Cynthea Corfah is a connector, storyteller, and multi-faceted creative. She is a New Orleans journalist, community leader, eczema warrior and advocate, inspirational speaker, and social media specialist. Raised as the only child of a single working mother, she is fueled by connecting women and uplifting people of color.
When were you first diagnosed with eczema? What was your experience like growing up with eczema?
I was diagnosed with eczema when I was a baby. Growing up, eczema came in waves.
Sometimes it was calm and not a huge factor in my life. Other times, it took over my skin and completely affected the way I could show up and experience life.
As a child, I was always self-conscious about the eczema on the back of my legs. I didn’t start wearing shorts until my freshman year of high school because I didn’t want people to think something was wrong with my skin. I can remember various moments in my life where I had an eczema flare and I’d have to treat it with ointments and creams, and have that part of my body covered or wrapped up in gauze under my clothes until it healed.
I never talked about it with my friends or peers. It felt like a strange, unpredictable, and frustrating condition I had to suffer with in silence.
What typically causes your eczema to flare up? How do you care for your eczema?
Many things can make my eczema flare. Heat, sweat, stress, alcohol, too much caffeine, and allergens like dogs, cats, latex, trees, and grass. Since being on my healing journey, I have learned to listen very closely to my skin and what it needs.
Some forms of treatment that I practice include:
- Covering myself in a generous amount of moisturizer and Vaseline
- An Epsom salt bath with tea tree oil
- Castor oil for my face
- For my hands, I’ll use a small amount of prescribed ointment (optional), moisturizer, and Vaseline, and then seal the moisture in with some compression gloves
- Wearing breathable, cotton clothing
- Placing cold ice packs on areas of my skin when they are really itchy
- Keeping the thermostat low in my house to keep from getting overheated and itchy
- Monitoring my stress, because stressing causes me to scratch
How does living with eczema impact your mental health?
Eczema and my mental health are directly related. When my eczema is triggered, my mental health is triggered. When my mental health is low vibrational, my eczema is low vibrational. It can sometimes feel like a vicious cycle when my eczema is flaring up and the one thing I’m advised not to do is stress, but my eczema causes me to stress.
In the past, eczema has made me feel self-conscious, isolated, ugly, untouchable, fragile, and hard to look at. When my eczema was at its worst, I felt like I didn’t want to show up in the world and allow myself to be seen by others. I felt embarrassed to live in my own skin.
It has taken years for me to work through my insecurities about my skin and learn to love myself for being different, and for having skin that is what I like to call “sacredly sensitive.”
Because of my eczema, my mental health is stronger than ever before. I know that my mind can heal my body, and that my thoughts are powerful. I know that I am beautiful no matter what my skin looks like on the outside. What’s most important is how brightly your soul shines from within.
What advice do you have for people living with eczema that struggle with self-confidence and anxiety?
What you’re going through is not easy. Whatever you are feeling is valid. You are a warrior just for fighting through the battle that is eczema. Know that you are beautiful whether your skin is dry and flaky, wet and weeping, or smooth and healing.
As hard as it might feel to put yourself out there and continue going after your dreams with this frustrating skin condition, don’t let eczema stop you from fulfilling your purpose. People will admire you more for being brave enough to keep showing up and sharing your gifts.
Don’t think you have to hide. You are worthy of being seen, loved, held, touched, and heard. Think healing, restorative, encouraging, loving thoughts. Your body hears what your mind tells it.
Dr. Vivian Shi, who is on the National Eczema Association’s experts (“ecz-perts”) panel, shares some more insight on how eczema impacts people of color:
Vivian Shi, M.D., FAAD
Ecz-Perts Panelist, National Eczema Association; Associate Professor, Department of Dermatology, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
How is eczema different in people of color?
Eczema is a complex chronic inflammatory condition with various presentations and disease severity. People of color, specifically African American patients, carry a higher prevalence of disease and often more severe disease than white counterparts. Compared to the “traditional presentation” of eczema, patients with richly pigmented skin tend to experience dryer skin, scaling, or bumpy eczema lesions (papular eczema), less identifiable “redness” (erythema), and are more likely to have lighter and darker skin in the affected areas (post-inflammatory dyspigmentation).
Can these differences impact diagnosis?
The wide range of eczema presentation in people of color can lead to difficulty distinguishing active disease (“flares”), as well as delay in diagnosis and treatment. The current grading criteria commonly used to diagnose eczema is not fully inclusive of the disease’s diverse presentations. These grading schemes should be expanded to include these presentations common among people of color. Once diagnosed, the mainstay treatment is the same for patients of color, but special attention should be given to prevent dyspigmentation.