April 10, 2024/Skin Care & Beauty

14 Psoriasis Self-Care Strategies

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

Petroleum jelly being applied to a hand

When something’s not right with your health, it can be scary and overwhelming to think about how a medical diagnosis may change your life.

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Your new normal may be filled with seemingly endless doctor’s appointments, trying to find the right treatment and coming to terms with certain lifestyle changes you may need to make.

And if you learn you have psoriasis, an autoimmune skin condition that causes red, scaly patches on your skin, it’s understandable that you may want to crawl into bed and hide from the rest of the world.

The unpleasant patches, called plaques, can become itchy, causing discomfort and pain — and on top of that, it may leave your friends, family and acquaintances thinking you have a contagious skin condition. (You don’t, by the way. It’s important for you and everyone else to know psoriasis isn’t contagious.)

But even though there’s no cure for psoriasis, you can learn how to manage and live with it. And while avoiding triggers and using home remedies like cold compresses and anti-itch creams can help combat flare-ups (when your symptoms become worse), it’s also important that you focus on your self-care.

“People with psoriasis typically mention that it’s affecting their sleep,” shares dermatologist Kathryn Anderson, MD. “It’s weighing on their mind. They may be showing signs of clinical depression, such as losing interest in previous hobbies and not being able to complete their normal daily routines.”

In fact, research shows that people with psoriasis have a higher risk of depression and anxiety.

But there’s hope. Dr. Anderson shares some important psoriasis self-care strategies and tips you can follow to help keep your physical, mental and emotional health top of mind.

Keep your skin moisturized

One of the best things you can do to manage your psoriasis? Keep your skin moisturized and hydrated.

You want to look for a moisturizer that’s made with a mild keratolytic agent like salicylic acid or urea acid. Dr. Anderson says these ingredients are known to gently exfoliate the skin.

How often should you apply lotion? Do it especially after you take a bath or shower. But you can also do it a few times throughout the day to soothe any itching.

Layer with petroleum jelly

Dr. Anderson is a big fan of petroleum jelly. And you probably have a jar of the goopy stuff in your medicine cabinet.

“It’s an occlusive moisturizer, which works as a physical barrier on your skin to protect it from irritants and to lock in moisture,” she says. “I find it to be extra helpful when it’s layered on top of an emollient moisturizer, which is your typical moisturizing cream.”

Change your bath or shower routine

When it comes to your shower or bath, use cold or lukewarm water. And limit how long you bathe to just 10 minutes. Using hot water can dry out your skin and it also dilates your blood vessels, which can lead to inflammation.

You should also check your shampoo, conditioner, soap and body wash to see if they contain ingredients that may irritate your skin. Fragrances, dyes and other harsh ingredients are known culprits when it comes to bothering your skin.

And while it’s common to have psoriasis on your hands, feet, lower back, elbows and knees, it can also pop up on your scalp.

“There are certain over-the-counter medicated shampoos for scalp psoriasis that contain salicylic acid, which can help decrease psoriasis scales and decrease inflammation,” Dr. Anderson shares.

Figure out your triggers

Certain triggers can lead to a psoriasis flare-up, making your symptoms worse.

But it can be challenging to determine your psoriasis triggers, as the way your immune system functions may be different based on your genetics, family history, biological makeup and any other medical conditions.

Common psoriasis triggers include:

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

Avoid scratching

You may be one of the lucky people with psoriasis who don’t have itching. But about 70% to 90% of people with psoriasis report they experience itching.

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And it’s not fun. The ruthless sensation can make you tempted to give your psoriasis patches a little scratch with your fingernails. But try your best to avoid scratching as doing so may lead to an infection, can delay your psoriasis patches from healing and make your condition worse over time.

Dr. Anderson says instead of scratching, you can use anti-itch cream, numbing cream and cold compresses to find relief.

Get some light exposure

Certain wavelengths of light work as an immunosuppressive that can reduce inflammation. But Dr. Anderson says that’s not a prescription to sunbathe all day long. Sun exposure can lead to skin cancer. So, it’s important to discuss safe sun exposure with your physician.

