Some of the young people were in full-time jobs currently, others had experience of part-time jobs before or during university, and others had not yet had a paid job. Those who had been to university often contrasted this with their current working lives. Most people said that eczema didn’t have a big impact on their work, but it could for others. Some people said that having a routine with a job actually helped them look after their eczema.
Appearance and ‘looking professional’
Some people said having eczema made it more difficult to ‘look professional’ in a work setting. This includes the look of eczema and limits on the types of clothes they could wear, for example if some fabrics triggered their skin. Aman worried about scalp eczema being visible on his clothes and keeps his facial hair neat. Some people were worried that they might be discriminated against in job interviews for having eczema. Shams thinks the appearance of his eczema was the reasons why he was once rejected from a retail job interview. Others thought it was less likely that eczema would be seen as a problem by employers. Evie pointed out that lots of people have other conditions, such as asthma, and are in employment. Katie-Lauren said that visible marks on the skin, including tattoos, are more accepted by employers.
Different types of jobs and related tasks
Some jobs were seen as more suitable for looking after eczema than others. Desk-based jobs were said to be better for applying emollients. Physically demanding tasks, for example, reaching and lifting stock, can be difficult when eczema is painful.
Retail jobs have added worries about customers making rude comments about the person’s eczema. Some of Evie’s customers wrongly thought her eczema was contagious (that they could catch it). Anissa didn’t like working in a shop because she felt it was about ‘selling your image’. Shams is aware of the pressures on appearance in acting careers. Georgia preferred working in the back of a shop when she was feeling self-conscious about her skin. Catching customers looking at her eczema used to make Katie-Lauren feel anxious. Some young people found that working with children, such as teaching, meant being asked questions about their skin.
Jobs working with food, including waiting tables, were often mentioned. Shams pointed out that food industry jobs are popular with young people, but he wouldn’t feel comfortable applying for one. Some people worried about skin flakes falling into food they were making or serving. Ele had an upsetting experience with a customer refusing to let her serve food once. Others found the conditions involved triggered their eczema. Katie-Lauren was unable to do pot-washing because of her eczema. Alice’s waitressing uniform was all black and she would overheat, causing flare-ups.
A few people had been inspired by their experiences with eczema to think about medicine as a future career. Aadam wanted to be an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) for a while after feeling well supported by the medical staff treating his keratoconjunctivitis (eczema-related eye condition).
Having less energy or focus at work because of eczema-related lack of sleep was a concern.
Triggers at work
Job-related triggers and other aspects of some workplaces were talked about, such as:
- Uncomfortable and itchy work uniforms
- Increased caffeine intake (e.g. coffee, tea)
- Air conditioning and heaters
- Dusty rooms and equipment
- Exposure to fragranced products, including hand soap in shared toilets
Getting time off work
People sometimes needed time off work to attend medical appointments or because their eczema was particularly uncomfortable. Cat says her manager is understanding and lets her have time off for attending dermatology appointments. She thinks this might be harder for people whose jobs are paid on an hourly rate. Georgia worked part-time when she had phototherapy and scheduled her appointments around work. She says this was good because she wouldn’t have felt comfortable asking for time off. There have been two occasions when Gary has been unable to come into work because his eczema made it too painful for him to move. Naomi was allowed to go home from work when her eczema became very sore.
Emotions and support in the workplace
Young people appreciated having supportive employers and colleagues. Naomi says there have been times when she’s felt very low about her eczema, especially when it’s painful, and it’s helped to talk to her work colleagues. However, not everyone had positive experiences. Gary says that he doesn’t mind joking about his eczema with some colleagues but that some are mean and say unkind things. Most people said though that their co-workers and employers didn’t comment on their eczema though.