People with psoriasis know that flare-ups can be uncomfortable, and sometimes embarrassing. This inflammatory skin condition, which impacts nearly 8 million people in the United States, is, after all, something that may feel like it has a life of its own, appearing when and where it chooses as pink or red patches of skin, covered in a scaly texture known as plaques.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, and, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), when it flares up, the immune system causes skin cells to multiply too quickly, most often on the scalp, elbows or knees, although it could appear anywhere on the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some people with psoriasis also develop something called psoriatic arthritis, which causes inflammation in the joints. Scientists aren’t sure what causes psoriasis, but it’s likely a mix of genetic and environmental factors. It’s important to note that psoriasis is not contagious.
While there is no cure for psoriasis, most cases are mild or moderate and usually respond to ointments prescribed by your dermatologist, according to NIAMS. In addition, there are a number of steps that people with psoriasis can take to care for their skin and try to keep flare-ups at bay.
- Follow your doctor’s orders
First and foremost, talk to your dermatologist. He or she can recommend different treatments, including prescription or over-the-counter creams and ointments, along with therapy (such as light therapy) and medications that could help your specific condition. If you experience changes or are concerned about your skin, don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider and talk about what you’re experiencing.
- Quit smoking
If you use tobacco products, quit for the sake of your skin (and your other organs!). According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), people with psoriasis who have quit smoking may experience fewer flares and longer remission periods. In addition, quitting smoking can decrease your risk for health conditions that impact the heart, liver and gums.
- Manage your stress
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, stress can trigger psoriasis flare-ups, and can even increase itching. There are a number of activities that can help reduce stress, including exercise, deep breathing, mindfulness and meditation. Find a stress-relieving activity that works for you, and make it a part of your routine.
- Seek mental health help
Research has shown that people with psoriasis are at risk for depression, because of the stigma attached to the skin condition. If you are feeling sad, hopeless or anxious, seek help. Find a psychologist or counselor to talk to, or look for a support group that meets in your community or online. Connecting with others with shared experiences may help.
- Limit your bathing time and temperature
While long, hot showers and baths can be tempting, they can also dry skin out. AAD recommends taking one short shower (5 minutes) or bath (15 minutes) a day, and make sure it’s warm, not hot. Use a gentle soap or cleanser and wash your body with your hands, rather than a cloth or poof, which could be irritating.
- Moisturize regularly
After you shower or bathe, moisturize immediately with a gentle, fragrance free moisturizer. Before buying anything new, always talk to your dermatologist about what products you should seek out and what to avoid. It may help to look for products with the National Psoriasis Foundation Seal of Recognition, which shouldn’t irritate your skin.
- Eat a healthy diet
Because psoriasis involves inflammation of the skin, there may be a benefit to eating an anti-inflammatory diet. An article published by Hopkins Medicine lists these foods to avoid, because they may increase inflammation: alcohol, dairy, highly processed foods (fast food, pastries, breakfast cereals) gluten (bread and pasta), added sugar (candy, soda, fruit juices, baked foods), saturated fats and trans fats (as in processed foods, red meat, cheese, red meat, etc.). Instead, consider trying a diet such as the Mediterranean diet, which relies on whole foods that could help combat inflammation. That means eating lots of fish, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds and whole grains.
- Get enough sleep
Some people with psoriasis find it hard to sleep, because they’re uncomfortable. Sleep is important for the body to function and heal. If you’re struggling to sleep, some common actions that can help include exercising during the day, avoiding heavy meals, limiting caffeine and sticking to a consistent pre-bed routine. If those aren’t helping, talk to your doctor and ask for sleep advice.
- Educate yourself on other health risks
People with psoriasis face greater odds of developing other health conditions, such as psoriatic arthritis, heart attack and stroke, mental health problems (including depression and anxiety), certain cancers, diabetes, obesity, Crohn’s disease, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, kidney disease, liver disease and a condition impacting the eye, called uveitis, according to NIAMS. See your health care provider regularly to screen for these conditions.
If you have psoriasis, or you think you do—it can appear as red or pink patches; as dry, cracked, painful skin or even changes to your fingernails and toenails—make an appointment with a dermatologist today. With a little medical assistance, and maybe a few lifestyle tweaks, you can manage your symptoms and feel better.