Strictly: Aljaz Skorjanec on feeling 'uncomfortable' in Latin dances
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The professional dancer first developed psoriasis – a skin condition that causes red, flaky, crusty patches of skin covered with silvery scales – as a teenager and now the skin condition has affected him badly for over a decade. Speaking in a throwback interview about how he copes and how he hid the condition whilst appearing on the popular BBC dancing programme, the 32-year-old hoped that by sharing his story, he may be able to help others too.
“When I was about 18, I stopped dancing competitively and it was a huge change in my life,” recalls Aljaž, who is married to fellow Strictly star Janette Manrara.
“I’d had enough of the competition world – there was so much politics involved and my parents had been supporting me financially, and I just didn’t think I should do it any more.
“But I was unsure what I was going to do and this huge void made me stressed.
“It was around that time I started getting odd patches on my knees, which then spread to my elbows.”
After seeking the help of a dermatologist, who diagnosed psoriasis and prescribed steroid creams, things improved. However, it was when Aljaž left home to work on a theatre show in Australia, the condition really took hold.
“I was 20 and it was really difficult because I didn’t really fully understand why all of a sudden my skin was changing so drastically,” he says. “It’s not really the most aesthetically pleasing thing to have.
“I was getting frustrated because, for the world that I work in, appearances mean so much and it had gone everywhere – even my face. But getting stressed only made it worse.”
Unfortunately, psoriasis can be very difficult to treat.
“I’ve seen roughly 20 different specialists who all thought they could help,” Aljaž shared. “I did tests to find out what foods might trigger it, if I’m allergic to anything, and tried countless products.
“About seven years ago, back home in Slovenia, I even had an injection straight into the psoriasis, which I knew was a bit odd at the time, but when you’re desperate you will try anything.
“It was very frustrating because each time, I would think I’d found a solution, but after a couple of weeks my skin would get back to its old ways and the problem seemed to come back worse than before, which felt even more infuriating.” With no way of finding a long-term fix Aljaž found it simpler to hide the marks.
“I was always really conscious of what I was wearing,” he added. “I would rarely wear a short-sleeved t-shirt and still now you are never going to see me wearing shorts unless I’m on holiday somewhere hot and I have to. I’d never take any photos of me really bad because that’s when you don’t want anyone to see you.”
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Taking part in Strictly also brought its own issues. “We put in long hours and the body is under a lot of stress,” he admited. “I love the Strictly outfits – I wouldn’t change them for anything – but when you dance, you sweat a lot, which tends to make psoriasis worse, so I have to be really, really careful how much I cover up and how much I let my skin breathe.
“[Back] in 2016, when I danced with Daisy Lowe, my psoriasis was at its worst. I was pretty much in a turtleneck and long sleeves for the whole series. The costume department is so supportive and understanding though, and I never feel like it is a problem for anyone but me.”
It wasn’t just the clothing that the star had to worry about, as being caked in makeup also proved tricky. “It definitely makes things worse,” Aljaž shared. “If nothing else, when you’re taking it off, you have to rub the areas that are affected with psoriasis, so they flare up even more.”
With the unprecedented COVID-19 lockdown, Aljaž also discovered another trigger. He continued to say: “Janette and I were supposed to be touring, but that was cancelled and we were so unsure of our future – what was going to happen with work and everything was so stressful really so, of course, it flared up.”
It was this experience that motivated the dancer to speak out about his condition, encouraging others to try and not feel self-conscious as he once did. One person who Aljaž caught the attention of was skincare specialist Nadav Shraibom, who had co-founded natural skincare brand Medovie, which uses a trio of herbs from traditional Chinese medicine to support problem skin. Nadav got in touch with Aljaž, who began trying the products.
“Using Medovie has been incredible really,” said Aljaž. “You take these pills, you have this lotion and a derma cream, and when you treat your body from every angle, I feel like it is just more effective.
“This is the longest I’ve gone without steroid cream in years – I was always using it alongside all the other creams that I would be trying at any given moment – and it thins the skin which makes the problem worse in the long run.”
The NHS explains that self care is an essential part of an individual’s daily life. It is also critical to keep up with continuous treatment to prevent flare-ups. In addition to creams or ointments, the NHS recommends the following to help reduce symptoms including:
- Stopping smoking
- Cutting down on alcohol and staying within the recommended limits
- Losing weight, if you are overweight or obese.
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