I was born, red and peeling, with a bruised heel for all the rib kicking I got up to – two-weeks overdue and very much overcooked. This is one of my favourite skin stories and helps me understand that my skin present is just as much affected by my skin past which in turn, is a prediction of my skin future.
The skin never exists in isolation, influenced by an eternal cacophony of factors, including environment and genetics, so that I’m always asking about skin stories of my infancy and also of my sister, mother, father, and family members to put pieces of a difficult puzzle together.
“You’ve got beautiful nails like your great grandmother…dodgy veins like your great aunt…you bruise easily like your nana did…you’ve acne as bad as your uncle”; these are phrases I’ve grown accustomed to hearing because it would seem many a condition in our family is linked to the past, handed down whether you’re interested or not.
The genetic lottery is at play, rolling the dice on some skin future conditions and not others but I find my own skin ancestry endlessly fascinating so much that it’s all I really care about when it comes to the family tree – let’s just put it on the census! But if there is a genetic component of many skin issues, what makes the skin bomb go off?
Despite all my sensitivities, as a child, my skin was surprisingly resilient, until a run-in with artificial coloured and fragranced crayons for use in the bath set off a skin reaction not much enjoyed by this then three-year-old, setting the scene for a few more ‘artificial’ reactions to come.
I never got chicken pox but caught its relative herpes, which would recur every year without fail in the same spot until I finished high school – cued by stress. And then there were warts, for me, always on the hands. But my sister…a different genetic skin dance card and the same for the rest of my family.
One nana had smooth milky skin, the other thin, easily bruised and torn, one side of the family is skin type I (all the way!) while the other benefits from a little more tan-ability – comparing myself to my family skin tree I can begin to see the way my skin is going…following the easily bruised, thinning line of my nana which links my skin more closely to my father so he’s the one I’m keeping my eye on as an ever-better predictor.
It’s not uncommon in our family to ask ‘how’s your skin?’, in fact a better indicator than ‘how are you?’ because mum knows (and mums always know) that if there’s a breakout or a rash it’s likely stress or you’ve gone and done something out of the ordinary and that warrants an explanation. So, don’t even think about getting away with something, your skin will give you away in seconds and if you take the time to dig a little deeper it sure does have a lot to tell you.