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Miss Earth England Talks Psoriasis

Model Luissa Burton chats to the British Skin Foundation about achieving her dreams despite her skin condition
English model Luissa Burton was crowned Miss Earth England 2016 – the 27 year old from the Midlands has psoriasis but that hasn't stopped her living her dreams.  When her psoriasis was at its worst at 19 years old, she was told she would never be a successful model. However she went on to be signed to one of the world’s top modelling agencies FORD models, worked with hundreds of brands (including some skin care) and for the first time in history, placed in the top 16 internationally out of 100 countries at the Miss Earth competition in the Philippines (October 2016). 
 

 
Luissa, you’re a model with psoriasis, do you find your skin condition holds you back at all when it comes to your work? 

The onset of my psoriasis happened around the age of 19 during a very stressful period in my life. I had never noticed any psoriasis before but it didn’t take long until it covered almost the entire fronts and backs of both my arms and legs as well as parts of my torso. It used to have me in tears on a regular basis. Initially it did hold me back, mostly because of how ashamed I felt about it. I would turn down jobs or not show up to castings in fear I was ‘damaged’. I also had one agency tell me I wouldn’t be successful because of it (not the agency I work for now). It wasn’t until I did my first international pageant in Albania (2012) where I placed 6th internationally that this changed. I had feedback from the judges saying how confident I was on stage in a bikini even with my skin condition covering most of my body and one judge told me “we know that it doesn’t define you or lessen your performance and that psoriasis can come and go”. After that I started taking modelling jobs again. 
 
I accepted the condition and knew that a particularly bad flare up would not be forever. I told my agency that I wasn’t going to let it stop me from modelling. Some people still made comments and I did lose out on a few jobs (mostly live shows) but generally I would tell clients beforehand for shoots and to my surprise I still got bookings. I went on to compete in Miss Universe Great Britain, model for a famous tanning brand, model for a skincare company and eventually win Miss Earth England – all things you would assume you couldn’t do as a psoriasis sufferer. 
 
Fortunately after 2 years of it covering so much of my body, it has retreated to only my elbows and is barely noticeable. Now I just get the odd comment where someone thinks my elbow has been bitten by an insect or something. I tried every single whacky treatment in the book but mostly it was treating and managing the underlying stress that helped it recede. There needs to be more information out there to help treat the underlying causes and not just the physical symptoms. 
 
Do you think skin conditions are more widely accepted in the fashion world now with the likes of Cara Delevingne & Winnie Harlow showing they’re not ashamed of theirs? 
 
I believe the fashion industry is being forced to become more open minded in a lot of areas – hence the current ‘all sizes are sexy, body positive’ movement. Women like Winnie Harlow, Cara Delevingne and more recently Kim Kardashian saying they aren’t ashamed of it is definitely a step in the right direction. Someone like Cara Delevingne has the power to say “look I’m going to carry on anyway”. Because she’s so successful and still a huge value to designers due to her brand that they kind of had to accept it. I am pleased she used her power for good in this way as it has opened up the pathway for acceptance. 
 

Luissa's psoriasis on her legs
 
How do you think Cara & Winnie have helped others to accept their own skin conditions? 

I know for a fact that they helped me and I believe this would have helped countless others, especially younger girls. I did a blog post a few years ago about my psoriasis, working in the fashion industry and back then I had messages from young girls, women and even some men that I had helped them accept themselves. If I received responses like that, I know that someone like Cara Delevingne would too! 
 
Do you still get questions about your psoriasis from people such as friends or colleagues? 

My friends don’t ask me anymore, it’s not even a thing now for them, if I had a really bad flare up again I know they wouldn’t care. It hasn’t always been that way though, around 19 when it first happened I did get a lot of jokes about it and it was upsetting. It is important people educate their friends, family and work colleagues on the condition and that they communicate how hurtful jokes can be. Lack of understanding is the main issue; they’ve never had to live with people thinking if they touch you they are going to catch a disease. YOU CANNOT CATCH PSORIASIS! It's just dry skin and an autoimmune system disorder. It really is nothing more than a superficial symptom of your immune system working overtime.  
 
How do you deal with negative comments about your psoriasis? 

The same way I deal with everything, remind myself that if someone feels the need to make a negative comment towards me, they are living at a low energy level and I ignore them. Don’t ever allow anyone to steal from you, your happiness. I used to allow it, until I realised the negative issue wasn’t me, it lied with them. 
 
What would you say to someone who is struggling to cope with their skin condition? 
 
There is light at the end of the tunnel. When my psoriasis was at its worst covering the fronts and backs of all my arms and legs, I genuinely didn’t believe it was going to get better, in fact I believed it would never get better. Plaques just kept appearing and covering more of me, I felt diseased, I felt damaged. The problem was, the more I stressed about new plaques appearing, yet more would come. The phrase “it will never happen” no longer exists to me. Anything is possible with belief, time and patience. Whatever stage you are at, have faith, psoriasis can and does go away! Stressing that “it will never get better”, will only continue triggering a response. Mine has receded to the point that it is now only a few small dots on my elbows rather than disappearing completely. However it is a little reminder of how far I have come managing my stress levels and I guess it is a part of me. 
 
Luissa's skin during a break-out
 
What do you find most annoying about your psoriasis? 

The most annoying thing isn’t the psoriasis but the response of some people. It isn’t something that is dangerous or life threatening and therefore many people think it isn’t that serious and feel it is acceptable to make comments or jokes. Pardon my pun but I have a thick skin and have learnt to deal with people working in a tough and critical industry such as fashion. Some young girls are very vulnerable and don’t need added worries on top of the pressures of today. People have committed suicide from being so in despair about the condition as it led them to deep depression. Please don’t be the person that allows something that seems not serious to you, to ruin someone else’s day.  
 
What do you think of campaigns like #GetYourSkinOut and #PsoShoutOut? Do they help psoriasis sufferers? 
 
Of course, if we are talking about it, we are forcing debate and ultimately people learn from that.
 
Do you have any advice for people who have just been diagnosed with psoriasis?

Stay active, because stress is a known trigger of psoriasis, staying active can through an exercise regime can help significantly. 
 
 
One of Luissa's modelling shots
 

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