From Train Wreck to Horror Movie: The Saga of My Face

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WARNING: If you cannot handle pictures of gross peeling skin, you should not read this post nor consider a medical career.

At first, people asked me if I got a sunburn or if I was having an allergic reaction. There was also the classic, “What happened to your face?!” This question was often accompanied by varying looks of horror and amazement.

Days 14 and 15 ( the last day and the first day of healing) I had some stinging and irritation. A friend mentioned coconut oil to me.

I am not a coconut oil fanatic, but I did have a bit languishing in the back of my pantry. I tried a bit on my chin first and felt almost instant relief. I spread it all over my face and was so grateful for the reprieve.

Days 18 and 19 were the worst. Day 18 I woke up to a face that was really stiff. It hurt to eat, talk, laugh. Those two days I struggled with fatigue and discouragement.

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Day 19 was the worst day of all. I woke up to a very scary face that was extraordinarily stiff, dry, cracking, peeling, and painful.

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I globbed petroleum jelly on it. That made it feel better, but it looked really gross as you can see in the above picture.

I took some acetaminophen. The skin softened and it didn’t hurt so much, until it did. I took another about 4 hours later.

Now my face hurt when I talked and was shiny with either petroleum jelly(for stiffness) or coconut oil(for itching or irritation). I was tired too. Opening my mouth to eat was painful, as was chewing.

Day 19 was the day I cried.

I felt guilty for feeling sorry for myself, knowing that there are so many others who have it far worse, are dealing with more serious conditions, and so there was crying and then guilt for crying.

I had been able to handle the hideousness of it, was prepared for the looks and tactless comments, but that day especially was rough.

I took pictures, but didn’t know if I would ever share them. My face was gross. I looked diseased.

I regretted every beach trip, every car wash without sunscreen; this was what my vanity had gotten me. I had nobody to blame but myself. My mom had warned me, my fair-skinned aunt had encouraged me to care of my skin, sunscreen had been available to me, but I had stubbornly persisted in my quest for a tan.

My dermatologist’s nurse called me back on Day 19. She reassured me that the brown drying skin was normal, the pain was normal, and that she would put some face cream samples(Biafine) at the front desk for me.

I was started to gently rub off the petroleum jelly-softened skin. I’m not sure if I was supposed to do that, but taking a soft warm wet washcloth and very softly rubbing off some of the nastiness felt so good to my face.

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I was careful to remove what came off easily, and I started feeling relief from the stiffness. I looked marginally better too. I think that as the dead areas dried, they stiffened, causing additional discomfort and itching.

Once the brown crusty skin was being removed, the new red skin underneath was seen.  Now I was going back to looking like a sunburned person, rather than a quarantine candidate.

Day 20 was better, and I began to see improvement. I wasn’t waking up and and wondering what new horrors I was going to see; I was eager to see what improvement had occurred during the night.

If I have to do the fluorouracil treatment again, this is what I want to remember:

Use Coconut oil for itching and irritation, Vaseline for stiffness and dryness.

Use Coconut oil for itching and irritation, Vaseline for stiffness and dryness.

Use Coconut oil for itching and irritation, Vaseline for stiffness and dryness.

I alternated those two during the healing phase, depending on my most pressing discomfort. I added the Biafine the last few days, sometimes dabbing it on because rubbing it in on some parts just hurt too much. The Biafine seemed to help my face stay soft through the night too.

I’m no fashionista, but I do have some cosmetic tips for the treatment and healing phases. 🙂

  1. Always wear a shade of lipstick darker that your spots.
  2. You can wear some powder at the beginning to extend your “normal” appearance.
  3. Mascara, eyeliner, and eye shadow may draw some attention from your face. Be sure to gently powder under your eyes so your mascara doesn’t get dissolved by whatever you’re using to soften your face.
  4. Avoid wearing pink or red near your face, as that seems to draw more attention to the redness.
  5. No matter what you do, people will look and stare and utter tactless comments. Remember you will not always look this way. I knew these types of comments would come and that I would look pretty bad, so the comments didn’t really bother me.

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The healing is almost complete now.

I applied the cream for 14 days, and it took about 14 days to return to looking human again. The original 4 spots that concerned me are still a bit pink to me, but they are the same texture as the rest of my skin, not rough and sensitive as they had been. I think they were thicker than the other spots, and so the new skin is deeper and newer.

I share my story and experience so that if I have to do this treatment again, I can look back at what worked for me, what was normal, and to give myself hope that I will recover.

I also know that many of my readers may need to visit a dermatologist. I figured I would have to go at some point, but I didn’t think I had been out in the sun enough to cause much damage, but if I had, I figured I wouldn’t have problems for another 20 years. It was my makeup that sent me to a dermatologist; maybe my story will be what turns your nagging suspicions into reluctant action.

If you have rough sensitive pink spots, please go. It is my dermatologist’s hope (and mine!) that doing this treatment has prevented those spots from turning into something worse.

Waiting will not make the answer better.

I am still going to enjoy my garden, and work on reclaiming it from the neglect of the past few weeks, but this time I will be much more cognizant of my sun exposure. If I’m not working in the shade, I need to be wearing SPF 30 or higher and a hat.

I’ll let you in on some of my summer garden plans soon, but for now I’m enjoying getting my face back.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional at all, so follow the advice of your doctor or dermatologist, not the advice of some random lady you found on the internet(me)!

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7 responses »

  1. Thanks for sharing your ordeal. I too am fair skinned and am also freckled. I’ve been better about hats and wearing sunscreen on my face in the last 10 years but I always slack about putting stuff on my hands and arms. Time to be more proactive!

    • Yes, please learn from my experience. If you have any spots that are causing you concern, a quick dermatologist visit can either get you some peace of mind or hopefully early treatment.

  2. That’s rough! At least you have a good routine down now though, so if you have to do the medication again you know what works.

    And I will say that I’ve thought about your last post a lot since you wrote it. I’m not nearly as pale as you are, but since moving down to Florida I’ve had some pretty bad burns. You’ve made me think a lot about needing to put on sunscreen when I’m going outside, and I’ve incorporated an SPF face lotion into my makeup routine. Thanks for sharing your experiences. You’re awesome 🙂

  3. Pingback: Touchablue Berry Farm: U-Pick Blueberries $1/lb | Coffee to Compost

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