If you have psoriasis, you probably already know how frustrating and challenging it can be at times to deal with the condition. Symptoms such as itching and scaling of the skin can affect your ability to perform daily activities, affect your emotional health, and affect your quality of life.
The good news: There are ways to make life easier with psoriasis. Follow these guidelines and tips to help control your symptoms.
Talk to a dermatologist. Make an appointment with a dermatologist who specializes in psoriasis – he or she will be aware of the latest developments regarding your treatment plans. Be prepared to discuss the details of your condition with your doctor, including when you first noticed it, what your symptoms are, any situations that seem to make your symptoms worse, and what treatments have worked and haven’t worked in the past.
Are you moisturizing. Dry skin is more prone to psoriasis outbreaks, so keep your skin well moisturized. After a shower or bath, seal in moisture by applying a generous amount of moisturizing cream or ointment to your skin. Vaseline cream, Cetaphil, and Eucerin are some commonly available moisturizers that have been reported to provide good results. Avoid lightweight lotions that don’t contain enough emollients.
If over-the-counter products don’t help, your doctor may prescribe a moisturizing cream that contains medication.
Be especially careful to moisturize during the winter months, when cold weather outdoors and sweltering buildings can be a particularly drying combination. “In psoriasis, the epidermis builds up quickly, producing thick scales,” says James W. Swan, MD, professor of medicine in the department of dermatology at Loyola University Medical Center in LaGrange Park, Illinois.
When the skin is hydrated, the scales soften and fall off, relieving itching and dryness. “But not using anything on the skin for three days will allow the scale to become very thick,” says Dr. Swan.
soak. Soaking in a warm (not hot) bath for 15 minutes can loosen the scales and help reduce the itching and inflammation caused by psoriasis. Adding sea salt, oatmeal, bath oil, or shower gel containing coal tar to the water can further soothe and moisturize your skin. If you live or vacation in an area with mineral or salt baths, take a dip in one. Both are associated with relieving psoriasis.
Get some sun. For reasons experts still don’t fully understand, psoriatic lesions often diminish when exposed to UV light. So while sunbathing is discouraged for most people due to the risk of skin cancer, it can be beneficial for those with psoriasis. The trick is to make sure that only the areas affected by psoriasis are exposed.
Cover uninfected skin with clothing or sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Limit sun exposure to 15 minutes, and be careful to avoid sunburn, which will only make matters worse. It may take several weeks to see an improvement. Avoid tanning beds, as they do not produce the same healing effect and may actually be harmful.
Your doctor may also recommend UVB light therapy, either in the doctor’s office or at home. According to Swan, “One of the gold standards for psoriasis treatment is phototherapy,” which involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet light on a regular basis and under medical supervision. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, UVB light in particular penetrates the skin and slows the growth of affected skin cells.
“UVB rays reduce the inflammatory cells in the skin that cause psoriasis,” says Swan. “It also slows cell reproduction, which causes them to expand.”
Do not reach. Having psoriasis isn’t just physically hard — it can be emotionally tough, too. Feelings of depression, frustration, and isolation are common. Body image issues related to the appearance of psoriatic lesions are normal. While you may feel as though you are the only person suffering from the condition, the World Health Organization actually reports that at least 100 million people are affected worldwide.
Discuss your feelings about the disease with your family, friends, and doctor. In-person and online support groups for people with psoriasis can also provide support and help you remember that you are not alone. Psoriasis organizations, such as the National Psoriasis Foundation, can connect you with others with psoriasis, as well as update you on research developments and opportunities to participate in fundraising walks and other events.
Don’t overdo it. The best way to deal with psoriasis is to do it gently. Avoid the temptation to scratch or rub the lesions, as this will only irritate and aggravate them. Try not to pick at the scale, as this can cause bleeding and increase your risk of infection. Instead, talk to your doctor about creams and ointments that can gently remove thick scales. Taking very hot showers or using abrasive cleansers can exacerbate symptoms.
Don’t stress. Some people with psoriasis say their condition gets worse when they’re under stress. Avoid stressful situations as much as possible, and take extra steps to take care of yourself — such as eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep — when you can’t avoid stress. Hypnosis, relaxation, meditation, biofeedback, and other stress management techniques may also help.
Don’t ignore flare-ups. Psoriasis is a lifelong condition that tends to wax and wane over time. But that doesn’t mean you just have to live with it. If your psoriasis returns after a period of control, make an appointment to see your doctor to find out the cause, and to determine what can be done to treat it.
Don’t give up. One of the most frustrating things about treating psoriasis is that something that works well for one person may not work at all for another. It can take some time to find the right treatment or combination of treatments that works best for you. Be patient and don’t give up. It is important to be consistent with your treatment plan, day in and day out, even when your symptoms are not very bad. With psoriasis, slow and steady wins the race.