Everything you need to know about psoriasis – what causes it, what makes it worse, and how to soothe it
One thing that helps is knowing that you're not alone (shout out to everyone brave enough to share their stories) and knowing what psoriasis is, what sparks a flare-up, how to treat it, and how to keep it at bay is invaluable.
To that end, here are the answers to the most frequently asked and valuable questions surrounding psoriasis.
What is psoriasis?
Dr Clare Morrison, GP and Medical Advisor at Medexpress, says: “Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes red, flakey, crusty patches of skin covered with silvery scales. It's often worse on the elbows, knees, scalp and back but can occur anywhere.
“In this condition, skin cells build up too thickly instead of being shed normally.” Skin cells are normally created and replaced every 3-4 weeks, but in those with psoriasis, this process only takes 3-7 days. The result is the build-up of cells that we recognise as psoriasis.
What does psoriasis look like?
Psoriasis might look like dry skin, but it's much more complicated than that. It’s a long-lasting, chronic disease that usually involves periods where it disappears altogether and periods where it’s mild before flaring up and becoming more severe than ever.
What are the different types of psoriasis?
There are many different types of psoriasis, identified by their appearance on the body.
- Plaque: looks like large lesions covered by scales.
- Guttate: shows up in the form of small red teardrop-shaped spots with fine scales.
- Inverse: a condition involving red, shiny, smooth lesions found in the body's folds such as the armpit or groin.
- Pustular: defined by red bumps filled with pus.
- Erythrodermic: a rarer kind that presents itself as a hot, peeling rash across the entire body.
It's possible to suffer from just one type, but it's not uncommon to face multiple classes. This can lead to psoriatic arthritis, characterised by inflamed and swollen joints.
What is the leading cause of psoriasis? And is psoriasis caused by stress?
Dr Claire tells us, “Psoriasis is often genetic, meaning that you're more at risk if close relatives have it. The exact cause isn't known, but it's thought to be triggered by a fault in the immune system.” The immune system provides your body’s main defence against disease and infection, but in the case of psoriasis, it launches as an attack against healthy skin cells mistakenly. Confusing, we know.
“Stress can certainly be a trigger, as can trauma to the skin, certain medications, hormone changes, and throat infections, for example,” Dr Claire adds.
Can psoriasis go away?
Just like the way it appears, the way and reason psoriasis may go is just as elusive and, in the words of Dr Claire, "spontaneous". Often it can go into remission for long periods, either of its own accord or thanks to medicine helping to manage it. “It may come back, but not always,” explains Dr Claire.
Are there specific triggers that can make psoriasis worse?
Thankfully, there are a few things that Dr Claire recommends we can actively avoid reducing the chances of a flare-up.
- Cold, dry weather
- Being overweight
- Skin damage, including cuts, scratches, and sunburn
- Diet, with the main culprits being gluten, and nightshade vegetables including tomatoes, potatoes and aubergine
What is the best treatment for psoriasis?
Like most things in life, there's no cure-all treatment, but there are certain things you can do to soothe symptoms.
Dr Claire suggests creams and ointments that include coal tar, steroids, vitamin D analogues such as calcipotriol, retinoids, salicylic acid, and moisturisers.
Dr Claire says that after "sensitising the skin with psoralen", ultraviolet light can be administered by a registered dermatologist to alleviate sensitivity.
Then there's the new microbiome-based treatment from AxisBiotix, a blended gut-skin health supplement composed of natural bacteria that has been specifically designed to improve skin health. While still a relatively new treatment, results have been extremely promising. A study of 265 people suffering from mild to moderate psoriasis,
74% of participants reported that they were less itchy, 73% less red, 71% less irritable, 64% less flaky patches – with most of the changes reaching peak effectiveness within two weeks of taking AxisBiotix.
Other treatments include oral immunosuppressants such as methotrexate, but Dr Claire advises that this isn't suitable for women who may become pregnant and can cause problems such as liver disease.
Are there any products that you recommend for psoriasis?
Dr Claire says this depends on the extent of the condition, the type of psoriasis, and where it is on the body. Generally, the more simple the product, the better. Look through ingredients lists to identify potential triggers (add fragrance, alcohol and sulphates to your blacklist) and stick to minimal, calming formulas with soothing ingredients (shea butter, oatmeal and aloe vera are all good'uns).
The beauty industry has many nourishing and soothing skincare solutions, many of which have been dermatologically approved to suit even the most sensitive skins and high-coverage, long-wearing body makeup should you wish to conceal any areas of concern. Read on to shop the best.
Best foundation for eczema sufferers
Oxygenetix Oxygenating Foundation, £45, Skin City
Originally formulated for those who had just undergone surgery, this foundation provides buildable coverage that is totally breathable, meaning you can cover up any areas while still allowing your skin to heal.