LeAnn Rimes, 26, is a two-time Grammy Award winning singer and actress who has struggled with psoriasis since age 2. She became famous at 13 with her 1996 breakthrough single, "Blue," and has gone on to sell more than 37 million albums. Though she first kept her psoriasis under wraps, today Rimes is a spokesperson for StopHiding.org, a campaign sponsored by the American Academy of Dermatology and the National Psoriasis Foundation. In December 2008, Rimes spoke with Health.com about the lifelong battle shes winning against a skin condition that affects nearly seven million Americans.
Q: How long have you had psoriasis?
A: I was diagnosed with psoriasis when I was 2. I had a really bad bout with strep throat, and that's when I first had patches break out on my scalp. It's been an ongoing battle my whole life. I've been able to find a good dermatologist and get it under control. I've been clear for about five years now, which is pretty amazing, because when I was about 6, psoriasis covered 80% of my body.
Q: What was it like to have a skin condition as a child?
A: It felt very isolating. I was constantly in the doctor's office. My mom had to get me out of school to go to treatments. Kids didn't want to hang out with me or touch me. I remember being called "scaly girl," and never ever wanting to go out in a bathing suit.
Next Page: How psoriasis impacted her music career
[ pagebreak ] Q: Did your psoriasis make it difficult to break into the music business?
A: No, my parents were great about helping me learn how to take care of it myself and how to cover it up. I would wear a pair of panty hose onstage to cover up the scales on my legs, so no one would see them.
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Q: So you kept it a secret for a long time?
A: Yeah, for so long. On the red carpet I never wore short dresses; I would always wear long dresses or pants. My legs were my worst problem. I recently did a magazine shoot in a bikini. I never ever thought I would do that in my entire life. I never wanted to be seen in onemy dad had to drag me to the pool as a kidand it was one of the highlights of my life to think, Oh my god, I can't believe that's me. To feel vibrant, to feel like a woman, to want to show off that I have clear skin, it's the happiest day of my life.
Q: What gave you the confidence to come out?
A: Once I found a great dermatologist, I felt like the disease wasn't controlling me anymore; I was controlling it. I started really taking care of myself, eating healthfully, and working out. I found great medication and a great doctor and began really living a healthy lifestyle. And once I saw the change in my life and my skin, I felt I had a responsibility to spread the word that there is help. It was something that was so negative in my life for so long; this is just a way to spin it into a positive for me and a lot of other people.
A: You know, it's really hard. When my husband and I first met, my whole stomach was covered, and in the first 15 minutes that I met him, I told him, "I have this thing called psoriasis." He said, "Oh, one of my best friends actually has that." I got really lucky with someone who knew what it was. But number one, if you find the right person, they will accept you no matter what. Number two, you have to have the confidence within yourself to say, "This is who I am." You can't love someone else without being able to love yourself. That's where it starts, and if it's the right person, they'll get it. If not, it tells you it's time to move on.
Next Page: Therapy helped her cope
[ pagebreak ] Q: Did you ever have counseling to deal with the emotional impact of psoriasis?
A: Absolutely. I've gone to therapy and dealt with it, because it is traumatizing, especially when you are a child going through it. Kids pick on you, and to not feel like you are a part of anything, you just feel alone. I'm a firm believer in having someone to talk to who's not a part of your everyday life. It definitely helped.
It has been incredibly traumatizing, it has taken a mental toll on me, but it is something that I am getting through day by day. I am slowly, slowly coming out of the hole that it puts you in.
Q: Is stress a trigger for you? How do you handle such a stressful job?
A: Stress is a huge trigger for me, and it is definitely hard. The beginning of my career was a whirlwind, and I went through lawsuits with my parents and my record label—that was a really tough time for me. Any kind of major stress like that instantly brings on a flare-up.
At the first sign of anything on my body, I know that I am too stressed out. I do yoga. I work out. I eat right. I try not to put too much on my plate and to get out and have some fun. The main thing is having friends and a great support group around me that I know loves me for me. Being physically active has been a huge help in my stress level.
Q: How long did it take you to find a treatment that worked?
A: Twenty-two years. I tried everything from topicals to orals to injectionsall different things. The craziest treatment I did was one where they put coal tar all over your body and wrap you in plastic. I would have panic attacks; it became very claustrophobic.
Something would work for a while, and then it would wear off and I would break out again. Different treatments work for different people, so I think the most important thing is trial and error. But there are so many more things available than when I was a child.
Next Page: LeAnn's advice for coping with psoriasis
[ pagebreak ] Q: What's the biggest piece of advice you have for people with psoriasis?
A: Find a dermatologist who you're comfortable withsomeone who's willing to try different things with you and is looking out for your overall health. And then I tell people to go through a dermatologist to find great support groups.
At StopHiding.org, we are trying to educate not only people who have it, but also the general public on what the disease is. A lot of people who have it don't get treated because they think it's just a skin disorder. But psoriasis is linked to so many different things: depression, obesity, heart disease, psoriatic arthritis. So we are trying to help people to get a handle on it before it gets out of control.
Q: Have any fans talked to you about their psoriasis?
A: The best part of the whole thing is being able to bond on a completely different level with fans. They come up to me all the time, and say, "Thank you for speaking out about it." People who aren't even fans of mine are all of a sudden into my music, because they have a deep connection with me through something else. Not once have I regretted talking about it.
Q: Now that everyone knows about it, are you worried about having a breakout?
A: People expect you to always be pretty and womanly, and I always think, "Oh god, what happens if I break out again?" But I know I will. This is not going to last forever. I think about having kids and what hormones can do to psoriasis. I'm definitely going to have to deal with it then. I've been talking about it, so I can't hide it anymore; the great thing is that people know, so now I feel like I don't have to. It's a huge relief.
Q: What's next for you?
A: I just finished shooting a movie called Northern Lights in Calgary. It's a Nora Roberts book that Lifetime is turning into a film, and I started working on a new record in the studio recently. Other than that, I am getting ready for the holidays and am just excited to be at home.
LeAnn's skin-care routine
- Don't take long, hot baths.
- Use fragrance-free lotion.
- Get 20 minutes of unprotected sun every day.
- Wear sunscreen any other time you are in the sun.