Best Tips for Psoriasis Self-Care
Having psoriasis is a lot like being a warrior: Bravery, determination, and grit are required to go the distance with this disease. For nearly eight million Americans, the red, itchy, scaly patches are a daily struggle—one that is exacerbated by anxiety. “Psoriasis is an inflammatory disease that gets worse with stress,” says Orit Markowitz, M.D., an associate professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Learn to stay ahead of the discomfort with this at-home skin-pampering plan.
Check Your Diet
While there’s no special meal that can magically cure the condition, many patients find that eating specific foods either improve symptoms—or trigger them. “Pro-inflammatory foods, including red meat, will exacerbate psoriasis,” says Geneva-based dermatologist, Dr. Luigi L. Polla, M.D., founder of the Forever Institut. Dairy is another culprit. Red meats and dairy contain arachidonic acid, a type of fat that increases inflammation, worsening symptoms.
Eat Like a Greek
Meanwhile, the Mediterranean diet can give your body an all-around boost. A 2018 study published in JAMA Dermatology found that people with psoriasis who followed a Med-based meal plan rich in vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, fruit, nuts, and extra-virgin olive oil experienced less-severe flares. The reason: These foods have an anti-inflammatory effect, thus offering protection from psoriasis triggers.
Skip the Drink
We could all use an outlet for stress right now, but drinking (or smoking) is not the answer—especially if you have psoriasis. “Alcohol makes treatment more challenging,” Dr. Polla says. Researchers believe that alcohol increases the production of inflammatory cytokines and cell cycle activators, which may put cell regeneration on super-speed. (Alcohol may also weaken the immune system.) And then there’s smoking, which not only increases the risk for psoriasis in the first place, it negatively impacts the response to treatment.
Monitor Your Meds
It takes time before symptoms settle down on treatment—sometimes, several weeks. Keeping tabs on skin changes can reassure you that the meds are actually working. “Once the medication begins to work on the skin’s surface, you’ll see scales start to smooth out,” Dr. Markowitz says. “Then, the psoriatic plaques will appear more like normal skin and any red coloration with (at times) some faint white or brown discoloration will begin to normalize.”
Easy to say, harder to execute. Here’s the thing: “Stress has an impact on all inflammatory conditions, including psoriasis, because it modifies the immune system,” says Dr. Polla. Stress can induce flares and may contribute to the development of psoriasis in the first place: Psychological stress precedes the onset of disease in 44% of people with psoriasis, studies show, and causes recurrent skin flares in up to 88% of people. Bottom line: Walk in nature, learn yoga, or draw a warm bath. Do what it takes to stay calm.
Soothe Your Skin
One of the most challenging aspects of psoriasis is trying to keep your skin calm during a flare. Severe forms of this disease require careful doctor supervision, but if your case of PsO is mild, CeraVe Psoriasis Cream ($26) may offer relief. Formulated with 2% salicylic acid, a chemical exfoliant, this gentle moisturizer removes scales, relieves redness and itching, and helps restore moisture without setting off an inflammatory reaction.
Cleanse Without Irritation
Recognized by the National Psoriasis Foundation, Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo-Extra Strength ($6) contains 1% coal tar, which can help slow the rapid growth of skin cells and help reduce itching, scaling, and inflammation. Meanwhile Bioderma Atoderm Cleansing Oil ($16) is a gentle body oil that cleanses and soothes sensitive, dry skin and infuses moisture thanks to a blend of vegetal biolipids. It’s safe enough for use on the face and body.
Try OTC Treatments
You’ll find topical corticosteroids creams at your local drugstore. They range in potency, and depending on your symptoms, they can be used to treat mild-to-moderate psoriasis on most areas of the body. Although nowhere as effective as prescription treatments for psoriasis, corticosteroid creams work by slowing the production of skin cells and reducing itching and inflammation. They are applied in the form of a cream, solution, ointment, or shampoo.
Call Out the Big Guns
When your psoriasis has moved beyond the mild stage, you’re likely looking at a prescription Rx. It can take a little trial and error to find what works, so if your med cabinet starts looking like command central, don’t sweat it. Your dermatologist will work with you to figure out the most effective treatment plan. Even when you find one med that works, your derm may switch you down the road if it becomes less effective. The most important thing: You’ve got options to get your skin feeling and looking good.
- Effect of Fats on Psoriasis: British Journal of Dermatology. (2016). “Consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of incident psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis from the Nurses’ Health Study II.” onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/bjd.15059
- Smoking, Alcohol, and Psoriasis: Anais Brasileiros de Dermatologia. (2018). “Prevalence of Smoking, Alcohol Consumption and Metabolic Syndrome in Patients with Psoriasis.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5916391/
- Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet: Journal of Translational Medicine. (2015). “Nutrition and Psoriasis: Is There Any Association Between the Severity of the Disease and Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet?” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4316654/
- Stress and Psoriasis: Clinical and Experimental Dermatology. (2019). “Influence of Stress on the Development of Psoriasis.” onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ced.14105
- Psoriasis & Topical Treatments: InformedHealth.org. (2017). “Topical treatments for psoriasis” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK435705/