Written on October 21, 2013 at 9:00 am , by Molly Ritterbeck
You probably know Stacy London as the vivacious stylist on TLC’s hit show, What Not to Wear (the series finale aired this past Friday). But what you may not know is what drew London to the fashion industry in the first place. Turns out, she’s been battling a chronic autoimmune and skin disease—psoriasis—for the majority of her life and found comfort in sparkly, shiny pieces. Here, she opens up about her struggles with psoriasis and the ways in which she’s helping others also affected by it with the “Uncover Your Confidence” campaign, which features educational resources, style advice and a dermatologist finder for the estimated 7.5 million American men and women living with psoriasis. Bonus: she spills on her best beauty tips and recent hair change, too.
Tell us about your experience with psoriasis and how it’s affected your life?
“I was diagnosed when I was four, so it’s been in my life my whole life. As much as people know me for something completely different, it is very much a part of my identity. You know, the heartbreak of psoriasis is a well-known thing. Being diagnosed at the age of four, I really didn’t understand what was happening. I just knew there was something wrong with me because I had these bumps on the back of my ears. So it started as something that made me feel weird and certainly made me feel different than other kids. That is definitely something I started to internalize very early. As I got older, my skin got worse and by the time I was 11, I was basically covered from the neck down in red scales and it was a much harder time because at that age, I was conscious of what I looked like. I had very severe scalp psoriasis so I had to cut off all my hair. So here I was, a little girl with a crew cut wearing turtlenecks and long corduroy pants even in the summer just to hide. That’s when that feeling of really being different and having children and adults react badly to me, that I really started to suffer from it. You know psoriasis is an autoimmune disease. It takes consistent and constant management but also, it’s emotionally devastating. I think that definitely drew me to fashion. Because, feeling sort of like a monster, I wanted all things pretty and sparkly and shiny and perfect and what better place than fashion to find that? I can say now, I don’t think I thought that consciously at the time. It’s sort of a compensatory desire that I didn’t feel good about myself and my self esteem was very low that I gravitated to something that I thought would certainly make me feel better. But when I wrote about psoriasis in my book, the biggest thing for me and that I really empathize with is that you kind of give up when you have psoriasis and the idea that you are ruled by a disease rather than you having control over it. The idea specifically was to manifest this concept of empowerment by creating a style guide that is specific to people who may not care about showing off their psoriasis or may be looking to cover up their skin but to feel relevant and not necessarily trendy but modern and feel like they’re participating in the same fashion trends that other people are. So it’s a great topical guide to what’s going on with an eye on making sure you’re paying attention to materials that could irritate your skin or the length of a skirt that may be more appropriate if you want to cover your leg a little bit more; things through the lense of someone who has experienced psoriasis themselves and wanted style, not just to hide in but to feel beautiful in. Because I think I spent my childhood hiding in turtlenecks and long corduroys and really I wish I had known to use style to feel better not just as armor.”
Tell us more about the “Uncover Your Confidence” campaign?
“It consists of the style guide, one, but it also consists of the dermatologist finder which is about taking control. You know I have been in the care of many dermatologists for over 40 years and it took me a long time to realize that not all dermatologists specialize in psoriasis. Psoriasis is a skin disease and an autoimmune disease. So it’s a much more complex situation. Part of getting the right kind of treatment is to see the right kind of doctor and dermatologist specifically. So one of the things we wanted to do was to help people find the right kind of dermatologist. Part of that idea is that we are asking you instead of learning helplessness, to learn hope and to embrace the idea that just because you may think somebody couldn’t help you the first time you went to visit a dermatologist, that doesn’t mean you saw the right one. The same thing with thinking about your style, like you can’t wear black because God forbid you have scalp psoriasis and it’s going to look like a snow storm hit your shoulders. The campaign offers ways in which to deal with these kinds of things instead of feeling like you have to give up; accepting the situation and then building creatively both your style and, in the process, creating more self-confidence.
Switching gears to beauty. How has the disease affected your beauty routine?
“It’s funny, you know I talk about covering up, and beauty plays such a significant part. It’s kind of ironic because you feel anything but beautiful with psoriasis. For me, one of the things I learned very early on is that I needed to get some sun. As long as I got a little bit of sun, it really improved my skin and my mood. I found that moisturizing creams were not as good as oils. Oils absorb into the skin better, especially when you’ve got really, really dried plaques that can crack and bleed. The other thing is just moisture, period. In the winter, especially when you have dry heat, humidifiers have been essential to me. It’s super important. Since it’s an autoimmune disease, there are other things that you can do just besides the moisture. You need to make sure you’re getting enough sleep, that you’re eating properly; you need to exercise; you need to think holistically about your whole body.”
Do you have beauty products that help you feel confident when you’re having a bad day?
“Two favorites: Antonia Burrell Natural Glow Cleansing Oil ($102, beautyhabit.com) and Radiant Light Serum ($98, beautyhabit.com). If I look super ruddy or flaky, it has worked miracles for me in terms of evening my skintone. The other thing I think is really important with psoriasis is it gets very red. So I recommend using a green tinted concealer to cut the red and then put your foundation over it. I find if I wear anything too orange-y, like an orange-y red lip, that makes my skin look even redder so I tend to go for blue-red tones if I’m going for a red lip. I will say at the moment I’ve been jonesing for By Terry lipsticks (prices vary, beautybar.com). The colors are so saturated and glorious. And I do love Giorgio Armani Blushing Fabric Liquid Blush ($39, giorgioarmanibeauty.com) in the peach shade, #3. It makes you look like your glowing from the outside in.”
You’ve recently made a major hair change, debuting lighter ends. Can we discuss?
“I cannot believe that this has taken hold like it has! I mean, do people know that Syria is happening? I’ve gotten really lovely notes like ‘Bravo!’ and then all these people are like, ‘What’s wrong with you? You’re going through a mid-life crisis.’ I’m telling you right here, right now, you have the exclusive: one, that picture is an Instagram picture. If you’ve heard, there are filters so it looks a little crazier in that picture than it actually is. Number two, I am having a mid-life renaissance and that is why I’m like, ‘It’s time for a change, why not?’”