Dr. Zoë Waller is a chemist living in England. She also has dermatographia, and decided to do something really interesting with it.
One of her New Year’s resolutions is to draw a molecule on her skin each day, photograph it, and post it on her Twitter account. I found about her project through google and fell in love with what she’s doing. What a creative and unique way to use dermatographia to show your interests!
I contacted her for some photos and an interview. Here’s what she sent me:
Here are some of my favourite molecules.
Lycopene is a carotenoid, found in tomatoes which gives them their red colour, they are anti-oxidants and have anti-cancer activity so are really good for you.
Oxytocin is a peptide based hormone which is released, as examples, during childbirth and breast feeding and has been dubbed the “bonding hormone”.
Quinine is an anti-malarial compound which is the ingredient in tonic water which give it a bitter taste, it is fluorescent so if you have a G&T in a club, you may notice it glows under UV light.
SP1 is a transcription factor, which is a compound which helps express genes, including the immune response.
Histamine, as you well know, is a compound which is released in the immune response; it was the first compound I decided to start with because of this.
Some have come out better than others and I’ve been getting a bit used to which “tools” will achieve a certain type of effect. A bamboo skewer is definitely my tool of choice at the moment, it’s just the right balance of being sharp enough for definition, but blunt enough not to break the skin. I hope as the year goes on they will get better and more intricate. Oxytocin I think is the best so far, but I have plenty of more time to top that example!
Ariana Page Russell (APR): Do you take antihistamines daily to help manage your condition?
Zoë (Z): When I visited my GP, they didn’t even tell me what the condition was called and told me an “antihistamine a day will be fine”. As part of my job as an academic, I teach Pharmacy students, I already knew that I could take an anti-histamine a day to relieve the symptoms, but I am reluctant to take them unless I need to. For me, I don’t feel it’s really necessary at the moment.
(APR): Have you ever felt embarrassed by your skin’s reaction?
(Z): Sometimes, for example if I’ve been itching, people look quite disgusted, but I’m never embarrassed, I feel guilty for making them feel awkward or worried, but not embarrassed. Most of my colleagues know now, so it’s not a problem. I considered that some people I don’t know may think I self-harm, and in drawing on my skin, I guess it could be defined as such, at a push. Anyone making this assumption doesn’t know much about self-harm, which is a very serious condition, and anything I do to my skin has disappeared within half an hour, so I do not regard it as such.
(APR): Do you consider dermatographia to be a bothersome condition to have?
(Z): At first, when I didn’t know what it was, it was a bit annoying, but I realise now that I might have this for a few months, or the rest of my life, I’m enjoying it whilst I have it, more than being bothered by it. Yes, sometimes when I’ve scratched my face accidentally and it looks like I’ve been scalded or burnt, that’s a bit annoying, but more for the reaction I get from others. The itching is the worst bit, and sadly I’ve always liked a good scratch, but I have to sit on my hands now and keep my nails short just in case.
(APR): Is there anything else you’d like to know about it (like how to treat it, what causes it, etc)?
(Z): I have a sneaky suspicion that I may have inadvertently caused my dermatographia. Two years ago I had some form of systemic itching, it came from nowhere, but eliminating all the possible allergens which could have been the cause, came to nothing. I think if I was that bothered I’d get tested to see whether there was something specific I’m allergic to, but I’m convinced it was psychosomatic. I got caught in the itch/scratch cycle and enjoyed the relief of scratching. After a while, my body overreacted to me itching and now I’ve got dermatographia.
(APR): What inspired you to do this project? Have you ever done something like this before?
(Z): Christmas last year I joked about writing “Merry Christmas” on my arm and it was the first time I’d tried to write or draw on my skin. I’ve always been fascinated by chemical structures and, in particular, biologically active molecules and drugs interest me the most, so I thought I’d try to draw an alternative “molecule of the day” on myself and post it on Twitter for the whole of 2014. I’m open to trying other examples of showcasing the condition for example, on the 26th January, I performed a timed example of how long it takes to appear and disappear after I’ve drawn on my skin and posted photos of how it looked in real time on Twitter. I also have another photo-a-day project on Twitter, and that’s a photo of my legs and shoes each day. I love wearing snazzy tights and shoes, so I’m also documenting that this year.
(APR): Thanks Zoë! I’m so glad I found your beautiful drawings. So cool!