An arsenal of cosmetics helped Liz Salemme, 24, of Riverdale, N.J., keep her psoriasis covered up. But it took months to get a correct diagnosis and the right treatment, and all that stress just made her skin condition worse
When Liz finally got a correct diagnosis, the treatment cleared her psoriasis.

When Liz finally got a correct diagnosis, the treatment cleared her psoriasis.(ELIZABETH SALEMME)When I'd get a bad acne breakout in my teens, I'd joke that my skin was taking over my life. Little did I know that a few years later, it would actually come close to doing just that.

In 2002 I left home to start my freshman year at college. On Halloween, I came down with strep throat. I didn't want to spend the weekend cooped up in my dorm room, so I went out anyway.

A few days later, I woke up with dry spots all over the undersides of my forearms. They were pretty small—I thought it was dry skin or something strange I'd picked up in the communal showers. I put lotion on it and figured it would go away. But it didn't. The nurse practitioner at campus services told me I was probably allergic to something—my detergent, or maybe the water in the washing machines.

Soon it spread to my upper arms, chest, and back. I thought it was acne, but pimple medication made it much worse. Every morning I'd wake up, hoping it would have disappeared overnight. But it was always worse. I confided in my friends about how upset it was making me. They told me it didn't look that bad, but I knew they were just being nice.

I was misdiagnosed with a flesh-eating bacteria
When I went home for Thanksgiving, my parents panicked—that's how bad I looked. My mother took me straight to a doctor, who said I had a flesh-eating bacteria. She explained that I could have contracted it when I drank alcohol while sick with strep. She mentioned the word psoriasis in passing, but I was so fixated on the flesh-eating bacteria that I didn't second-guess her diagnosis. It did look like something was attacking my face.

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I went back to finish the semester with a prescription for cortisone cream and an antibiotic. But two weeks later, nothing had changed. No matter what I did, it just kept getting worse. I'd slather thick lotion all over my body every night, and that helped to a degree. In the morning I'd spend 30 minutes in front of the bathroom mirror, covering my face with foundation.

I never used to wear a lot of makeup, and now I was having to set my alarm extra early so I could cover myself up before I left for class. I was constantly paranoid that my classmates were staring at me, so all of the stress from that—on top of my academic worries like final exams—was taking its toll. And the more stressed I got, the worse my skin became.

Next Page: I made an appointment with a dermatologist [ pagebreak ]I referred myself to a dermatologist
At Christmas vacation, I went back to the doctor. She suggested I use a lot of Eucerin and Aquaphor. She mentioned the word psoriasis again in passing, but didn't press the issue. I googled the word when I got home, but none of the photos I saw looked like what I had.

I don't know why I didn't go to a dermatologist to begin with—perhaps because my doctor didn't seem concerned. But the condition was finally taking over my whole life, and I made an appointment with a dermatologist.

The dermatologist said he hadn't really seen anything like it before, and even he flirted with the flesh-eating bacteria idea. In hindsight, I think a possible reason I wasn't getting the right diagnosis was that I was putting on so much lotion that my skin didn't have the classic psoriasis scaly look. And I was covering it up with so much makeup, even when I went to the doctor.

But finally the dermatologist decided it was psoriasis and prescribed Olux Foam, a strong medication that literally melts into the top layer of your skin. After a few days of using it, the scales started to disappear, little by little. But I wasn't back to normal until March. Thankfully, I have stayed pretty much clear since then.

I learned to listen to myself
All those months, my skin was all I could think about, yet my doctor made me feel like it wasn't a big deal. I felt like I couldnt really talk to anyone about it because I didnt want to sound like a hypochondriac. No one understood how bad it was or how desperately I wanted it to go away.

Psoriasis is not uncommon, and it should never have taken so long to get my case properly diagnosed. The whole experience made me really paranoid. And one important thing it taught me is that if I ever have a problem again, I need to go directly to a specialist.