The Skin I’m In

Shaista Iqbal opens up about dealing with facial pigmentation 

Posted: 10.09.12

Just like every other young woman, I couldn’t wait to go on my summer holidays. I had my favourite clothes and sun cream packed, and lots of gifts for the family. But it was that trip to Pakistan nine years ago, that unexpectedly changed my life.

After a few days of having fun and enjoying myself, my skin starting to peel which had never happened before. I put it down to the fact that I was wearing a lot of sun block and didn’t think anything of it. But when I got back to the UK I noticed that I had developed something on my skin underneath my eye.

Before I went away I had been using a skin bleaching cream and I thought I might have had a reaction to that. But then the little marks spread to all over my face and forehead. I was so scared and worried that I quickly made an appointment with my GP.
My doctor explained that I had developed skin pigmentation and it was most likely the result of me taking the contraceptive pill. When you are taking the pill it releases the hormone oestrogen, which stops your body from producing eggs. However, my body reacted badly to this hormone. I was so surprised but at the same time, relieved it wasn’t to do with spending so much time in the sun, or the bleaching cream I had used.
Luckily, my GP thought it could be treated and prevented from happening again, simply by changing to a pill that didn’t include oestrogen. He also suggested I use a cream called Retinova which is used on skin that has been damaged by long-term over exposure to the sun. However, this didn’t work and my doctor’s verdict was that there was nothing more that could be done.
Devastated, I didn’t know what to do or who to speak to. All my life I’d looked completely normal and all of a sudden I had turned into someone else. I refused to give up – I wanted my life back and was prepared to do anything. I went to countless private places and tried various different products, but they were all the same. To begin with, some of the products would work in the beginning but when my skin would be going through the healing process the pigmentation would show back up again. I was left feeling hopeless and defeated.
I took a break from the pill and thankfully my skin started to clear up. People were commenting on how glowing my skin looked and I started to think everything would be alright. I then discovered I was pregnant and the change in my hormones cleared up my skin temporarily.
But once I actually gave birth my skin condition returned and became even worse. Heartbroken I returned to my GP who explained to me that some women get unexpected side effects after giving birth that can last up to six months as a result of their body changing so much.
I listened to his advice but when nothing had improved after six months, I went back to hear him tell me nothing could be done to help me again. I continued to try every product under the sun and went to many private institutions, but still nothing was working. I was distraught and my confidence was shattered. Living with this skin condition was taking my life away from me.
Your face is such a huge part of yourself; it shows your identity to the rest of the world and is the first thing people look at. Imagine having to constantly cover it up and be so conscious that you can’t even answer your own door whenever someone arrives? That’s what was happening to me.
My life was changing on so many different levels, even my relationship with my partner was starting to diminish. He couldn’t bear to look at me and whenever my face would be peeling from the treatments I was undergoing, he would suddenly disappear. My self-esteem hit an all time low and I refused to leave the house for a whole year. I was going absolutely out of my mind. I kept thinking, ‘what have I done to deserve this? What sins have I committed?’
At the time my young son had various medical appointments and I regularly had to take him out. Before leaving the house I would cover my face in layers and layers of makeup which would take me a full two hours. It would be so obvious that I was wearing heavy foundation that people would actually stop and ask me why I was wearing so much makeup. Embarrassed to tell them the truth I would make up so many excuses ranging from me having a burn to having an allergic reaction to a product.
I then stopped going out in the sun, as my face couldn’t breathe with all the make-up I was wearing and I was scared that the rays would make my situation worse. As a result I ended up developing a vitamin D deficiency and was also diagnosed with depression.
I felt like I was getting nowhere in life and spiralled deeper and deeper into debt. I was even resorting to extreme methods to overcome my skin condition. A row with my partner led me to use bleach on my bare skin and I even sold pieces my jewellery to fund all the private treatments I was using.
The Asian community were very unsupportive; instead of talking to me and treating me like a normal person, they would stare and rudely point at my skin making me feel even more abnormal than I already felt. My children however were extremely supportive and were there for me every single step of the way. They were always looking out for new products and treatments for me to try.

One of the first products that was recommended to me was Amelan cream. It promised to lighten my skin and get rid of the pigmentation. When I first used it my skin peeled and it looked like it was working, but then as soon as my skin started healing my skin condition came back. This was the case with every single product and treatment I underwent.
I then read about Fraxel. There was a lot of attention behind this brand and because I was so desperate to try everything I took out a loan to cover the costs. I travelled up to Nottingham and met with one of the doctors who said to me that it would definitely work on my skin.
After undergoing the treatment and process and seeing no results, I went back to him to show him that it hadn’t worked. I couldn’t believe my ears when he completely denied everything he had previously said to me. I didn’t know who or what to believe anymore, but desperate to correct my condition I carried on searching for more treatments.
Nurses would always recommend I try peels, but they were pointless and a waste of time. They would always work to begin with but then when my skin would be healing, my skin condition would resurface and in some cases it would look worse than it originally had started out as.
Then while searching online I stumbled across The Harley Medical Group and a treatment they offered called Obagi Blue Skin Peel. I had nothing to lose so I thought I might as well give it a shot and add it to my list of failed treatments. When I arrived I was very apprehensive and felt like they were just another organisation trying to rob me of money I didn’t even have. The treatment consisted of two different packs of products and I was properly advised on how to use them and what to expect. I went away with the first pack which contained five different creams to be used at different times of the day.
As always I didn’t notice any difference on my skin with the first pack so I returned to complain. I was told to finish using the first pack and then I could move onto the second pack which they said would make the most difference. I was behaving in an extremely un-patient manner as I was so used to wasting my time and money on skincare products; I just wanted to see immediate results. When I moved onto the second pack I was overwhelmed with what finally happened.
Within days I could see visible results. One of the five products was a toner which was extremely effective; when I was using it I could see my bad skin washing away and the marks disappearing off my face. I was completely ecstatic as I wasn’t expecting any results. After nine years finally something was working properly.
I can’t explain how I felt when someone first complimented me on my new radiant skin. It was incredible as it had been so long since somebody had said anything nice to me about my skin.
The staff at The Harley Medical Group were so supportive and helpful. I was also given aftercare products to use which have been amazing. Not only has my face cleared up and gone back to normal, but my skin has become a lot more toned and firmer; an added plus to the treatment.
Needless to say my life changed immensely for the better. Slowly but surely as my skin improved I built back my confidence and self-esteem. I stopped having to wear such heavy amounts of makeup and was actually able to leave the house wearing just a touch of mineral foundation and slick of mascara, allowing my skin to breathe. My relationship with my partner improved and is now back on the mend, everything is gradually falling back into place and I couldn’t be happier.
My advice to other women would be to always read the leaflets that are inside any medications they are taking about the side effects. If I had paid more attention to the one which came with the pill I was originally taking I could have potentially avoided all the pain and misery I went through over the past nine years.

The Harley Medical Group has over 29 years of experience in skin rejuvenation treatments and is the UK’s leading cosmetic surgery providers. Having treated over 500,000 men and women since opening their first clinic in 1983, they have a range of non-surgical treatments to help combat a variety of skin conditions. For find out more call 0800 085 4984 or visit They also sell a range of skincare products aimed at tackling pigmentation including an Anti-Ageing Youth Serum and the Advanced Lightening Cream.

Interview by Kanchan Tooray

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