What is psoriasis? It feels like dry skin. However, scientifically speaking, psoriasis is a condition in which skin cells multiply nearly ten times faster than they normally would, stacking up on the surface of the skin to form the lesions that characterize psoriasis. It ranges from mild (less than 5% of the body surface is affected) to severe (more than 30% of the body is affected), but it’s generally not progressive. Scientists aren’t sure exactly what causes psoriasis, but they have agreed on three factors: genetics, the immune system and the environment. Flare-ups of psoriasis are periodic and unpredictable; there can be years between outbreaks, or just days. Most often the lesions appear as silvery-red, flaky scales on parts of the body that flex, like elbows and knees, but they can show up anywhere from the scalp to the nails to the genital areas. That won’t be comfortable.
Psoriasis isn’t contagious, it isn’t picky about who it affects, and it isn’t curable. It is, however, possible to keep your psoriasis symptoms infrequent and under control – read on for practical self-care tips. Just be sure that the first thing you do is schedule an appointment with your doctor to discover the best care for your individual needs.
Types of Psoriasis
Plaque Psoriasis, aka psoriasis vulgaris (vulgaris means ‘common’), affects about 80% of psoriasis patients. Plaque psoriasis is characterized by thick patches of silvery-red skin (‘plaques’) that can appear anywhere but are usually found on the elbows, knees, scalp, chest and lower back.
Guttate Psoriasis is the second most common form of psoriasis, affecting about 10% of people with psoriasis. Guttate psoriasis appears on the arms, legs and stomach in the form of small, red dots.
Pustular Psoriasis affects less than 5% of psoriasis sufferers. It is either ‘localized’ (pus-filled lesions on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet) or ‘generalized’ (rare but serious, with large areas of red skin covered with small, pus-filled blisters).
Erythrodermic Psoriasis, occurring in 1-2% of psoriasis patients, is the least common form of psoriasis and causes the skin to lose its protective abilities. It is characterized by extreme fluctuations in body temperature, severe redness and shedding of the skin, and painful itching.
Inverse Psoriasis is severe though uncommon. Red plaques form in skin folds, such as armpits and the genitals, and the plaques are usually not scaly because of moisture found in skin folds.
Topical steroids are a quick fix.
I’ve suffered from psoriasis in the past–a dry patch or two in the ears–and the most consistent treatment I’ve found is a topical steroid, like Hydrocortisone. It’s a cheap, quick fix, though for long term effects you’ll want to consider something else.
Psoriasis Treatment at Home
Taking daily baths will help you minimize your psoriasis symptoms. Soaking in warm (not hot) water for 15 minutes or so, especially if you add oatmeal, coal tar products, or Dead Sea salts, can soothe your irritated skin and also provide relief for psoriasis of the nails. Use fragrance-free soaps whenever possible, and always be sure to pat your skin dry rather than rub it. It is okay to use a loofah or washcloth to slough off scales as long as you scrub very gently and follow up immediately with psoriasis cream, psoriasis medication or a moisturizer. For scalp psoriasis, washing your hair with a psoriasis shampoo will help ease itchiness and flakiness. And baths, really, are relaxing for your mood as well.
Moisturizing frequently is an effective psoriasis remedy. Itchiness is one of the main complaints of those who suffer from psoriasis, but moisturizers can provide immense psoriasis relief and help you avoid picking and scratching off a whole layer of skin (not recommended). There are many different moisturizers to choose from, and you may have to experiment to see what works best in your skin care regimen. Look for emollients with animal-based oils (like shea/cocoa butters or lanolin) and moisturizers with water-binding agents that will help skin maintain its water concentrations (like collagen, amino acids and proteins). Natural moisturizers such as aloe vera, jojoba oil and vitamins D and E are also effective anti-irritants and will help calm your skin (read: how to get rid of dry skin). Amazon has some good choices, like this for certified organic Cocoa Butter
Eating a psoriasis diet will help keep your psoriasis under control. A psoriasis diet is low in red meat and dairy products- which contain “arachidonic acid” that can cause inflammation – and high in antioxidant-filled fruits and vegetables. Try to avoid processed and refined foods, as they usually lack nutrition and can cause your body to become unbalanced. Supplements such as beta-carotene, zinc and vitamins A and C are said to help with several aspects of psoriasis, but it is best to consult your doctor first so that you don’t take too much of a certain vitamin or exacerbate another condition. Be sure to get plenty of water, and use moderation if you choose to drink alcohol.
Getting natural sunlight can be an effective treatment for psoriasis. Sunlight slows down the growth of skin cells, which in turn can reduce your psoriasis symptoms. Try for daily doses of about twenty minutes at a time, but be patient – it may take several weeks before you notice improvement. Although sunlight has proven to be an effective psoriasis treatment, it is important to take precautions for your safety. Avoid the sun between 10 and 2, when the rays are strongest, and protect yourself by using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Also be aware that many medications can make you much more susceptible to the sun. If you live in a climate with long winters or are uneasy about being in the sun, there are several alternatives that are mentioned in the conclusion.
Avoiding psoriasis triggers can help in healing psoriasis. You knew it was coming: the list of what you should not do. For psoriasis, here’s what can bring on a flare-up: stress or tension (either sudden or daily), illness, infection (such as streptococcus, or “strep throat”), smoking, alcohol, obesity, skin injury (sunburn is a good example), certain drugs (especially lithium and beta blockers), and allergies. You may find it helpful to keep a daily record of what was going on for you at the time of a flare-up – what you were eating, how the weather was, and any stressful events that might have occurred. This can help you notice a pattern and possibly reduce your psoriasis symptoms.
Psoriasis Medication and Prescribed Treatment
Doctors have found that “rotational therapy” – therapy that involves changing treatment every 6-24 months – is most effective in healing psoriasis symptoms. When your doctor prescribes treatment, it will likely involve a combination of topicals, phototherapy and systemic treatment. Topical treatments are usually done first; most doctors prefer to start with the mildest treatment and go stronger if necessary. Salicylic acid, Anthralin and Tazorac/Tazarotene are commonly used, as are topical steroids. Keep this in mind when you talk with your doctor.
Phototherapy involves exposing the skin to UV (ultra-violet) light waves under medical supervision. UVB phototherapy works well if you respond to natural sunlight, PUVA combines a light-sensitizing medication (psoralen) with UVA rays, and laser therapy targets specific plaque lesions. With a doctor’s prescription, it is also possible for patients to use a home unit for phototherapy.
Systemic treatments affect the entire body and are usually used only if patients don’t respond to topicals or phototherapy. Cyclosporine and Methotrexate are commonly used systemics. Biologics – medicines developed from living sources like cells and animal proteins – are part of this category and, though fairly new, are a promising treatment option.
Natural Psoriasis Treatments
Glucosamine Sulfate is derived from the chitin in shellfish and some insects. It helps cartilage grow and reproduce, and since the early 1980s it has proven to be an effective arthritis treatment. This is good news for people with psoriatic arthritis, because glucosamine can help control the inflammation and stiffness of the joints that is so prevalent in people with this condition. You can find Glucosamine Sulfate capsules at Amazon.
Fish Oil has been found to favorably affect the immune system, so it’s no surprise that it can improve psoriasis. Omega 3 fatty acids help regulate the body’s inflammation cycle, which in turn can reduce itchiness, redness and scaling. In order for Fish Oil to be most effective, you need to take it consistently. It is best to consult your doctor before starting this supplement so you can be sure it won’t negatively interact with another medication you may be taking.