At Westchester Health, we have a lot of patients come to us wanting relief for their psoriasis, a common but chronic skin condition that’s primarily caused by an overactive immune system which produces inflammation, triggering new skin cells to form too quickly. Normally, skin cells are replaced every 10-30 days but with psoriasis, new cells grow every 3-4 days. It’s the buildup of old cells being replaced by new ones that signals psoriasis.
Do you have psoriasis?
Psoriasis usually appears in early adulthood but can come and go throughout a person’s life. Typical symptoms include thick, red, bumpy patches covered with silvery, flaking scales. The affected skin itches, cracks and can bleed easily if a person picks or rubs off the scales. Finger- and toenails can form pits, thicken, crack and become loose.
These patches can pop up anywhere, but most commonly appear on the scalp, elbows, knees and lower back. In severe cases, psoriasis can afflict large parts of the body and be quite painful.
People with psoriasis can also get a type of arthritis called psoriatic arthritis which causes pain and swelling in the joints. The National Psoriasis Foundation estimates that 10-30% of people with psoriasis also have psoriatic arthritis.
Fortunately, psoriasis can’t be passed from person to person but it does sometimes occur in members of the same family.
More than just a skin condition
Depending on where it is on your body, psoriasis can be an embarrassing disease. Often, people with psoriasis won’t be allowed in a swimming pool. Fellow passengers on a crowded train move away from them. Friends don’t want them to handle food or help out in the kitchen when making a meal.
All of this can make people with psoriasis feel isolated and excluded, which can have serious psychological side effects. Combine these emotions with the pain and discomfort psoriasis can cause and this condition becomes very stressful, which only makes it worse.
In fact, studies have shown that psoriasis detracts more from the quality of life than any other condition except depression, and that’s including life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
10 best ways to treat psoriasis
At this time, there’s no outright cure for psoriasis but it does respond well to certain creams, ointments, prescription retinoids and phototherapy. In addition, here are our 10 best suggestions for home remedies you can administer yourself at home:
Tip 1: Keep your skin moist
After applying thick lotions or creams onto the affected area, seal in the moisture with ointments like petroleum jelly, shortening or olive oil. Dry skin makes the irritation and itchiness of psoriasis worse. Be careful not to use too much during hot, sticky summer months. Sweat mixed with thick creams can make psoriasis worse.
Tip 2: Take fewer showers and baths
Over-bathing can strip your skin of natural oils. We suggest bathing every other day or every third day, especially in the winter. Make sure the water’s not too hot—lukewarm is best. To help your skin retain moisture, add non-fragrance salts, oil or finely ground oatmeal to your bathwater.
Tip 3: Before you go to bed, wrap the affected skin with a bandage or plastic wrap.
In the morning, wash the area gently. Over time, this can help with scaling.
Tip 4: Spend time in the sun
Sunlight can help psoriasis but sunburn makes it worse. For this reason, use a sunscreen that contains zinc oxide and has an SPF of 30 or higher on areas that don’t have psoriasis, and limit how much sun you get. Twenty minutes a day 3 days a week is good.
Tip 5: Stop smoking
Smoking makes psoriasis worse. In one study, people who smoked more than a pack a day were twice as likely to have a serious case of psoriasis compared to those who smoked half a pack or less. The effects were even stronger in women who already had psoriasis.
Tip 6: Drink moderately or not at all
Psoriasis is more common in people who drink heavily, and alcohol may affect men’s psoriasis more than women’s.
Tip 7: Change your diet
There’s no solid evidence that any particular food makes psoriasis better or worse. However, many people report that their patches of affected skin get better when they cut back on sugar, white flour and caffeine.
Tip 8: Pay attention to your mental health
Try not to let psoriasis negatively affect your self-esteem. If this condition is dragging you down, please get help. Talking to a therapist or joining a support group of other people who understand what you’re going through can really help.
Tip 9: Try to minimize stress
Stress can make psoriasis worse so we encourage you to seek out activities that help you reduce your stress levels, such as yoga, exercise or even a stress management course.
Tip 10: Be careful with skin injuries
A harmless cut or scrape can sometimes develop into a full-blown psoriasis flare-up, due to something called Koebner’s Phenomenon. In fact, some people will develop a new psoriasis lesion every time their skin is injured. Try not to get scratches, scrapes or cuts, but if you do, contact your doctor if you see any signs of skin infection such as redness, swelling or warmth at the site of the injury.
Helpful websites to learn more
Worried that you have psoriasis, or that it’s getting worse? Come see us.
If you have psoriasis and want to know the best ways to treat it, please call (914) 232-1919 to make an appointment with one of our Westchester Health dermatology specialists. We’ll examine your skin, evaluate your symptoms and recommend a course of treatment that will hopefully greatly improve your condition. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.