BOILS which are constantly bursting, battles with depression, cruel comments from strangers and a struggle to work or even leave the house.
That’s the reality for these two young women, who suffer from rare skin conditions which are wrecking their daily lives.
They’re appearing on The Bad Skin Clinic, which starts on Quest Red tonight. Here, speaking exclusively to Fabulous Digital, they tell their stories…
‘I felt grotesque, like the acne was in control’
Mariah Pearson, 20, from Somerset, has battled acne since she was 12 years old.
But late last year, she developed extreme cystic acne – which covers her temple, cheeks, chin and forehead – and doctors have no idea why.
The aspiring graphic designer said: “At its worst, I felt a bit grotesque, like it was a growth on my face and I wasn’t in control, the acne was in control.
“It was really upsetting at the time. The doctors don’t know the cause, no-one knows why it flared up the way it did, I didn’t change anything.”
When Mariah’s skin first flared, she tried to cover her spots with foundation, but soon the agonising pain stopped her even attempting that.
She said: “It was way too painful to try to cover it with a sponge or even touch my face.
When I did sleep, I’d wake up the next morning with blood and puss all over my pillow and bed sheet
“It would send nerve pain down my body so I just stopped trying.
“All day I had an ongoing itchy, numb pain. If I would give in and itch, the acne would leak and send horrible nerve pain down my body.
“I couldn’t wash my face, I couldn’t put my face under the shower anymore.
“That was difficult because it’s leaky so I need to wash it off. But I couldn’t touch my face because it hurts so much.”
The pain was so bad that Mariah couldn’t even sleep, resorting to a combination of sleeping pills and Ibuprofen to drift off.
She said: “I couldn’t ignore the itching all night, it was driving me insane.
“I had to take Ibuprofen and half a sleeping tablet. I remember being awake crying until the light was coming up the next day, because I just hadn’t been to sleep yet.
I was definitely depressed – I was in constant pain
“When I did sleep, I’d wake up the next morning with blood and pus all over my pillow and bed sheet.
“It made me feel like I’m disgusting. It’s so gross, like ‘what even is this? Why is this happening to me?’
“I was definitely depressed because I was in constant pain and couldn’t focus on anything else.
“I was moody and irritable and would constantly look at everyone around me and be like ‘why don’t they have this, why is it me? It’s not fair’.”
Mariah begged for help from her GP and was referred to a dermatologist, but had to wait four months for an appointment on the NHS.
She said: “In those four months, it went from bad to severe. I tried steroid creams and antibiotics but nothing helped.
“If I hadn’t known when my derm appointment was, I don’t know what I would have done.
If I hadn’t known when my derm appointment was, I don’t know what I would have done. That was the only thing keeping me going
“That was the only thing keeping me going. It was so difficult to get through it, I didn’t even know acne could get that bad.
“If you couldn’t see me and I was complaining about acne, you would think I’m being a drama queen, that it’s nothing major because everyone gets it.
“It annoys me acne is viewed as quite a cosmetic issue, because mine was definitely a health issue and I think it should be taken more seriously.”
As she plunged into depression and insecurities, Mariah struggled to leave home – and was almost entirely housebound at her parents’ for six months.
She said: “It did affect my confidence. I’m quite a shy person anyway and I have social anxiety, so that’s hard enough.
“With the cysts it was even harder going out, because I knew everyone was going to stare at me.
“I definitely felt like people were staring, but I don’t know if that was to judge me or just human curiosity.
With the cysts it was even harder going out, because I knew everyone was going to stare at me
“They probably felt sorry for me but I don’t want that, I’d rather deal with it on my own.
“I live in the countryside and am quite a homebody anyway.
“I was still going to London to see my boyfriend, because we’re long distance.
“Sometimes I walk in the woods next to my house – but at that point I was too worried someone else would be there, so I thought ‘no I don’t want to go’.
“Now I’m much better and I leave the house once a week. Then I was only leaving the house once every other week.”
Because of her social anxiety, Mariah lost her part-time job and is currently out of work.
She said: “One weekend I didn’t go in and they just never put me back on the rota.
“Because my acne was getting so bad, I thought ‘I’m not going to get a new job right now, I’ll wait until I’m better.’
