This week we caught up with the incredibly inspiring Hanna Sillitoe.
For those that don't know Hanna she really is a wonder and a true champion for wellness. We first met Hanna as a customer for Om & Ah over 18 months ago, we shared so much in common and her story is one of much courage, inspiration & success it was a no brainer to introduce her wisdom with our Om family - so pop the kettle on and enjoy!
Hello, I’m Hanna, I’m plant-based.
It’s hardly a revolutionary statement, in fact, it feels as though a significant proportion of the world is transitioning to vegan. We’re often no longer the exception, but rather the rule. That said, the primary reason for changing my diet wasn’t for the love of animals or to save the plant - although I happen to think both those things are pretty awesome too. My main mission was to change my health.
Despite being vegetarian, I wouldn’t say my diet was particularly healthy. I loved soda drinks, pizza and fizzy, tangy jelly sweets. The stress of exams, my teenage hormones, a combination of alcohol and a typical student diet resulted in skin breakouts. It started as acne which I hated, especially since my best friend at school had perfectly flawless skin. At sixteen I broke out in tiny spots all over my body, a disease which my doctor would eventually diagnose as psoriasis. I didn’t realise it at the time, but despite the fact my dermatologist assured me diet played no role in my skin condition, it would ultimately be the very thing that had to change.
I battled with skin disease throughout my twenties. By this stage psoriasis was affecting every aspect of my life. I struggled dating. It was always okay for the first month or so, but at some stage I’d realise that I couldn’t hide my skin anymore, so I’d call off the relationship with no further explanation. At times the pain of red, raw arms made it too difficult to wear clothes, so I’d call in to work sick. I hated summer parties, searching for the perfect dress, only to have to dig out a long-sleeved cardigan and sweat it out in the blazing sun, trying desperately to come up with excuses as to why I didn’t want to take it off. I never went to the hairdressers, my scalp looked like I had the worst case of dandruff, tufts of my hair used to fall out so I’d pick and scratch at it terribly. Throughout all this, my doctor would prescribe endless steroid creams, thick, greasy emollients and stinky coal tar shampoos. Life battling with my skin was far from easy.
Six years ago, after the worst skin flareup ever, I returned to my doctor, begging him for something else. His suggestion was a chemotherapy drug, designed to suppress my immune system, to stop my skin from attacking itself. I went home and bawled my eyes out. Had my health and skin really deteriorated to such an extent that I needed cancer drugs to recover?
Whilst the idea of such strong medication frightened me, I understood the principle of suppressing my immune system. I began to research studies and came across reports of turmeric and shiitake mushrooms, both of which seemed to offer immune-modulating properties. This made more sense, balancing my immune system to get it back on an even keel rather than using drugs to suppress it.
From that day on, I vowed to make significant changes to my diet and lifestyle.
Hydration zapping alcohol had to go, caffeine fuelled fizzy drinks were binned, dairy - which I learned might be triggering hormonal acne - got put on the forbidden list, meaning my diet was by default pretty much vegan. I also focused on what I should be eating. Heaps of greens, so many in fact it became easier to juice them. Two litres of fresh, still water each day. Healthy carbs such as sweet potato and quinoa. Sugar went, wheat went, seafood went. I was absolutely determined to take back control of my health and skin.
Incredibly, after 28 days, I went out in short sleeves for the first time in years. This was new to me. It was February, it was freezing, but I didn’t care! I wore a strappy top and nobody stared, nobody commented. My psoriasis had faded to such an extent, that unless you looked closely you would never know I had it. It was like finding the worlds best kept secret and I vowed to shout it from the rooftops!
Besides focusing on the importance of how I was fuelling my body from the inside, I also began to diligently read labels and understand what I was applying to the outside. Gone were the steroids, petroleum-based creams and toxic coal tar shampoos. I worked with a local naturopath to create homemade aromatherapy products, it felt good to understand exactly what was going into my skincare. My natural cosmetics range became so popular, that last year I began working with one of the UK’s biggest natural skincare manufacturers. Suddenly not only did I have all these incredible active botanical ingredients available to me, but I also had a little team of scientists who could help me formulate products that would make a genuine difference to people suffering with their skin.
In August last year I pitched my range in front of five of Britains biggest investors. Dragons Den was the best, scariest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life! Fortunately, all five Dragons absolutely understood my mission and offered me investment. I now work with Tej Lalvani and Peter Jones who have both helped me to share my story with millions of people worldwide. There are so many skin patients out there in a desperate situation, feeling hopeless just like I did six years ago. I want to empower them, to help them take back control of a condition that I suspect has taken charge of them for a very long time.
I’m very much an all-or-nothing sort of person, so I love to set myself a challenge and dive right in. I’ve come to realise over the past few years that not everybody’s brain works that way. If people feel more comfortable making step by step changes, that’s absolutely fine.
Social media sometimes receives a bad rap, but I continually get to see it as a force for good. Bringing people from all around the world together to share in a positive skin community that inspires hope. Everybody on my page is so kind and supportive of one another, it’s truly wonderful to watch.
I’d hate for anybody to envisage their healing journey as a miserable, deprivation diet consisting of nothing but lettuce leaves and water. Plant-based food should be celebrated, as a rainbow of skin-nourishing nutrients!
(I share heaps of exciting recipes on my blog, all vegan, gluten-free and delicious)
There is, of course, a balance. Once my skin was at a stage where I felt comfortable to leave the house in shorts and t-shirt, I began to relax a little. I no longer have to refuse every slice of birthday cake or chocolate cookie offered to me! There are some things I’ve never gone back to - alcohol for example - but for the most part, I strike a happy 80 / 20 balance.
Eighty percent of the time I eat super well, the other twenty percent of the time I allow myself to be more flexible. It works for me and it makes life enjoyable and manageable.
My doctor spent two decades telling me diet would play absolutely no role in my skin complaints. His insistence caused me to be lazy and complacent. Fortunately, diet and lifestyle advice IS changing. I believe the role of gut health, and studies to support its importance in our skin and mental wellbeing, will eventually become commonplace. Skin disease is a symptom, a very visible barometer of what’s going on beneath the surface. A sticking plaster, in the form of steroid cream, is not going to work. Target the underlying cause and the symptoms will heal all by themselves.
If you would like to know more about Hanna's transformation and methods, she has a couple of amazing books.
The first is a book called "Radiant", which features her go to 28-day plan. The book has sold 25,000 copies around the world, and received so many life-changing testimonials as a result!
Her newest book "Skin Healing Expert" (May 2020 - Kyle Books) is all about adopting a five-pillar plan. Looking at sleep, exercise, diet, lifestyle and what we apply to our skin. Ultimately building a step-by-step holistic healing programme at a pace to suit.
Hanna shares the before and after pictures on her Instagram @HannaSillitoe and also has a podcast featuring inspiring stories from people following this plan.
(SEE LINKS BELOW)
Use code OMAH10 for 10% off any of Hanna's skin & haircare on her site