “perfect skin” like you see in the magazines. Topicals, a POC women-owned skin care brand that strays away from the typical beauty standards of skin care. Topicals was founded by Olamide Olowe and Claudia Teng, who both grew up dealing with skin issues (post-barbae folliculitis and severe eczema, respectively).
“[We] both grew up thinking there was such a thing as ‘perfect’ skin and that we had to have it. We built Topicals to transform the way people feel about skin by taking the onus off of having ‘perfect’ skin and putting the focus on having funner flare-ups,” said Olowe and Teng.
This transparency and honesty from the founders helped me trust skin care again and look at beauty differently instead of a monolithic standard. Now, instead of comparing my skin to others, I’m focused on my personal results.
After months of using their Topicals Duo set, which includes their Like Butter Hydrating Mask for eczema-prone skin and Faded Brightening and Clearing Gel for dark spots and discoloration, I’ve started to see results, and feel more confident in my own skin. My insecurities, at times, are diminished, and I don’t cringe every time I see myself in the mirror. I’ve also come to realize that I’m not alone in my skin insecurity, and embraced the journey to accepting my skin. Understanding that the way I felt about my skin was common even for Olamide and Claudia helped me see that the standards for “perfect skin” are unrealistic for many.
When asked about beauty standards, they said, “There is an unattainable standard of beauty that 99% of people don’t fit into. Specifically, the skin care industry has forced everyone to think that clear skin is ideal and flare-ups are embarrassing and shameful.”
Olowe also spoke about the lack of inclusiveness for darker skin tones, “In addition, darker-skinned folks have very rarely been included in the conversation. At Topicals, we know that you make skin look good — not the other way around. We are fluid, imperfect, shape-shifting, and real representations of you and your skin. We also test our products on all shades because inclusion is more than just visual representation.”
Topicals and its founders understand that skin care is more than skin-deep: how someone feels about their looks, including their skin, can affect their mental health.
“Most of us grew up feeling insecure about our skin and this led to negative thoughts about our self-worth,” Olowe and Teng said. “People with chronic skin conditions are 2-6 times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety so we partner with and donate to mental health organizations like Therapy for Black Girls, Sad Girls Club, and the JED Foundation. We’ve donated $11K to date.”
Topicals is taking their mission to spread skin positivity a step further, shining the spotlight of inclusivity and acceptance for all skin types in a new digital campaign on their website. On Oct. 3, they will be highlighting testimonials from real customers who have learned to love the skin they’re in. Continuing their fun approach to skin care, Topicals customers will have the opportunity to be featured in a digital Burn Book as a nod to the notorious film “Mean Girls.” The date is significant to a popular scene from the movie when the main character Cady has a conversation with her crush Aaron when he asks her what date it is and Cady answers, " October 3." In the movie, the mean girls known as The Plastics, who run the school, use the Burn Book to gossip and bully but Topicals is flipping the infamous pop cultural reference to highlight everyday people with chronic skin conditions and break traditional beauty standards in skin care. Topicals will also be including a limited edition Burn Book-inspired sticker pack with every purchase of their Duo set.
Gretchen Wieners may not have been able to make “fetch” catch on, but Topicals is well on their way to changing beauty standards in skin care.
Topicals offered me the chance to share my story as a part of the campaign, check out my Burn Book entry below.