Katie Piper: ‘My scars are a reminder that I’m alive and beautiful’

In 2008, Katie Piper suffered life-changing injuries to her skin when she was burned in an attack with sulphuric acid. In the years since, the mum-of-two has had hundreds of procedures, set up her own foundation to support others living with burns and scars and their families, and become an advocate for self-confidence and positivity. Now she is an ambassador for skincare brand La Roche-Posay.

Katie says

“My skin journey so far has been a long one. For anyone affected by burns or scars, it never really ends – you’re on that journey for the rest of your life. Initially you have life-saving acute care, but once you’re through that survival stage, you’re almost starting again, getting to know your new face, body and identity. That’s a very difficult journey.

A big part of my treatment was the psychology of touch and reconnecting with my face. We touch our faces every day and know what they feel like with our eyes shut, but at 24 I touched mine and it was brand new. I thought, 'What’s this? I don’t know her.' Not knowing yourself is a really confusing place to be.

Initially I felt ashamed of my appearance; I felt trapped in a shell that didn’t represent who I’d been up to that point. But now I can be seen all glammed up, or on the school run with no make-up, and feel the same. I can celebrate all of me and enjoy it.

Respect your skin

I still have treatments and therapies ahead of me. When you have functional problems like I do with my eye, my stomach and my oesophagus, the surgeries will continue – I had an operation on my eye quite recently.

With the skin, it’s about respect. Do great things for it and it will pay you back tenfold. You can’t expect to tick a box and say, 'I’m done now,' – your skin is your largest organ, so it’s an ongoing journey. So much can be done and is being done for scar treatment. For many people, the word signifies the end of something, like, 'That’s it, you’ll have to live with a scar'. I’d like to change that language. You won’t have to live with your scars, your scars will have to live with you.

I am not a burnt person living with burns – I acquired some burns when I was younger and they fit around my lifestyle. The people that didn’t scar are the people who didn’t make it, they’re not here to tell their skin story. Scars could have a negative connotation of, 'I’m flawed, I’m not beautiful or perfect.' But for me, they are a reminder that I’m not beautiful like her, I’m beautiful like me. I got through something, I made it.

Beauty and confidence are things that evolve, so it’s not necessarily about reaching a place of feeling great all the time. Maybe it’s about feeling neutral, letting go of what you thought life should have looked like and living what’s happening now. For me, beauty is about embracing myself for all that I am and not just the bits that society tells me are attractive. It’s calling the shots and deciding if I’m desirable, not waiting for somebody else to make that decision for me.

Like anyone else, I feel confident through feeling accepted. Being burnt made me feel part of nothing I knew. I was a young girl out clubbing with my whole life ahead of me and suddenly I wasn’t part of the life that I’d built any more. But now I feel included again.

A large part of that is because of brands like La Roche-Posay – would I have been on a poster when I got burnt 15 years ago? The world wasn’t like that then, the girls we saw in adverts didn’t even have pores. But now I have a sense of belonging and purpose, not just with this brand, but also through others and on social media. The world is becoming more diverse and inclusive, not just for burn survivors but for real people generally.

When you’re first discharged from hospital, there’s no handbook. How do you know how to go for a job interview, or how to date, or have sex, when your whole world has been turned upside down and you can’t even look someone in the eye? I set up The Katie Piper Foundation because I wanted to extend an arm of support, physically and mentally, to people like me and to give them practical help with things like CV writing, networking and dating.

Life shouldn’t stop

I hate the expectation that you just have to be a burns survivor. I say, be the CEO! Set up your own business. Feel sexy again, get married. Why should life stop because the outside has changed? If you’re physically able to, you should live life to the full.

The goal for the foundation now is to keep fundraising – we’re not government funded and, like many charities, we lost a quarter of our income during the pandemic – and to drive awareness to patients that we’re here. Not just for when you’re first discharged – we’re here if you go backwards, and we’re here for the people that support you, too.

There are so many more Katies out there – not just the Katie at the start of her journey but those who are now employed by us, representing us through public speaking, doing the same things I did at the beginning of my journey. I’m really proud of them.

If I could give one bit of advice to someone else who has experienced a life-changing injury to their skin, it’s to keep researching, seek out people like you, and always hold on to hope."

Inside Katie’s skincare routine

“The healing of burns and scars requires a holistic approach and the right skincare is very important,” says Katie. “This comes into play early on in your journey, as soon as your wounds have closed. I was introduced to La Roche-Posay by my physiotherapist and my dermatologist, so to now be an ambassador for the brand is special for me. It was part of what helped me get better and had a positive impact on my mental and physical health.”

Toleriane Dermo Cleanser, £15.20 here

“My favourite skincare range is La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane line and I love the creaminess and hydrating feel of this cleanser. I got a lot of sensation back after having my treatment and so I’m really big on skincare texture. I always double cleanse and then remove with water.”

Cicaplast Baume B5 Repairing Balm, £6.40 here

“I like a heavier cream at night and use La Roche-Posay’s Lipikar Cream and Cicaplast Balm. I like the balm over my lips, and sometimes I get a breakdown of skin graft so I’ll also use it on cracked areas.”

Anthelios UVMune 400 Invisible Tinted Fluid SPF 50+, £14.40 here

“I see SPF50 as the base before my face goes on – it’s non-negotiable, 365 days a year. If I’m on holiday, in the daytime I’ll go for the tinted Anthelios and then I don’t need make-up – big sunglasses and a tinted SPF will do.”

Katie Piper is a skincare ambassador for La Roche-Posay. To find out more about her foundation, visit katiepiperfoundation.org.uk.

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