When Zainab Danjuma engages with her YouTube audience, her face looks flawless and radiant, but her bright smile and her meticulous makeup hide a serious skin condition: eczema.
“Most girls see makeup as an art, or an expression or a hobby, but to me, makeup is a cover-up,” Danjuma tells her viewers. The 28-year-old science technician at a college in London, where she lives, seems fearless as she shares some of the more vexing and disturbing experiences she has been through, such as having friends call her “reptile lips” or her annoyance when dealing with doctors who don’t seem to listen.
But behind her easy demeanor is a woman who struggles with the mental and physical pain of her skin condition, including the impact it has on her self-confidence.
Danjuma recently launched her YouTube Channel as a way to vent and discuss some of the things on her mind, and her unique energy and unpretentious vibe have gained her a steady stream of viewers. She is open and honest as she discusses issues such as eczema and allergies, but also what it’s like to come from a bi-racial family (her mother is Filipino and her father is from Ghana).
Her skin is never far from her mind. In one recent post, Danjuma offers an update focusing on Topical Steroid Addiction, a condition where the skin may become addicted to topical steroids after long-term, repeated use. After spending a lifetime using topical steroids, she decided to begin the withdrawal process, which is considered controversial by some dermatologists, and can take weeks, months, or even years to complete. So far, the process has been painful, but she hopes she is seeing progress.
Danjuma is still trying to figure out who she is, and she is working on self-acceptance, including accepting eczema as part of her life. Her YouTube channel has helped her along the way, and she’s hoping to do the same for others.
HealthCentral: What led you to want to create a YouTube channel to discuss these issues and what kind of response have you gotten from viewers so far?
Zainab Danjuma: I always had a camera on throughout my life, but I’ve always behind it. You would never see me because I was never brave enough to stand in front of it. I’m shy. Even now, when I record my videos, there can be no one in the room but me.
I started off my channel wanting to talk about my hair. I used to really hate my curly hair and I used to really damage it by straightening it. Now I love my hair and I can’t imagine my life without my curls. But I always knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to make a video about eczema because that’s something I’ve been dealing with my whole life.
So far the response I’ve gotten is overwhelming. The two videos, the ones that I knew would be the hardest, most honest and least prettiest films to make, have received the most comments. I honestly thought no one would be interested in my allergies/eczema/TSW videos, simply because they are long, I moan a lot in them and they display my flaws. But it’s been quite the opposite. I think the eczema community is amazing and just so understanding, humble and supportive and as crazy as it sounds, I’m glad to be part of it!
HC: You often talk about not feeling confident in your looks or struggling with self-esteem, yet from the other side of the camera you seem beautiful and vivacious. What are some of the self-confidence issues that you struggle with?
ZD: I have periods of time where I feel good. This period right now, it’s very low. I know people who see my YouTube video may not be able to see how bad my skin is. On the videos, you can’t see how my skin is flaky and breaking. But you have to remember, I’m wearing makeup, and I’m using a camera, which has a blur effect, and a ring light, and that all does a very good job of hiding it. But I know what’s there. I can feel it.
In the world we are living in now, with Instagram, everyone is so perfect, and that’s not real. And here I am, with cracked, itchy skin. That’s my reality. I think eczema has just made me a very shy person. I always worry how I look in public, I’m always very self-aware. It hasn’t stopped me from doing things, like activities. But I know I can’t compete with a lot of people. If there was a guy I liked, I would never go up to him.
HC: Tell me a little about the role that makeup plays in boosting your self-confidence. How does it help you get through flare-ups?
ZD: Makeup is an amazing invention. It hides a lot. It’s what let’s me walk out the door and feel OK. If I have really red skin and I just walked out the door, I would feel like everyone is looking at me and judging me.
Makeup is like that shot of courage, it’s a pick-me-up to help you face the world. It doesn’t have to be a whole face of makeup, it’s just that little touch that makes you feel girly and pretty.
HC: What would you like for others to understand about eczema and what it’s like to have it?
ZD: If you don’t understand, ask. But ask in a nice way, think before you speak. It’s the same if someone has a spot, you don’t just call them pizza face. I don’t want to feel like a spectacle. It’s embarrassing more than anything else.
Also, if I could stop scratching I would. But this is like an itch where it’s such a nice feeling that you can’t help but carry on. You almost have to go at it to get to the bottom of the itch. People can’t understand it. You don’t want to scratch, but it’s such an intense feeling. I think just this morning I clawed half of my neck. Afterwards you I think, “Why did I do that?” But I just had to.
HC: You have talked on several videos about feeling exasperated and frustrated with doctors who you felt did not listen to your concerns. What do you wish more doctors understood when you see them for eczema?
ZD: I just went to the doctor again when I was starting to go through TSW. I told him, “My skin is really bad but I don’t want to use steroids anymore. What can you do for me?” And he gave me a prescription for steroids. I just threw it in the bin.
The only way I ever feel like anyone hears me or understands what I’m going through is through YouTube videos. Unless I show my videos to a doctor, I don’t think anything will change. It’s what they’ve been taught in medical school. If you have itchy skin, use this cream. What I would like to know is what will really help? No doctor has ever talked to me about if diet can really affect your skin. Or about stress relievers or what I’m allergic to. I wish there was a way to understand and treat your skin beyond just, “You have bad skin, put cream on it.” And no one has ever checked on me to make sure I was using the (topical steroid cream) correctly.
Rachel Zohn is a mom, a wife, and a freelance writer who is striving to find the best way to juggle it all and maintain a sense of humor. She is a former newspaper reporter and a military spouse, so she’s familiar with the stress and anxiety that comes with constant moves and new communities. An insomniac married to an insomniac, she’s spent the last several years on a journey to help her youngest child tackle both migraines and sleep issues. She’s on Twitter at @rachelzohn.