CariDee English during a psoriasis flare up (left) and afterward (right), where you can see her spots healing from the attack. Courtesy Photo

CariDee English -- the 2006 winner of "America's Next Top Model" -- nearly lost her modeling career to an unsightly autoimmune skin condition.

The chronic, non-contagious skin disease the 5'10 blonde beauty contends with is psoriasis, which also affects seven and a half million other Americans. And having lived with flare-ups her entire lifetime, English knows first-hand the pain it causes sufferers.

CariDee English poses during a psoriasis flare up. Courtesy Photo


"It's a battle. Anyone who has it has their work cut out for them. You feel icky, ugly and insecure -- and ostracized, like you're the only one who has it," English tells StyleList.

Psoriasis is often a hereditary condition, and factors like stress and medications like beta blockers used to treat high blood pressure can trigger outbreaks that cover the body in the scaly patches of raw, red, thickened skin that doctors refer to as 'plaques.'

"My mom gave me her long legs and her psoriasis," says English. "She has a much lighter case, I'm more severe. When I was a teenager, she would try to relate to me, but I'd say, 'You just have it on your knees and elbows, I have it all over! There's no way you know what I feel like!' But she got me in to see a doctor right away because she knew it was a disease and had to be treated."

And while a young, tall and slender English dreamed of one day becoming a model, her family didn't think it was a realistic goal for someone suffering from psoriasis.

"It was difficult for anyone to take me seriously. My family -- God bless them -- tried to protect me by saying that I had to choose another career. But then I landed on America's Next Top Model, and I was like a horse out of the gate, finally living my dream," says English.

Over the years, the North Dakota native desperately tried prescription pills, creams and shots to control her outbreaks, to inconsistent results. Then this past September, the worst attack of the 25-year-old model's life forced English to halt work in order to focus on finding relief.

During her worst attack, 70% of English's skin from head to toe was covered in psoriasis. Courtesy Photo

"It was horrible -- 70% of my skin from head to toe was covered in psoriasis, and it was the first time my hands were totally covered in it," says English. "We think the face is the first thing people see, but it's incredible how often we use our hands. You use them all the time to deal with complete strangers, like handing money over at the grocery store or meeting someone for the first time with a hand shake."

With her modeling career in jeopardy, English finally found a solution with the help of Los Angeles dermatologist and psoriasis expert Dr. Paul Yamauchi. He prescribed Stelara injections, which are made up of proteins created in a lab, purified, and transformed into injectable form. Similar in concept to insulin shots for diabetics, the protein shots can help control and prevent outbreaks, and are given once every three months.

Insurance often covers the cost of shots, though if you're uninsured or have limited coverage, the technology can be costly.

Dr. Yamauchi recommends that uninsured patients in need of treatment seek out organizations like The National Psoriasis Foundation, which can advise on free treatment and study participation options.

Right before English sought help, she decided to document her flare-up with photos that she would unflinchingly bare to the public, which we're showcasing in this article. Not entirely surprising for a contestant who was known for her outgoing and electric personality while on America's Next Top Model.

"I wanted to make it a source of empowerment. Before I started the new medication, I thought, 'How can I best utilize this flare-up to help other people?' I decided I would document myself fully exposed, with the hope that if a girl can see that out in the open, it can give them hope there's something concrete out there that can help them," says English.

Yet most important is not just finding help, according to Dr. Yamauchi -- it's finding the right help.

English poses during a psoriasis breakout (left) and after, right. Courtesy Photo

"Seek out a dermatologist who knows how to treat psoriasis effectively in different ways. There's UVA light therapy, pills and shots as options. If you have a severe case that is affecting your life and your doctor is just treating you with creams that don't do much, find someone else," advises Dr. Yamauchi.

And while Stelara injections worked like magic for English, she wants to make it clear that everyone's body is different, and it may be another treatment option that ends up working better for someone else.

With her psoriasis under control and career back, English is diving into the music world, and was in a recording studio with producer Tom Drummond of Better Than Ezra fame when we interviewed her. And while modeling still has a place in her heart, English has bigger plans that includes advocacy and fundraising for psoriasis sufferers.

"I'll always love modeling, but I now want to work on projects that make more of an impact."

WATCH CARIDEE ENGLISH TALK ABOUT HER CONDITION


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