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Health & Wellness

Fitness blogger shares an honest photo about her struggle with eczema

We all know that social media is not real life, but it's so easy to start comparing yourself to all of the flawless images out there. Well, one Instagram fitness star wants you to know she doesn't always look so #nofilter perfect.

Carys Gray, 20, is a fitness blogger and student from Cardiff, Wales in the United Kingdom. She regularly posts gorgeous, empowering photos of her toned physique on her Instagram page, where she has more than 140,000 followers.

Recently, Gray shared a very personal photo about her ongoing struggles with eczema, a condition that can cause inflamed and itchy skin.

Gray posted two side-by-side photos of herself, one labeled “social media” and one labeled “reality.” On the left, Gray looks like she often appears in her social media posts, with smooth, clear skin. On the right, she looks just as beautiful, but has some red blotches across her cheeks and forehead.

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“Slightly different #REALITYCHECK today!” Gray wrote in the caption. “We all have good days and we all have bad days. I have a skin condition called eczema and sometimes my skin is happy as Larry and sometimes it has flare ups.”

Gray noted on the photos: “Both me, both real and both totally acceptable.”

She wrote that she shared the photos to remind her fans that what you see on social media doesn’t always reflect reality.

“Instagram will show the good days … and that’s okay!! That’s what social media is for!” she wrote. “But here’s a reminder that the next time you see something on social media that you think is ‘goals’ that it’s not the full story.”

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After she posted the pictures, praise poured in from her fans. To date, the post has received over 80,000 likes and thousands of comments.

“Thank you for being vulnerable in such a public way,” one woman commented. “A lot of us suffer with skin conditions and it can be tough to manage and deal with the flare up in such a social media/image obsessed society. Thanks for modeling how to accept and love yourself as you are.”

“I also have eczema on my face and neck,” another fan commented. “It's comforting to know we're not alone.”

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What exactly is eczema?

Eczema is a very common skin condition. More than 31 million people in the U.S. have symptoms of eczema, also referred to as atopic dermatitis, and nearly 18 million of those people suffer from it moderately or severely, according to the National Eczema Association.

There are different types of eczema, but common symptoms include patches of red, dry and very itchy skin. In some cases, excessive scratching can make the skin rough and leathery.

There is no clear cause of eczema, though it typically begins in childhood.

Normally, the skin has special cells that retain water, but for many people with eczema these skin cells don't react as they should.

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Without the ability to hold in enough water, the skin dries out and becomes weaker. And in turn, when the skin is more fragile, it’s more vulnerable to allergens and infections, which can make eczema even worse.

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Where do people experience eczema?

Eczema can appear all over the body, though people often have flare ups on the elbows, the backs of the knees, the wrists and the face, said Dr. Cameron Rokhsar, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.

For people prone to eczema, a range of environmental factors can cause breakouts. One big trigger is cold weather.

“In the winter, eczema is always worse,” Rokhsar told TODAY. “The moisture in the air is less ... All the forced-air heating that we have dries out the skin.”

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Certain perfumes, detergents, fabric softeners and harsh soaps, as well as coming into contact with wool and other irritating materials, can also lead to an outbreak. And, everyday allergens like pollen and pet dander can also trigger a flare-up.

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What can you do to manage symptoms?

To keep eczema under control, one of the most important things to do is prevent your skin from drying out.

“Moisturize your room with a humidifier,” Rokhsar said. “Don’t stay in the shower for more than five or ten minutes and don’t use hot water, use warm water. Moisturize your skin constantly, especially on damp skin when you come out of the shower.”

When moisturizing at home, oil-based ointments are often more effective than water-based creams and lotions, Rokhsar advised.

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And, he added that while it’s possible to manage your eczema at home, “when things flare, you need to see a dermatologist.” Dermatologists can prescribe medicated creams, pills and even injections to keep symptoms under control.

For many people, including Gray, managing eczema can be an ongoing battle, and the struggle is often mental as well as physical.

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With her recent, honest photo, Gray reminded her fans that it’s perfectly normal to feel insecure sometimes, about eczema or any other physical difficulty.

“I'm still struggling to accept myself on the right [photo], it's a big insecurity of mine and that's fine,” she wrote on Instagram. “I'm learning to accept myself knowing that everyone has their own struggles and insecurities and that's what makes us unique and special.”

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