Karina Irby is a hugely successful fitness influencer and founder of popular bikini brand Moana. She's also the one in three Australians who will suffer from eczema in their lifetime. From being bullied throughout school to learning how to manage painful flare ups, the Queensland-native is now finally embracing the common skin condition, and she wants others sufferers too as well.
The 28-year-old has always preached authenticity to her 855k Instagram followers and has gained international attention for highlighting how some social media stars heavily photoshop their figures and "flaws". But Karina says it's taken her a long time to be comfortable enough to speak publicly about her eczema.
“I was so nervous to do it… if someone told me I was going to talk about my eczema ten years ago, I would’ve cried,” she tells Women's Health.
Karina says she's has faced a lot of stigma about her skin condition growing up. As a child, other parents would ask her mum if she was contagious, “Because they don’t understand that eczema isn’t a contagious thing."
As a teenager, the shaming got worse.
“I was quite timid, and embarrassed all the time… I got bullied a fair bit in school. I got called scabby legs and scabies and boys at school would run past and scratch my back and then run away."
She also remembers times where she went to extremes to hide the condition.
“I grew up a surfer girl and in winter when I didn’t have a full steamer wetsuit and my legs would show, sometimes I would put makeup on my legs and run into the ocean before people saw me,” she says.
Along with the emotional trauma that came with the bullying, Karina has also had to deal with the physical pain of eczema flare ups. The worst experience she remembers vividly.
"My parents found this herbal kind of thing that you know I could try, cause they’d tried everything else."
Instead of alleviating her eczema, “it flared up so bad,” she says. “I was at school and I couldn’t sit, I couldn’t sleep... it was the worst experience, I just cried.”
Since then she’s tried a multitude of other treatments – including having snake venom under her tongue – but Karina says that aside from particular ointments, nature is the best option these days.
“I find that sunshine and the ocean are actually really what fixes me up if I’m having a bad flare up,” she says. “If I can spend the day laying in the sun and getting salt water on those affected areas, then the next day it’s pretty much gone.”
Since speaking out about her experience with eczema, Karina has been overwhelmed with support from other sufferers.
“I’ve received so many personal messages from young girls and guys saying thank you because they’re getting bullied at school or that they don’t feel comfortable… it’s also adults getting frowned upon and rejected by society because they might be rashy or have some sores on their body.”
Karina wants to dispel the stigma surrounding eczema, and encourage others to feel more comfortable in their own skin, whatever it may look like.
“Even if you’re not picture perfect, everyone’s still amazing and beautiful… I hope to spread that a bit more.”
Eczema Awareness Week is May 14 to 20. If you'd like more information about this common skin condition or you're in need of support visit eczema.org.au or phone 1300 300 182.