9 Winter Tips for Psoriasis Care
These strategies will get you through the season with fewer plaque episodes.
When winter weather comes knocking, so too does an increase in challenges for those living with psoriasis. There’s proof: In a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology patients reported that their psoriasis flares increased the most in the winter thanks to cold temperatures, dry indoor air, and a lack of sunlight. On top of that, heavier clothes and more layers make itchy patches even more uncomfortable. Read on for some fast and easy tips to help you prevent flares and cope with the plaques you do get during the chilly winter months.
Take steps to stay healthy. “Maintaining good health will lead to less inflammation that can trigger the psoriasis,” insists Suzanne Friedler, M.D., a clinical Instructor at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. Whether it be a cold or COVID-19, keeping illness at bay is important for everyone during the season of colder temps, but it’s crucial for those trying to avoid plaques, which are caused by an immune system disruption that results in the skin cells reproducing at a rapid rate. Take necessary precautions, such as frequent hand washing (which we’re all doing anyway thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic), getting plenty of rest, and eating right to keep your body running smoothly. And ask your doctor if you’re clear to get a flu shot. The nasal vaccine is not recommended for immunocompromised people, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, because it contains live virus.
Use thick, creamy moisturizer. Dry winter air causes not only itch- and irritation-triggered flare-ups but it makes the plaques themselves drier and more uncomfortable. Sandy Skotnicki, M.D., assistant professor in the departments of dermatology and occupational and environmental Health at University of Toronto says that’s why it’s all about a good rich cream when temperatures drop. Her advice: “Moisturize daily with a targeted moisturizer for skin disease—those with ceramides, lipids, fragrance-free plant oils.” These ingredients hydrate while also restoring the skin’s protective barrier. And going fragrance-free is key, as perfumes can be irritating. Try: CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, $19.50, target.com.
Lower the temperature of your shower. While long, hot showers may be relaxing, the hot water actually breaks down your skin’s natural oils and strips it of moisture, which can trigger a psoriasis flare or make an existing one worse. Dr. Skotnicki says the first thing you can do is lower the temperature of your water so it’s warm rather than steamy, and then make an effort to limit your sudsing sessions. Dr. Skotnicki’s ideal time? ”Less than 5 to 10 minutes.”
Practice relaxation techniques every day. According to Dr. Friedler, stress is “definitely” a factor in psoriasis flares, as she’s seen it in her own patients. Indeed, findings in The Journal of Psychosomatic Research indicate that 61% of adults with the condition name stress as a trigger. And with the holidays, anxiety is typically in no short supply—and this year there are pandemic worries to throw on top of them. A few things to try for at least a few minutes daily to bring those levels down: regular exercise, meditation, and yoga.
Use a humidifier at home. Since so many of winter’s psoriasis factors come down to parched, irritated skin, using a humidifier can counteract the effects of dry indoor heat and help keep your skin moist. You can have one in every room if you like, but Dr. Skotnicki says, “If you can only put it one place, put it in the bedroom.” You’re ideally spending eight hour stretches in there, so it could potentially have a big impact on your skin’s moisture levels.
Drink plenty of water. Hydrating from the inside out is important for psoriasis sufferers. A research review in Nutrition Reviews concluded that water intake offsets transepidermal water loss (a.k.a moisture lost through the skin’s surface). That’s key since irritation from both dryness and the scratching associated with it can bring on plaques. Dr. Friedlers says that in the winter, people may not think to drink as much as they do when the summer heat triggers their thirst. She suggests changing your mindset by, “thinking of drinking water as self-care.” Shoot for at least eight glasses a day; the more h2o you drink (seltzer, herbal tea and fruit/veggie infused water counts), the better.
Choose your clothes carefully. Staying bundled is a must in the winter but how you do it can make a big difference in managing psoriasis. Dr. Skotnicki’s first rule: Avoid wool, which is scratchy and can cause irritation that can set off a flare. Instead look for soft breathable fabrics. Second rule: “Use layers as overheating can make your psoriasis irritated and even itchy.” How you care for your clothes is important, too. “Fragrance can really linger on clothing now, the technology has advanced so much that it continues to release bursts of scent [on your skin] with heat,” she insists. And since perfumes can be irritating, she recommends using a fragrance-free detergent and fabric softener (if using).
Talk to your doctor about light therapy. When you team winter weather with a global pandemic, many of us are spending more time indoors. Here’s the thing: studies have shown that UV rays slow the overproduction of skin cells that occurs with psoriasis. Dr. Friedler says this is when science can step in, explaining, “When regular sunlight is not available there are treatments at your dermatologist’s office such as narrow band UVB treatment and Excimer laser.” These phototherapies, which are also available for at-home use, simulate outdoor sunlight to safely help slow the overproduction of skin cells—indoors.
Be mindful of handwashing. Handwashing is a way of life in a pandemic, but it can be seriously drying to your skin. There’s no way around cleaning your hands regularly, so Dr. Skotnicki has a rule: “It’s important to never have your hands in water and detergent unless you are washing yourself.” She continues, “That means using non-latex reusable gloves for dishes, cleaning, and laundry!”
- Winter Worsens Psoriasis: Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2015). “Seasonal variation of acne and psoriasis: A 3-year study using the Physician Global Assessment severity scale.” jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(15)01740-5/fulltext#articleInformation
- Stress and Psoriasis: Journal of Psychosomatic Research. (2010). “Perceived stress, stress attributions and psychological distress in psoriasis.” pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15581650/
- Drinking Water: Nutrition Reviews. (2010). “Water, hydration, and health.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908954/