Los Angeles-based blogger Christina Patrice has been fascinated by all things hair since she was in middle school. Throughout adolescence she would visit the beauty shop with an observant eye, asking questions and scrutinizing the many tools and methods available for styling and managing hair. “I feel like I missed my calling to go to cosmetology school,” she says.
Patrice’s interests led to years of personal experimentation with hair tools, colors, and textures, eventually leaving her as an adult with damaged, thinning hair that had started “falling out in gobs.” “I was flat-ironing my hair, 450 degrees, like clockwork every week,” she says. “I would be in the shower going, What the heck is going on? Why is my hair falling out? I laugh at it now. You can’t melt your hair and expect it to stay on your head.”
You can’t melt your hair and expect it to stay on your head.
A self-professed product junkie and recovering flat-iron addict, Patrice, now 31, began her blog The Mane Objective four years ago to document the adventures and occasional misadventures along her journey to healthy hair. An extensive resource of practical tips, product reviews, photos, and videos for women transitioning to and caring for natural hair, Patrice’s blog has since reached nearly three million pageviews. She is also a contributing writer to Black Girl with Long Hair and NaturallyCurly.com.
For more than 15 years, Patrice has also been dealing with the recurring skin condition psoriasis. An autoimmune disease, psoriasis is a rapid overproduction of skin cells that manifests as itchy, stinging rashes and scaly patches that can appear anywhere on a person’s body, most often the scalp. Psoriasis has no cure and is especially difficult to combat because of its unpredictable nature, its laundry list of triggers, and its tendency to resist treatments that previously had been effective.
Physically, psoriasis can lead to permanent scarring, hair loss, and infection. But the condition can also take an emotional toll, a reality Patrice learned firsthand when the disease first manifested across the length of her body in her sophomore year of high school. Given her experiences, Patrice could easily have chosen to hide her condition from her blog audience – which she did initially. But over time she chose to open up about the condition and make it a part of her blogging focus. Here, Patrice discusses with Folks the realities of living with psoriasis, how it has shaped her self and her writing, and why she ultimately chose to focus the public spotlight, rather than the Photoshop brush, on her condition.
There’s no such thing as a good time to experience psoriasis, but you first experienced it at one of the worst times in a person’s life, so let’s begin there.
Oh my god. [laughs] Yes, in high school. It was so bad. You’re trying to fit in with the cool kids and trying to be cute and get the boy you like to like you back. Everyone and everything’s so shallow. Plus, my parents were really adamant about academic success. So the stress of trying to be a high-school kid that’s not an outcast, plus maintain a 3.8 to 4.0 GPA average. It was a lot.
I think it was the second week of my sophomore year of high school, and it seemed like it came out of nowhere. I was freaking out. My parents were freaking out. No one in my family had ever seen or dealt with anything like psoriasis.
The first thing [the doctors] did was give me steroid creams. I was supposed to alternate and not use one on my face because it was too strong, but I did it anyway. Because even if I had to wear long sleeves and long pants for the rest of my life, I didn’t want it on my face. I can’t cover my face.
My mom would drive me two or three times a week to get UV therapy treatments, and the first couple of weeks, I sunburned the hell out of myself. My thought as a high-schooler was, as soon as I can fix my skin, I’ll be normal again. I had no concept of standing too closely to the UV light or cranking it up to the max time. And sure enough, I was sunburned from head to toe. There were some days where all I could do after school was lay on my bed because if I moved, it hurt.
Psoriasis of that magnitude is not very common, and to this day we still don’t know what the trigger or the onset point was. But I live in Los Angeles. It’s fairly sunny year round. So imagine 90-degree weather, and I’m going to school in pants and a hoodie, with a headband on and the hood on, covering myself as much as I could because it was such an embarrassing thing for me. Thankfully I had a good support system of friends who didn’t care what I looked like. But it was an incredibly difficult time to navigate between social and peer pressure and this condition.
