April 17, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty

Does Psoriasis Spread on Your Body?

The common skin condition isn’t contagious, but it can pop up anywhere on your body during a flare

Person examining psoriasis on their arm and hands

Psoriasis isn’t fun. The autoimmune skin condition is known for red, scaly patches that develop on your skin. These patches, called plaques, can become itchy and cause discomfort.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

And while you can learn to manage any flare-ups (when your symptoms become worse), you may be concerned that your psoriasis can spread to other parts of your body or to other people.

So, does or can psoriasis spread?

“Psoriasis is not contagious,” clarifies dermatologist Kathryn Anderson, MD. “A lot of people who have psoriasis are self-conscious about it because the general public thinks that it’s something they can catch.”

But when it comes to your body, if your psoriasis isn’t well-managed, you may notice patches and inflammation in different areas of your body, like your scalp, genitals, lower back, elbows and knees.

Dr. Anderson explains how psoriasis spreads to different parts of your body and how to manage your condition.

Why is my psoriasis spreading?

“Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that happens when your immune system produces chemicals called cytokines that lead to inflammation in your skin,” explains Dr. Anderson.

While psoriasis isn’t contagious and can’t be passed to other people, it can spread to other parts of your body.

“Psoriasis can pop up anywhere where you have skin, from the scalp to the toes,” she says.

But this doesn’t happen because you touch one part of your body with a psoriasis patch and then touch another place on your body — remember, psoriasis isn’t contagious. It happens because of changes in your immune system that lead to flare-ups.

A flare-up happens when your immune system produces additional inflammatory proteins that cause a buildup of skin cells resulting in red, scaly, itchy patches on the surface of your skin.

How to stop it from spreading

So, how can you stop your psoriasis from spreading to other parts of your body? It all starts with managing your condition.

There are certain factors, or triggers, that commonly cause a psoriasis flare-up:

  • Cold, dry weather.
  • Changes in body temperature due to the weather.
  • Skin trauma or injuries like sunburn or cuts.
  • An infection
  • Smoking.
  • Alcohol.
  • Stress.
  • Certain medications like beta-blockers and lithium.

Advertisement

In addition to doing your best to avoid triggers, Dr. Anderson offers the following tips.

Work with a dermatologist

Dr. Anderson stresses the importance of working with a board-certified dermatologist.

“Most psoriasis can’t be treated with over-the-counter products alone,” she notes. “Some people can just use topical creams or ointments. But for people who have widespread psoriasis, we can prescribe internal medications such as biologics.”

Not only can dermatologists determine the right course for treating and managing your psoriasis, but they can also answer any questions you have and help you navigate how best to handle symptoms or other situations as they arise.

Protect your skin

We know your psoriasis may itch and you may be tempted to give it a scratch. But Dr. Anderson urges you not to scratch and do your best to avoid any trauma to your skin.

“To the best of your ability, it’s important to minimize trauma to the skin whether it’s cancer, sunburns, bug bites, cuts or even just scratching,” she says.

Doing so can lead to Koebner phenomenon, a condition that affects people with certain skin conditions like psoriasis.

Advertisement

“The trauma to the skin can cause psoriasis lesions to occur in these areas,” she continues.

Use a topical treatment

When it comes to applying a topical treatment directly to your skin and psoriasis patches, you have options.

Your dermatologist may suggest topical steroids (also known as corticosteroids), which come as a cream, lotion, gel or ointment. Prescription vitamin D creams, as well as formulas made with retinoids and salicylic acid, have been helpful in keeping psoriasis well-managed.

Moisturize your skin

Keeping your skin hydrated is also another vital way to keep psoriasis flare-ups at bay — especially during cold, dry weather, which is a common psoriasis trigger.

“Moisturizing regularly can help. I recommend using a moisturizer that has a mild keratolytic, an ingredient like salicylic acid or urea that gently exfoliates the skin,” suggests Dr. Anderson. “We don’t want to use an exfoliator or a scrub because that would lead to more trauma to the skin and potentially psoriasis flares.”

Consider light therapy

Dr. Anderson recommends light therapy for some of her patients. You may start off with treatments at your doctor’s office, using a narrowband UV-B light device. Occasionally, devices can even be used in the at-home setting.

Even natural sunlight may help, but you should do so with caution, says Dr. Anderson.

“Light treatment is immunosuppressive to the skin, meaning it can decrease inflammation in the skin,” she explains. “But that has to be balanced with the risk of sun exposure leading to skin cancer.”

Explore prescription medication

If your psoriasis is extensive enough, your healthcare provider may recommend prescription medications like methotrexate, cyclosporine (which suppresses your immune system) or a biologics medication, which decreases the aspects of the immune system that lead to psoriasis.

Advertisement

“More recently, we’ve used immunosuppressant medications called biologics to treat psoriasis, as well as psoriatic arthritis,” says Dr. Anderson. “They alter the inflammatory reaction that causes psoriasis. We also have new oral treatments for psoriasis that alter the inflammatory process that leads to psoriasis.”

Your healthcare provider will determine what type of medication is best for you. Dr. Anderson says you should bring an updated medication list to your doctor appointments so your doctor has a complete and accurate list of what you’re taking.

Try complementary and alternative therapies

Stress can make your psoriasis worse — it may be due to an increase in cortisol, which leads to inflammation. To help limit or reduce your stress, you may want to try complementary and alternative therapies such as acupuncture, yoga and meditation.

Studies have shown that people with psoriasis have a lower quality of life,” says Dr. Anderson. “Activities or hobbies that can decrease stress and improve your quality of life are important.”

Bottom line?

It can be difficult to not be embarrassed by your psoriasis and what others may think if they notice patches and inflammation on your skin.

But remember: Psoriasis isn’t contagious.

And you can help manage how often you experience psoriasis flare-ups through a combination of treatment and lifestyle changes.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Salmon over lentils and carrots
April 15, 2024/Nutrition
Psoriasis and Diet: How Foods Can Impact Inflammation

A well-balanced diet with anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce flare-ups and severity of psoriasis symptoms

One hand squirting lotion from a tube into other hand
April 13, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
Why Does Psoriasis Itch and How To Stop It

Caused by inflammation, psoriasis itch can be managed with a variety of treatments, like moisturizing and taking cooler and shorter showers

Healthcare provider holding bottle of prescription medication
April 12, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
These Common Triggers Likely Cause Your Psoriasis Flare-Ups

Stress, infections, skin injuries and environmental factors can trigger an onset of psoriasis symptoms

Petroleum jelly being applied to a hand
April 10, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
14 Psoriasis Self-Care Strategies

Learn your triggers, stay moisturized, quit smoking, prioritize sleep — and avoid scratching

Person sitting in a yoga pose with calming vegetation behind them
April 8, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty
10 Easy Steps To Prevent and Manage Your Psoriasis Flare-Ups

Stick to your treatment plan, but keep your provider updated on any new symptoms or triggers

An illustration of a person scratching an itchy, inflamed spot on their hand
June 6, 2022/Primary Care
Eczema or Psoriasis? How To Tell the Difference

These conditions have a lot in common, but not everything

patient with skin disease talking with doctor
February 9, 2022/Skin Care & Beauty
Is It Psoriasis or Ringworm?

An expert explains the difference between the two skin conditions

psoriasis home remedy cream
February 8, 2022/Skin Care & Beauty
Home Remedies for Psoriasis

How to get relief from the itchy skin disorder

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey

Ad