CYSTIC ACNE: THE FACTS
Acne is a common skin condition which affects almost everyone at some point.
Cysts are the most severe type of spot caused by acne.
They’re large, pus-filled lumps that look similar to boils and carry the greatest risk of permanent scarring.
You should see your GP if you develop nodules or cysts, as they need to be treated properly to avoid scarring.
If your acne is severe, it can take several months of treatment for the symptoms to improve.
Mariah started taking Accutane on May 18 and noticed a big improvement within a month.
Thanks to the show, she is also being treated by Harley Street’s Dr Emma Craythorne – who will work to reduce her scarring.
Mariah said: “I’m definitely a lot happier now. It’s really odd because around this time last year, my skin was the clearest it had been in years.
“I finally thought ‘I’m growing out of acne’ like everyone said I would. Then it changed into something I’d never even imagine.
“It’s caused me so much trauma, but now it’s finally looking like I will have that skin back.”
‘A total stranger called my skin disgusting’
Elise Axon, 24, from Dorset, suffers from hidradenitis suppurativa – a rare skin condition which affects just one per cent of the population.
The hairdresser, who developed the autoimmune inflammatory condition 15 years ago, has painful boil-like lesions (or scars from where they have burst) all over her body.
She said: “I get them on my arms, under my boobs, on my sides, my belly, my groin, my bottom, at the base of my spine and inside my legs.
My arms are draining 24/7. They are open wounds
“Some are boil like lesions, some are big, some are small, some are raised, some are under the skin.
“My arms are draining 24/7. They are open wounds – with a lot of scar tissue, open holes and drainage.
“I’ve got to the stage now where I don’t really bother covering them up.
“If you have a problem with how my skin looks, that’s your problem not mine, because I can’t do anything about it.”
Elise is very positive about her condition, but that hasn’t stopped total strangers making horrible comments.
She said: “One time I was with the girls having a catch-up in a pub garden, it was the summer and I had a strappy top on, when one of the lumps under my arm burst.
“I couldn’t move, I had to hold my top apart from my skin, because it was just going to go everywhere. A couple of the girls ran and got me a tissue.
“This woman was looking over and said ‘eugh that’s disgusting’. I just carried on with what I was doing.
It was like hot irons or sharp needles stabbing you 24/7 under your arms
“There was no-one eating, if there was I would have been more discreet.
“You have to be pretty thick skinned when you have stuff like this.
“I can’t let this one flaw define me, I can’t waste my life or play the victim card.
“That’s why I’ve gone on the show. I want to help people who are suffering in silence and get depressed to be able to stand up and have a voice.”
But HS does have a huge impact on Elise’s life, with her suffering from agonising pain.
She said: “When some of the lumps drain, you think it’s never going to end, there’s so much fluid coming out.
“Some can be very pussy, sometimes you get blood clots coming out, they can be light, dark, orange, they’re so varied.
“The pus could drain through your clothes easily, depending on the size.
“Some of the lumps are absolute agony, some get a big red ring around them and feel really hot to touch and raise the skin.
WHAT IS HS?
Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a painful, long-term skin condition that causes abscesses and scarring on the skin.
The exact cause is unknown, but the lumps are essentially blocked hair follicles which occur where there are sweat glands – around the groin, buttocks, breasts and armpits.
It affects around 1% of the population and more women are affected.
Smoking and obesity can both make symptoms worse.
HS normally starts around the same time as puberty and is less common after the menopause.
HS is a lifelong condition which can’t be cured, but you can take medication or have surgery (in extreme cases) to control your symptoms.
“Sometimes you move and it jars your whole body and takes your breath away.
“It’s an agonising pain, which has made me feel sick many times.
“My arms are the worst. Before I started my treatment with Dr Emma, it was like hot irons or sharp needles stabbing you 24/7 under your arms.
“When the scar tissue build up it feels so tight, like having a golf ball under your arm that’s being squeezed all the time.”
Elise was even forced to cut down on her shifts at work, because of the boils under her arms.
She said: “The last year it’s been getting worse and worse and lifting your arms up constantly is quite difficult.
“Being a busy stylist, I had got to a point where I thought ‘if I don’t sort this out soon, I’m not actually going to be able to carry on hairdressing in the future’. I was just in too much pain.”