How did it manifest? Did you wake up one day, and you’re covered in head-to-toe psoriasis?
It seemed like it. If I look back on it a little more critically, in the days and weeks leading up to it, I would see a little small rash here, a little small rash there. But I thought it was maybe an allergic reaction to laundry detergent or something. Nothing drastic or uncommon. But it seemed like one day I woke up, and it was probably from my mid-calf or my ankle, all the way up. My legs, my stomach, my back, my arms, my butt, my face — literally everywhere. The onset was pretty severe. Honestly it hasn’t been that bad since. High school — that first initial period — that was the worst it has ever been.
You’ve written that because of the psoriasis you don’t have a lot of photos from that year in high school. How come?
I don’t, because I was just so embarrassed. It was an insecurity thing. At the time I was like, I don’t want to be seen like this. Even as an adult, it’s still taken some time to be comfortable in my skin, so to speak.
I find with my own skin conditions, even though we’re not talking about something lethal or generally disabling, it completely changes your outlook and your sense of self.
Yes, and there’s this stigma around it. Because people don’t understand. Whenever they see something like a visible ailment on your body, they assume that it’s contagious.
I’m now at a point as an adult that it doesn’t really faze or bother me, but it does still get me sometimes when it’s super visible. I’ve worked to do what I can to mitigate and minimize the visible impact of psoriasis on myself, but at the same time, I’m comfortable knowing this is something that’s going to be with me for the rest of my life.
Whenever [people] see something like a visible ailment on your body, they assume that it’s contagious.
Have you encountered situations in which you’ve faced a stigma as a result of your psoriasis?
Absolutely. High school was definitely a touchy situation. There’s always that one — I want to say jackass — There’s always one. It can range, anything from Euuw, what’s that? to, Don’t touch me, I don’t want what you have. There’s always the looky-loos, the people that are going to look and turn their nose up at you. Whatever. I very much have this mindset now that if you don’t pay my bills, I don’t care about your opinion. [laughs] So it doesn’t faze me so much as an adult.
There have also been times, especially with smaller children. Smaller children don’t really have a sense of what to say and what not to say. For about a year and a half, almost two years, I worked in a special needs school, and I had to find different ways to explain it without getting sensitive or offended. That taught me some lessons there.
Whenever I sit down to get a haircut, I’m always finding that the first thing out of my mouth is almost an apology to the hair stylist.
Yeah, that’s part of the reason why I honestly curtailed going to get my hair done professionally. Now I wear my hair in its curly state, so I have a particular stylist that I go to. It’s an hour and a half drive out into Wine Country, but she knows my hair, she knows my condition, she knows what’s up. But I’ve had some stylists… It was really embarrassing when a stylist actually went to get gloves to touch my scalp. I was like, This is not contagious. I promise it’s not going to jump from behind my ear onto your pinky finger. That was my last time going to that particular stylist.
Much like you, I do find when I sit in the chair, especially if it was a new stylist, I’d literally have an elevator pitch for my scalp, this whole rundown of things I’ve got to say to them.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge of living with psoriasis?
The temperamental nature of it. You can go to bed with everything okay and wake up with a patch on your cheek. You have no idea when it’s coming. You can do everything from homeopathic to prescription medicines, and you still never know what’s going to happen. And there’s so many different triggers internally and externally that can cause an outbreak that it’s almost impossible to predict. I used to be able to say it gets better in the summer and worse in the winter. Then last year it was terrible in the summer and in the winter.
And then there’s the stress trigger, which happens at the worst possible time, which creates more stress.
That is the worst. I’ve done posts on my blog about managing psoriasis, and that’s always my number one tip. And it’s the crappiest tip. [laughs] Because let’s face it, there’s really no solid stress management technique. If that was the case, people would be a lot happier than they are. And all of the things that we can think of to do for stress management are temporary. They’re fleeting. For example, if meditation is part of your stress management techniques, and you meditate for half an hour every morning. You are good until 11 o’clock, and then somebody says the wrong thing to you, and you snap, and it’s all over.
