Tips for Looking Good Despite Kidney Disease

By Julie Glennon

Whether we’re watching TV or looking at magazine covers in the grocery store, we’re bombarded with images of beautiful people. Beauty is a billion-dollar industry. Despite the new anti-aging products that seem to pop up every week, the fact is that none of us is getting any younger. Now add chronic kidney disease (CKD) to the equation. Of course, we non-Hollywood types could never compete with models who are airbrushed by famous photographers, but here are some tricks and tips that help me look healthier.

Let’s start out with our skin. Medication and the dialysis procedure itself both affect the skin. During dialysis, our skin shrinks as fluid is removed, and on nondialysis days, our skin stretches because we’re retaining fluid. This makes our skin very dry, so it’s important to be diligent about using body lotion. In the daytime, make sure that lotion has a high sun protection factor to guard against skin cancer. Those who have had a transplant are especially at risk because the immunosuppressant medications make them more sensitive to the sun. Having your dermatologist do a complete skin check twice a year is essential.

Taking large doses of prednisone for so many years made my skin—especially the skin on my shins—very, very thin. In addition, I have a lot of bruises on my legs that have never gone away. My dermatologist told me that these marks are in fact not bruises but rather stains from iron treatments. Unfortunately, he confirmed that these stains will decorate my legs forever. Laser treatments only made them worse. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to cover them with makeup, and nothing works for me. If you haven’t taken prednisone for as many years as I have, your skin will be in better condition and foundation should work. I also have heard that stage makeup works for some people.

Within 24 hours of starting to take those large doses of prednisone to treat my lupus, I had a rash on my forehead called steroid acne. That certainly did a number on my self-confidence. I tried everything to get rid of it, but nothing worked. Later, as the prednisone dose was decreased, the acne did improve, only to return 10 years later (in 1999) when I received a transplant and the dose was increased.

One evening I was watching an infomercial and decided to order the product, a skin care system called Proactiv®. Within three weeks, the acne was gone. Now 12 years later, I still get acne sometimes but it clears up quickly with Neutrogena® Rapid Clear (Acne Eliminating Spot Gel), which can be found at many stores.

We know that being anemic or just plain sick can make us look pale. Also, those taking immunosuppressants must stay out of the sun, and others just don’t have the strength or the motivation to go outside all that often. Tanning cream keeps me from looking like Casper the Friendly Ghost. I’ve tried every tanning cream on the market, and they’ve come a long way in the past decade. I recommend using a moisturizer with a tanning cream in it about twice a week. This is easier to use than a general tanning cream because the margin of error of turning a weird orange color is very small. Another tip for looking a bit healthier is to apply a little blush to your cheeks. Bronzer is somewhat like blush, but it’s a bit more on the tan side. I use it occasionally in addition to blush for a sun-kissed look.

When you’re up all night because of pain, restless-leg syndrome, or insomnia, your eyes look tired the next morning. Under-eye concealer is quite helpful in covering those dark circles. Concealer is like foundation but a bit more concentrated.

Medication, infection, CKD in general, autoimmune diseases, and high fevers can cause our hair to thin. I know that many women (and their husbands) like long hair, but after losing all my hair on three separate occasions, I find that shorter hair works best for me.

The first time I lost my hair was in 1993, when I was being treated with Cytoxan® for lupus. I ended up wearing a wig, which was nice on my wallet—no more haircuts, no more dye jobs! My hair eventually grew back, but it fell out twice more over the next few years. During times when I don’t feel good my hair tends to get thin, so keeping it shorter makes it look thicker and makes me feel more comfortable with my appearance.

We’ve all experienced swelling in our legs, feet, and ankles, but I never knew that all soft tissue can swell. When my kidneys were failing, I would wake up in the morning and not recognize myself in the mirror. My face, and especially my eyelids, were retaining a lot of fluid. I found it embarrassing, so I kept using more pillows when I slept. Eventually I used three, I think, so I was basically sleeping sitting up. It helped, but the fluid was only building up in my abdomen instead. I knew that it was nothing but vanity, but I’d rather wear pants with an elastic waist than have my face look so distorted.

I’m sure that other women have great tips for looking good, but these help me look a bit healthier and feel more self-confident.

Julie Glennon - hospital checklist -Looking Good Despite Kidney DiseaseAbout the author
Julie Glennon received a successful kidney transplant in 1999 after being diagnosed with both lupus and chronic kidney disease in 1988. She keeps active by volunteering with The Kidney Association of South Florida where she lives with her husband.

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