Another option is light therapy (also called phototherapy), which can be done at your doctor’s office or at home with a narrowband UVB light therapy device.

Prepare for dry, cold weather

Winter — with its dry, cold environment — can be harsh on your skin. That also goes for any low-humidity situation, like when your home’s heating is constantly running.

So, what can you do?

“Keeping a humidifier, especially in your bedroom, while the heat is running can help keep the skin more hydrated and potentially decrease itching,” recommends Dr. Anderson. “Itching can lead to scratching, which can lead to worsening of your psoriasis.”

Quit smoking

We all know that smoking is bad for you. And when it comes to psoriasis, lighting up a cigarette especially doesn’t do you any favors.

“Smoking increases inflammation in the body, which in turn increases the inflammation of your psoriasis,” explains Dr. Anderson.

If you currently smoke, it’s vital that you quit.

Rethink what you eat

Psoriasis isn’t caused by anything you eat — but certain foods are known to cause inflammation.

High glycemic index foods like processed foods, soda, sports drinks and fast food can lead to increased inflammation,” Dr. Anderson shares.

You may realize that certain foods tend to cause your psoriasis symptoms to get worse. But Dr. Anderson says it’s important to note that there’s no evidence that certain foods cause a psoriasis flare-up in everyone.

With that said, if you’re looking to improve the foods you eat, she suggests looking at an anti-inflammatory diet, such as a Mediterranean diet, and making sure you discuss any questions or concerns with your healthcare provider.

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Practice relaxation techniques

To avoid thinking about how your psoriasis itches and to relieve your stress, relaxation methods such as meditation, yoga or deep breathing are a great way to focus on your self-care.

“Stress makes most skin conditions worse. Research shows that it’s likely related to hormonal effects that lead to increased cortisol levels and inflammation,” explains Dr. Anderson.

And if you’re stressed, chances are that you’re not fully focused on managing your psoriasis.

“Stressed people are less likely to use their treatments,” she continues. “And if they’re using less of their treatment, they’re going to be more likely to have a psoriasis flare-up.”

Prioritize sleep

“We know that getting adequate levels of sleep helps stress,” says Dr. Anderson. “And lack of sleep can contribute to the inflammation that causes psoriasis.”

But lack of sleep can be a vicious cycle: You’re stressed so you have trouble catching enough ZZZs — and if you’re not sleeping well that contributes to your overall stress.

In fact, a review of 33 studies found a connection between psoriasis and sleep disorders like insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.

If you struggle to sleep at night due to itchiness and pain, you may benefit from using an anti-itch cream or numbing cream before bed.

Get moving

“Obesity typically doesn’t cause psoriasis, but people with psoriasis are at higher risk for obesity,” clarifies Dr. Anderson.

She adds that people with psoriasis tend not to exercise as much as people without the skin condition.

“Exercise is important to decrease depression and anxiety levels and to help maintain a healthy weight, which in turn can benefit psoriasis,” she notes.

Wear loose, breathable clothing

What you wear can also affect your psoriasis. Avoid tight-fitting clothes and nonbreathable fabrics like wool. These can increase skin irritation.

“Opt for loose, breathable clothing in fabrics like cotton or linen, which can be more comfortable for people with psoriasis,” suggests Dr. Anderson.

Consider your heart health

If you have psoriasis, you’re at a higher risk for certain cardiovascular conditions such as:

“If you’re living with psoriasis, it’s important to make sure you are well-established with a primary care physician to minimize other cardiovascular risk factors,” says Dr. Anderson.

Bottom line?

Psoriasis is a lifelong condition, but it’s possible to manage how often and how severe any psoriasis flare-ups are.

In addition to working with your healthcare provider to find a treatment plan that’s best for you, it’s important to focus on your self-care. Doing so will, in turn, help reduce your overall stress, help you sleep better and help manage your psoriasis symptoms.

And don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed about your psoriasis.

“Seeking professional help from a therapist or psychiatrist if it’s affecting your mental well-being is super important,” stresses Dr. Anderson.

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