9 Bad Psoriasis Habits and How to Break 'em
While you can’t prevent or prepare for all psoriasis flares (that may itch and flake like crazy), much of what you do and don’t do daily can have a huge impact on slowing or even stopping recurrences. Read on to see what top dermatologists say you should cease and desist doing—ASAP—for the sake of your skin.
Bad Habit: Treating It Like Eczema
Sure, psoriasis and eczema look similar. But the two are very different and should be treated as such. Eczema usually shows up around the neck and in the folds of arms and legs, says Lynn McKinley-Grant, M.D., associate professor of dermatology at Duke University in Durham, NC. Psoriasis, however, presents with discrete, very symmetrical plaques, often on elbows, knees, and the scalp. Eczema is usually treated with topical steroids and gentle skin care. Psoriasis on the other hand also includes treatments such as light therapy, a vitamin-A derivative to slow skin-cell growth, or systemic medication.
Bad Habit: Hiding From the Sun
SPF coverage is and will always be the number-one skincare rule, but spending a chunk of time outdoors is actually a skin-calming solution for psoriasis sufferers. “UVB exposure from the sun can slow the rapid growth of skin cells that occurs with psoriasis,” says Sapna Palep, M.D., clinical instructor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “This may help ease inflammation and reduce scaling in people with mild-to-moderate psoriasis.” Just remember to always apply an SPF of 30 or higher to plaque-free skin before any sun exposure.
Bad Habit: Lighting Up
Aside from all the obvious reasons why smoking is just all around unhealthy, it also leads to plaque breakouts on skin. The chemicals in cigarettes constrict blood flow, which puts the body into a state of stress that can bring on a flare. And it’s not just traditional cigarettes that can upset skin. Dr. McKinley-Grant notes that vaping also increases skin sensitivity and inflammation by constricting blood vessels and drying it out.
Bad Habit: Eating Itch-inducing Foods
Research suggests a direct link between obesity and psoriasis, but even if you do keep your weight in check, there are certain foods that you may want to scale back on. Limit foods like red meat, dairy, eggs, gluten, and processed foods, says Dr. Palep. Anything that causes inflammation within the body like soda, high carb diets, and alcohol should also be put on the back burner, adds Dr. McKinley-Grant. We know—overhauling your diet is not easy. Instead, try cutting out one item at a time and replacing them with inflammation-fighting foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like fish, avocados, and nuts.
Bad Habit: Picking!
It may be hard to look at the scales on your skin without getting the urge to pick at it, but you must resist. This type of trauma to the skin will only cause more psoriasis plaques to pop up. Think of how skin reacts to a cut: As the skin heals, a scar forms. Similarly, if the body senses any type of trauma, psoriasis plaques may show up in response. If you’re in need of some skin sloughing, use a soft washcloth and go at it in a gentle circular motion.
Bad Habit: Not Reading Product Labels
Before slathering a product on, flip it over and read the ingredients list. Dr. Palep suggests avoiding salicylic acid, sulfates, tea tree oil, and coal tar, which can all heighten skin sensitivity. And while your instincts may lead you to reach for traditional itch fixes like calamine, camphor, diphenhydramine hydrochloride (HCl), benzocaine, and menthol, these may all increase irritation. Instead, look for soothing ingredients like aloe and oatmeal that help reduce inflammation.
Bad Habit: Staying Up Late
It’s a vicious cycle: itchy, painful skin makes for some restless nights, but a lack of sleep makes people with psoriasis itchier. Poor sleep habits induce an internal stress on the body that makes your immune system get out of whack, and that exhaustion and stress can make psoriasis symptoms worse. The best fix is to get ahead of a breakout by perfecting your sleep routine. Ask your doc about melatonin or try a mediation app like Headspace that could help you wind down faster if you’re having trouble relaxing on your own.
Bad Habit: Not Taking Stress Seriously
In addition to sleep deprivation, heightened stress puts pressure on your body that can not only compromise your immune system, but keep you awake and send your system into overdrive. Ultimately, this all triggers a bout with psoriasis. Try to build in downtime into each day, even if it’s just 15 minutes. Meditation and exercise, learning to say no, and even a digital detox from time to time to reduce overstimulation are all ways to alleviate anxiety and stress that if not checked will show up on your skin.
Bad Habit: Not Taking Care of Yourself
“Besides irritated skin, psoriasis is most often 'felt' in the joints as it can cause arthritis,” says Roy Seidenberg. M.D. attending physician and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the New York University School of Medicine in New York City. In addition to psoriatic arthritis, patients with psoriasis have a higher rate of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and fatty liver disease. Again, this is where diet, exercise and stress reduction can have a great impact not only on your skin, but your overall health.