A mother-of-two whose eczema felt like “torture” and made her “hate herself” has since healed her skin and is enjoying life again.
Natasha Liedl-McDowall, 39, from Hertfordshire, has had eczema for most of her life, but said it “really kicked off” when she was five years old.
“I just remember dealing with it all over my body all the way through school, from primary school to secondary school and university,” Natasha, who works in communications and runs her own business, said.
“It’s been a part of my life forever, top to toe.”
Natasha, who grew up in Devon but now lives in Bishop’s Stortford, explained that her parents “tried anything and everything” to alleviate her symptoms when she was younger.
This included topical creams, steroid prescriptions, Chinese medicines such as herbal teas, homeopathy, and even visiting a shaman.
As Natasha grew older, she was continually offered other recommendations, but “nothing worked” and her eczema continued to persist.
“When I broke away from home, I still had it and I got to a point where I was really depressed and down about it; it destroyed my confidence,” she said.
“It was at a time when I was trying to find my way in the world and work out what I wanted to do, and go dating and partying – all the normal things.
“I was on a steroid cream for a really long time because it’s the first-line solution.
“I had to take it every day, but it never really got rid of it, and if I didn’t have it for one day, it would come back violently.”
According to the NHS, eczema causes the skin to become itchy, dry, cracked and sore.
Some people only have small patches of dry skin, but others may experience widespread inflamed skin all over the body.
For Natasha, she explained that her entire body was “constantly itchy”.
She could not enjoy the simple pleasures of showering or wearing clothes or jewellery, as the feeling of heat or materials on her skin was unbearable.
She said it felt like she had “an itch on every centimetre of (her) body” and the only way to find relief was by scratching her skin.
She said: “You feel like an addict. It’s like addict behaviour where you have to just grab anybody and just scratch everywhere.
“Going for a walk or meditating or distracting yourself or anything else just won’t get rid of it because it will always be there until you scratch it.
“You scratch until you bleed or you scratch until it goes away.”
Natasha said she would scratch her skin and cause a significant amount of damage, which would sometimes lead to infections.
There is currently no cure for eczema, and while steroids alleviated some of the pain, the condition had a significant impact on Natasha’s daily life.
Natasha explained: “It has an impact on everything, from what you can wear, how you can move.
“You don’t want to face the world, you don’t want to get out of bed, you just want to get into a black hole and stay in there.
“You feel like you just don’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone about it, or show your face anywhere, and you can’t really wear any clothes.
“It makes you depressed and you hate yourself and your skin and how it’s affecting your life, and you feel angry and resentful.”
Natasha continued to manage her eczema by using steroids until she became pregnant with her first child, Tristan, who is now seven, in 2014.
During her pregnancy, Natasha’s eczema “disappeared”, but it came back with “a vengeance” after giving birth in July 2015.
The same cycle happened again during her pregnancy with her second son, Leon, who was born in November 2018 and is now four years old.
She described it as “the worst time of [her] life”, as she was swollen and bedridden while trying to look after her baby and toddler.
But in June 2019, Natasha said she wanted to cleanse her body of steroids, as it was not a “sustainable option” going forward.
She stopped taking steroids altogether, and attempted to manage her condition by focusing on her nutrition and mindset, and by using emollients.
“It was torture,” she said. “Your skin just cries.
“You get way more itchy than you ever have been, you cause way more damage than you ever did, and it’s constant. You never get a break from it.”
Natasha explained that her withdrawal from steroids was “horrendous” and it felt like her bones and muscles were scratching from the inside.
But she had to “keep going” and she eventually started to experience longer gaps of relief and see some improvements in her skin.
Natasha received help and support from her family during the withdrawal period, but it wasn’t until after she met her business partner, Stephanie Barrows, that her life truly changed and she healed her skin.
She met Stephanie through a makeup course at the London School of Makeup in September 2017, who suggested some tips which might help to treat her eczema.
Natasha said she had been given many recommendations before, which had not worked, but something about Stephanie “made [her] listen”.
They started working together, partnering with a company called Arbonne which has a team of naturopathic nutritionists, and Natasha has since learnt about gut health, nutrition, self-care, and reducing inflammation within the body.
“I feel like if it wasn’t for everything I learnt with my nutrition and mindset through my business, and all the support that I had around me, maybe I wouldn’t have done it,” she said.
From January of this year, Natasha continued to focus on her nutrition and mindset, as it was “life-changing”, and she achieved a 70% improvement in her skin through that alone.
She then started taking a new medication called abrocitnib – a JAK inhibitor – in July after being referred to the Severe Eczema Clinic at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.
She said she noticed improvements in her skin immediately, and was “absolutely astounded” with the results.
She said: “I didn’t think I would see it in my lifetime. I didn’t think it would happen, ever.
“It was just such a mixture of relief, joy, bliss.”
Natasha is now encouraging others with eczema to listen to their bodies and do what is right for them, as she feels there is no right or wrong answer with treating the condition.
She continued: “If there’s one message for people who are in it now, I would just say do what makes you feel better. Nothing’s right or wrong.
“When you’re in that hell, when you’re in that pain, if you feel that you don’t have the strength to pick yourself up and carry on, then do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel better.
“You know, value your life more and don’t put that pressure on yourself.”
She stressed the importance of having a good support network, but said: “Ultimately you know yourself, your body, and your skin more than anyone else, so do what’s right for you and be kind to yourself.”