Psoriasis is a skin condition where the body creates new skin cells too quickly. This causes a build-up of cells that present on the skin as scaly or flaky silvery-white patches. These patches of scaly skin are called plaques.
Plaques can occur anywhere on the body but are most commonly found on the knees, elbows, scalp, and lower back. They’re usually itchy and can become intensely uncomfortable if left untreated. Some people with psoriasis will experience pain, burning, stinging, or tightness.
To prevent this, people with psoriasis need to take special care of their skin. From proper nutrition to the right moisturizer, paying attention to some simple factors can make a huge difference. Let’s learn more about psoriasis, how to recognize it, and how to care for skin affected by it.
What causes psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a common autoimmune condition that affects males and females equally. Around 2% 1 of the US population has psoriasis. While the exact cause is still unclear, it’s likely that psoriasis has a genetic link and is influenced by the person’s environment. It's not contagious.
It’s common for psoriasis to go through cycles of flaring up and then clearing up.
What are the types of psoriasis?
There are several different types of psoriasis 2 including:
- Plaque psoriasis
Plaque psoriasis is the most common form of psoriasis that appears as red, inflamed patches of skin covered by silvery-white scales.
- Guttate psoriasis
Guttate psoriasis occurs mostly in children and young adults, usually following an infection such as strep throat. It appears as small, red dots on the torso and limbs.
- Pustular psoriasis
Pustular psoriasis presents as pus-filled bumps surrounded by red skin, usually on the hands and feet.
- Inverse psoriasis
Inverse psoriasis appears as smooth red patches of skin in places where the skin folds, such as at the groin or beneath armpits or breasts.
- Erythrodermic psoriasis
Erythrodermic psoriasis is a rare but very severe form of psoriasis that covers most of the body, usually triggered by a bad sunburn or certain medications. It usually develops in people who have another form of psoriasis that has not been properly controlled.
Skincare routines for psoriasis
Skincare 3 is important for everyone, but for people with psoriasis, extra attention is needed. Relieving itchiness is often a main priority for many people who live with the condition.
While there's no cure for psoriasis, giving your skin a little extra gentle care can improve symptoms and your skin’s overall appearance.
1. Wash carefully
Wash your skin carefully:
- Limit showers to 5 minutes and baths to 15 minutes. Spending a long time in water can dry out skin and make itching worse
- Wash in warm rather than hot water
- Choose cleansing products wisely. Use gentle moisturizing cleansers and avoid any products that are fragranced or antibacterial
- Avoid using loofahs or exfoliating washcloths, and use your hands to wash yourself
- Be careful when shaving, as small cuts or nicks can cause symptoms to flare up
- Pat skin dry gently with a towel and avoid any harsh scrubbing motions
- Gently apply a fragrance-free moisturizer within 5 minutes of finishing your bath or shower
- Brush and style hair softly, and try to avoid letting heated hair appliances come into contact with your scalp
2. Keep skin moisturized with gentle products
Keeping skin moist is very important in psoriasis care. However, you should choose your products very carefully and read the ingredients to make sure they are gentle enough for skin with psoriasis.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Check ingredients before you buy a product, and avoid anything you know irritates your skin. It’s usually a good idea to avoid products that contain fragrances or dyes, essential oils, and alcohols like ethanol or propylene glycol
- Products that contain urea may help soften scales
- Products that contain coal tar may help reduce itching and flaking
- Products that contain honey may help reduce symptoms 4
- Products that contain camphor, calamine, or menthol can help reduce itching
- Always test new products on small patches of skin before applying generally to see how your skin reacts to it
3. Protect your skin
Sun protection is especially important for anyone with psoriasis, as sunburn can potentially trigger flare-ups. Choose a broad-spectrum, water-resistant, fragrance-free sunscreen made especially for sensitive skin. Always use at least SPF30 or higher.
Once you have taken the proper precautions, small doses of sun exposure can actually help soothe and improve psoriasis symptoms. Just make sure not to overdo it.
Keep skin covered when possible and use insect repellent as bug bites can cause skin irritation that worsens psoriasis symptoms.
What triggers psoriasis?
People who live with psoriasis will learn over time what triggers their condition to flare up. It’s important to get to know your body and your skin well. Triggers 5 vary person to person, but common ones include:
- Injury like sunburn or a cut
- Infection like strep throat
- Some medications like corticosteroids
- Weather, especially cold, dry weather
- Heavy alcohol use
Avoiding or managing these triggers can help to reduce the effect of psoriasis symptoms.
Managing psoriasis through lifestyle
As with any condition, healthier lifestyle choices 6 can help with symptom management. Avoiding triggers and trying to stay in good physical health can support healthier skin and reduce flare-ups. Try to pay attention to how you feel after eating different foods or after experiencing different external factors, like a big night out. In general, the following steps are a good idea:
- If you smoke, try to quit
- Try to avoid drinking heavily
- Engage in regular physical activity
- Work with a healthcare practitioner to monitor how different foods affect you
- Try to reduce stress or engage in stress-reducing activities more often
- Eat foods that nourish the skin, like fish, seeds, and nuts
- Many people with psoriasis find avoiding dairy and gluten helpful, but always consult a healthcare provider if making big changes to your diet
When to speak to a healthcare provider
If you think you may have psoriasis, make an appointment with a dermatologist. They'll be able to confirm the diagnosis, prescribe treatments, and offer you sound medical advice. As psoriasis can be extremely uncomfortable, it’s always best to seek support from a trained professional who can support you in managing the condition.
It’s also a good idea to get screened for related conditions that can sometimes present alongside psoriasis, like psoriatic arthritis 7 which causes pain and swelling in the joints.
Practical tips for living with psoriasis
Psoriasis can be distressing, but learning how to manage your symptoms, avoid triggers, and find the right support can go a long way to easing the condition. Taking simple, practical steps can help you reduce the effects of symptoms and feel more in control.
- Give your skin the care and attention it needs with gentle, consistent cleansing and moisturizing routines.
- Wear clothing made from gentle fabrics that don’t irritate your skin, and always wash laundry using detergent made for sensitive skin.
- Try mindfulness, meditation, or other activities that help you relax.
- Connect to other people who live with psoriasis online or in-person to share tips, experiences, and advice. Finding solidarity and understanding can be hugely helpful.
Psoriasis is an uncomfortable condition, but with the right care, it's possible to have clearer, less irritated skin.
Remember to nourish your skin from the inside, moisturize your skin from the outside, reduce lifestyle factors that make your symptoms worse, engage in active self-care, and choose gentle products and clothing that don’t irritate your skin. If you feel alone, seek out community.
Grow your awareness of your skin and how it reacts to various lifestyle factors so you can give yourself the care you need. Anyone who has or thinks they might have psoriasis should always seek medical help. Your healthcare provider can offer you treatment and advice that can make your life—and your skin—a lot easier to manage.
Take care of yourself,
National Psoriasis Foundation (2022) Psoriasis Statistics. Accessed on 20 November 2023.
NIH (2023) Psoriasis. Accessed on 20 November 2023.
AAD (2023) Skin, Hair, and Nail Care for People Who Have Psoriasis. Accessed 20 November 2023.
AAD Int. (2021) Complementary and alternative medicine treatments for common skin diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Accessed on 20 November 2023.
AAD (2023) Psoriasis triggers: How to find and manage yours. Accessed on 20 November 2023.
Cochrane Library (2019) Lifestyle changes for treating psoriasis. Accessed on 20 November 2023.
National Psoriasis Foundation (2020) Related Conditions of Psoriasis. Accessed on 20 November 2023.