Unexpected trips to the ER are never fun.

For these four women, frequent hospital stays are the norm and having constant bed head is just another pain to deal with. In the chronic illness community, we refer to ourselves as "spoonies" and being one myself for 6 years now, I can attest to the amount of pain -- physical and emotional -- that having a random and incurable disease can bring about. The last thing anyone is pain wants to be bothered with is their hair and beauty, but as women, we sometimes find that an innate characteristic, and it's OK to want to feel beautiful at a low moment.

Below, 3 of my spoonie friends and I share how we deal with annoying hair and beauty issues -- and just low self-esteem in general -- when fighting for our lives in the hospital bed.


  • Diagnosis: Takayasu's Arteritis, Ascending Aortic Aneurysm, Bilateral Carotid Artery Disease

My beauty secrets on flare-up days

I have learned to enjoy the mask that a cute headwrap provides. On mornings that have me feeling physically weak, I have to utilize the little amounts of energy that I do have in the smartest way. I can admit that it does get pretty challenging when my body is tired because I tend to ignore the immediate needs of my curls like moisture, or a good detangling session. However, I pick right back up on the good days and ensure that I feed even more attention to make up for whatever I neglected.

As far as my skin and hygiene are concerned, hospital stays have been difficult in the past. One hack that I have learned during overnight stays are to use one of the hospital chairs to prop myself in the shower so that I don't have to stand up while bathing.

I usually have my mom or a friend help wash my hair and cleanse my face. I rely heavily on my toner and green tea moisturizer to refresh my face, especially if I know to expect some visitors throughout the day.

I have felt 'ugly' a few times throughout the years of my diagnosis.

With constant weight fluctuation, extreme weight gain, acne, brittle hair and an overall sense of fatigue and frailness that have not left my body in 6 years, I have spent plenty of time questioning myself in the mirror through tears. Now I have learned to get a better grip on my feelings, as I understand that this is just how my cards were dealt and I will have Takayasu's for the rest of my life. I might as well embrace the beautiful story it has given me to share!

Visit my personal blog, Pretty Sick Chick


  • Diagnosis: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

My hospital beauty routine: minimal and protective.

In the ER, or during hospital stays, I sweep my hair into pigtails to keep it from getting tangled or needing to be brushed. When I've had to do EEGs or sleep studies, I would bring silicone-based shine serum like Frizz-Ease because the silicone breaks down the glue; I massage it into the wads of glue on my scalp and dissolve them without damaging my hair afterwards. It reduces the stress of the process, and makes showering afterwards easier.

For my face, I focus on skincare, so I'm comfortable with a bare face, or smearing on a bright lip gloss to draw attention to everything I'm telling my doctors I need. 

[quote cite="Karolyn"] Accepting that my core remains the same regardless of how I look has been key to breaking down other people's reactions to how my body looks as it changes through illness and loving myself through it all. [/quote]

I'm alone in the hospital a lot and there have been times when nurses or doctors have failed to see the person in front of them in the course of performing a routine job. It's harrowing to have to yell in order to be heard about something that is written on your chart, or to need to force a care provider to see you as a human being instead of a body in a gown that may be fixed by their shift's end. Our job in the hospital becomes twofold: to better our health, and to render our humanity visible to those charged with prolonging it.

My body is going to change with my health, and I can't control that.

Accepting that my core remains the same regardless of how I look has been key to breaking down other people's reactions to how my body looks as it changes through illness and loving myself through it all. Community is everything, and every day brings surprises. The more you can adapt to change, the better life will be.

Follow Karolyn on Instagram @karolynprg


  • Diagnosis: Fibromyalgia, Anxiety, Depression, Hypothyroid, Raynaud's Phenomenon, Asthma, Rosacea, IBS, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

The biggest challenge regarding my physical appearance while being sick

Fatigue changes how much I am able to do. I've had to develop lots of strategies to save time and energy so I can still go out and feel like I look presentable... even if I feel awful. for me, it's a self-esteem saver. So even on really bad days, if I'm going out, I try to put my hair up in a cute clip or headband. I'll put on mascara, and sometimes I will use a tinted moisturizer and that's it - that may be all the energy I can put into makeup on that day. I also go many days without washing my hair; my stylist has cut my hair in a way that enhances my natural waves, so I can wash and go, which saves me energy on using a blow dryer, which can feel extremely heavy on bad days.