What motivated you to write about your psoriasis publicly? Were you originally hesitant to do so?
I was. I was sitting kinda firmly in a niche as a healthy hair/curly hair blogger. I’m really active on Instagram and Facebook, and now Snapchat. But social media is the breeding ground for unsolicited opinions and advice. I would post pictures, and there were a couple of different types of responses. Some of them I didn’t mind and would genuinely ask what it was. But the other type I would get was, “You know, if you just drink water and take an alkaline vegan diet and balance your chakras…” People would say the most random stuff, and it would frustrate me. So I was like, You know what? Let me go ahead and address it.
My blogging has always been rooted in honesty, transparency, and helping. So when the psoriasis stuff started coming up, it was almost a no-brainer.
My blogging has always been rooted in honesty, transparency, and helping. So when the psoriasis stuff started coming up, it was almost a no-brainer. Because if I can open up and be transparent about this, it can potentially help somebody and help mitigate them feeling what I felt, which is that embarrassed, apologetic, having-to-explain-myself kind of feeling. So I peeled the layers all the way back, and went from everything, from how to manage it on your scalp to total wellness and managing it from a more holistic perspective, how it’s impacted me, and sharing my story.
I didn’t see a lot of bloggers at the time talking about specific conditions that they have, especially on social media. Social media is always painted as people’s highlight reels. Their biggest triumphs, their successes, their most fabulous angles, their best everything. But sometimes you have to get real and say, Hey, I’m not perfect. I have issues. And this is one that I’ve been grappling with for half my life.
It also forced me to be more upfront and more honest, especially with highly visual platforms like Instagram. At some points I would Photoshop the psoriasis out of the picture to make myself feel better. It was a really interesting time. I can actually go back and find those photos, and I’m like, That’s a terrible Photoshop job. But nonetheless, it made me feel better. Now I don’t. I color correct, which means if my hair is black, my hair shows up as black. If my hair’s red, I want it to be the same red like in real life. But I don’t retouch, and I’m not doctoring it to remove the psoriasis. Because at this point, why hide?
I was going to ask what ultimately in writing about hair and personal beauty topics do you hope to accomplish, but it sounds like it’s less aesthetics-oriented and more about educating people and helping them solve problems.
That’s always going to be my intention. I’m not one of your typical brand influencers, if you will. A lot of people will go out in the middle of the street, take gorgeous photos, and people throw money at them. That’s never really been my personality. In my day-to-day life, in whatever phase in my life that I’ve been in, something has always kept me connected to helping people. My blog has been my resource to do that. There’s enough noise out here already. You’re being marketed to at every turn. It’s not to say that I don’t take sponsored content opportunities because I do. I can’t pay my car note with conditioner. But I still have to maintain that balance. At the end of the day, I have to offer something of value that’s going to help someone.
I’m not one of your typical brand influencers, if you will.
How have your experiences with psoriasis influenced your approach to hair and beauty topics?
I would say it has made me cognizant and more aware. Because I have psoriasis, I’m very aware of the things and ingredients that I try to avoid, like the super-drying sulfates or artificial fragrances. There are some brands I have to turn down because there’s no way that I can paint their company in a positive light knowing the things that I know. I can’t have the ingredient list be water, fragrance, sulfate, and then be like, This product is amazing! I’ve written 52 articles speaking against that exact thing. So interestingly enough, it kind of forces a checks-and-balances integrity kind of thing.
It also focuses me away from trying to compete on the same level as far as aesthetics as everyone else. The blogosphere is very competitive, and people are always trying to pick the most artistically inspired photo or have the perfect selfie. But that’s not my walk. I’ve never been that kind of person. I get to focus more on the substance, if you will, which has worked for me in the past four years that I’ve been blogging. That, if anything, informs it. I used to try to Photoshop my pictures to take out the psoriasis, and now I’ve arrived at a point where it’s a part of who I am. And people see me as a resource for that particular information.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.