Former X-Factor finalist Jason Owen is finally coming clean about the devastating skin condition he has covered up for eight years.
Psoriasis is an incurable auto-immune condition that can have a devastating physical and mental impact on sufferers. One person who has lived with the condition for the past eight years and knows how much of a toll it can take is country music star Jason Owen.
The former X-Factor finalist suffered his first breakout eight years ago when he was just 18 shortly after he found fame on the talent show.
“It’s something that’s caused me great anxiety, shame and stress which I’ve always tried to cover up,” he admits. “However, I feel the time is now right to share my journey in an attempt to de-stigmatise the condition.”
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The award-nominated artist recently teamed up with Australia’s leading centre for dermatological treatment, the Skin Health Institute, and national support group Psoriasis Australia to spread more awareness in the lead up to World Psoriasis Day on 29 October.
Jason, who has thick psoriasis patches or ‘plaques’ over most of his body, is one of 1.6 million Australians who suffer from the autoimmune condition. World-wide the disorder affects 125 million people including Kim Kardashian, LeeAnn Rimes and Cara Delevigne.
People recoiled at the sight of me
“Shortly after X-Factor there was a lot of attention on me in my hometown area of Dubbo,” Jason says. “Everywhere I went people would come up to me and then recoil at the sight of my skin which made me not want to leave the house.
“To this day, I have people in shops hesitant to take cash from me as they look at my hands and even ask if I have something contagious. I tend to wear long sleeve shirts and sometimes have to apply foundation make up on my face which is pretty confronting for a man.”
Jason says the first lesions started appearing on his elbows and knees. “Before I knew it, it was everywhere. I even had to postpone gigs as I couldn’t walk due to lesions between my legs constantly rubbing and bleeding.
“It should have been a really exciting time of my life with my career just taking off but instead I was a mess both inside and out. I was always scared of people finding out so I did everything I could to hide it.”
How stress can trigger flare-ups
Jason was prescribed steroid pills for the condition at 20 but it resulted in him putting on 15kg in fluid as a side effect.
“The pills only made minimal difference but due to my weight gain I started getting trolled online, so it wasn’t worth it,” he said.
“The best thing now is to get out in the sun as that helps the lesions a little, although it does mean I have to go out uncovered. I have also lost weight in the last year and am feeling better for it.”
The singer, who is a staunch advocate for mental health issues, says stress can be a trigger for flare-ups, so he’s been trying to keep busy during the challenges of COVID.
“It hasn’t been easy as I had to cancel 30 planned gigs and postpone my own wedding to my fiancé Beccy until mid-next year. However, I recently released a new single Before I Let You Go, and taped season two of my online chat show, How Ya Goin With Jason Owen about people in rural areas. I’ve even started working for Menulog as a driver in order to keep active.”
The latest treatments giving sufferers hope
Australia’s leading psoriasis expert Dr Peter Foley, from Melbourne’s Skin Health Institute says whilst women tend to develop psoriasis symptoms earlier in life, a recent Swedish study suggests that men tend to suffer from more severe forms. The latest research also shows one in three sufferers will develop psoriatic arthritis.
“Many patients use topical treatments, phototherapy and traditional systemic agents,” Dr Foley says. “However, the latest biologic drug treatments – the inhibitors interleukin 17 and interleukin 23 – appear to be very effective. Skin on more than 70 per cent of patients will become clear or almost clear with biologic therapies, however if treatment is stopped it will tend to reoccur.”
“Making lifestyle changes can also help. Sufferers should maintain an ideal body weight through nutrition and exercise, and should cut out smoking and heavy alcohol consumption.”
What Can Help?
The expert says more government funding for clinical research, to look at links between psoriasis, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and mental health is needed as well as more government support of patient support groups like Psoriasis Australia.
Jason, who has been assessed by Dr Foley as being at the moderate to severe end of the spectrum, is now undergoing tests and will be commencing a new course of systemic treatments.
“If those aren’t effective then I’m looking at one of the new biologic therapies,” says the singer. “I know there’s no cure, but I’m going to be doing all I can to live with the condition as best I can.”
Do you or know anyone suffering from this skin condition? Tell us how you manage it, in the comments below.