On flare-up days I use a tinted moisturizer to even out my skin -- my rosacea is relatively mild, so most of the time I don't need foundation to even out my skin tone. A little mascara helps my eyes look bigger and more awake. Some days, that's all I'll use: tinted moisturizer and mascara.

For my hair, I'll use products like dry shampoo, a curl activator, and oil to scrunch up my waves and give them some body and shape -- I love Davines products. My haircut accentuates my natural waves so I can do this without washing my hair -- my stylist totally gets me! I may dampen my hair so I can reshape some of the waves, but that's it.

The key to making myself feel pretty

Realness: last winter I was so sick with an upper respiratory bug that my asthma went bonkers and we went to the ER. I kept coughing so hard, for so long, but I was hooked up to machines and I couldn't get out of the hospital bed. I wet the bed. I felt so embarrassed, although I knew the hospital staff had seen it all (they don't care). But I felt so gross; it was bad enough to be so sick and vulnerable, but that added a layer of embarrassment. I wound up confined to my house for many days after that, and normally I think I would feel like a total slug... but I didn't want to! So I made sure to wash my face every day, and put on cute PJs, even if I wasn't going out. Sometimes it's not even about thinking about your looks -- it's about finding clothes that fit great and feel good, so you're not adding any more aggravation to what's already a really difficult situation.

Subscribe to Jenni's free newsletter, Chronic Babe. (photo courtesy of Alix Kramer)

If I’m going to be at home in bed, I might as well be fabulous. 
  • Diagnosis: Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Histamine Intolerance (suspected Mast Cell Activation Disorder)

One time when I felt 'ugly' for being sick

"I was in the hospital once so I could be monitored while taking some new medication. At the time, I was pretty much intolerant to the world and I nearly passed out whenever I ate. I pretty much couldn’t eat. The nurses were convinced I was in for an eating disorder and started telling me the reasons that I felt the way I did was because I wasn’t eating. It was incredibly frustrating that I wasn’t taken seriously or believed (even when in hospital) because of my appearance."

My approach to hair and beauty during a flare-up

I lack any skill when it comes to hair and makeup, and it’s taken me 28 years to start really paying attention to it! Although, whenever I was really unwell, my mum would treat me to a blow-dry at the hairdresser to cheer me up. I’ve recently got really into Korean skincare -- thank goodness my intolerances are mostly behind me now -- and I can’t even describe how much of a change I notice in my skin. I look so much healthier, and it has made me feel so much more confident in myself, even during a flare. When I used to have a bad day or week or month, looking after myself used to go totally out the window, I’d brush my teeth and only shower if a friend was coming over.

Getting into a skincare routine, and making sure I do it every day, twice a day (no matter what), has been a lovely way to realise that even when I feel crap, I deserve to look after myself and my appearance, and it makes me feel a lot happier. And I don’t think that’s shallow.

For the first time in over 15 years, I’ve started to embrace my naturally curly hair...

And I find that even getting in the shower on a bad day and letting my ringlets fall down just makes me feel better than staying all greasy in bed. i’ve still got to learn how to keep those curls in overnight, because I hate how awful it looks in the morning. I don’t really wear makeup when I’m home alone, but if people come to see me, I’ll put on concealer, foundation, blusher, mascara, and a bold lipstick. I can always see in my face when I’m particularly poorly, so covering up ’sick me’ with makeup makes me feel more like myself. I don’t often paint my nails, but when I do, it always perks me up, and it is something I want to start doing more regularly. 

How I talk to 'Sick Natasha'

It reminds me that there is more to me than how my health has me feeling. Oh, and I’ve bought lovely pyjamas, because if I’m going to be at home in bed, I might as well be fabulous. 

Listen to Natasha's podcast, Spoonie Pyjama Party