As Quinn Perkins on the hit ABC show “Scandal,” Katie Lowes is thick-skinned, somewhat terrifying, and seemingly the least vulnerable of the “gladiators” who toil on behalf of Kerry Washington's crisis manager, Olivia Pope.
In real life, however, Lowes admits to having had many moments of embarrassment and humiliation.
Seven years ago, the actress, 34, was diagnosed with psoriasis, an auto-immune skin disorder that reportedly afflicts about 7.5 million people in the U.S. Symptoms include itchy, red and dry skin that can be painful. The condition can be concentrated on one part of the body, or spread over much of it.
Lowes said she kept her condition secret for years. Recently, however, she decided to step out publicly.
She has partnered with PsoriasisInsideStory.com, a forum of personal essays from people coping with psoriasis, part of a campaign launched by pharmaceutical company Janssen Biotech Inc. and the National Psoriasis Foundation.
"If there are over 7 million people who are struggling with this disease — and various levels of it — we wanted to find for them a way to use their voice, and to share the treatments that are working for them," said Lowes.
With her condition now largely under control, Lowes shares what has helped her, and how stress can be the biggest trigger.
How did you find out you had the condition?
It was a really big year in my life. I was newly engaged. I got “Scandal” and that was far and away the biggest deal that had happened in my career. Simultaneously, the stress from planning my wedding, and being in the public eye for the first time, combined with genetics -- I got the diagnosis that I had psoriasis, and I was completely embarrassed and ashamed. I felt like a lesser person.
What were your symptoms?
At first, it was irritated skin at the base of my neck. And then it started to get bad -- itchy and red. I tried every over-the-counter thing I could. Different shampoos and lotions. I refused to wear my hair up or wear dresses with low-cut backs. And then I realized that I was starting to make these choices without getting to the bottom of what was really going on.
I got the diagnosis that I had psoriasis, and I was completely embarrassed and ashamed. I felt like a lesser person.
— Katie Lowes
How did you cope with it in Hollywood where it's so much about how you look?
I'm lucky in that I have a more moderate case, and I could get away with hiding it. But it affected how I felt on the red carpet. I had to have some photos taken for our save-the-date card and had a horrible flare-up of flaking and irritated skin, painful on my neck and back. I had nothing to wear that looked good. I looked bad on the outside and I felt bad on the inside and I called off the shoot. That was the moment I said to myself: "I'm canceling these life moments because of this. I need to be my own best advocate."
What have you learned about preventing flare-ups?
I still have to be very careful. The weather, food, the environment — they're all triggers. I have to not let my skin get dry. If I spend a week on vacation indulging in a bunch of sugar, my body reacts. Stress is a huge part of it. I'm big on yoga, and of taking care of my mental health. I do Hatha yoga at Yogaworks three times a week, and do two hikes a week. I did a lot of research about nutrition, and the anti-inflammatory stuff works for me: Being very light on sugar, alcohol and dairy, eating clean, sticking to a ton of vegetables and proteins.
And all that has been effective for you?
The condition is very much under control. I've found a doctor, treatment and lifestyle that work for me. I run into so many people who also have psoriasis and share the same feelings as I had. I tell them that it's about being your own boss, and of not settling until they find whatever it is that works for them, and they have their life look the way they want it to.