Psoriasis 101: Causes, Appearance & More
If you have red, raised patches of skin covered in silvery scales, you may have psoriasis—an immune-related skin condition with a genetic component that causes rapid overgrowth of skin cells. The primary sign of psoriasis is visible inflammation. Symptoms may also cause itching and discomfort in affected areas, which can include the elbows, knees, scalp and more.
What you need to know
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, more than 8 million Americans and 125 million people worldwide struggle with psoriasis1–a non-contagious autoimmune skin condition that presents as patches of red, raised scaly skin on the elbows, knees, scalp and beyond. In addition to being linked to a genetic predisposition2, there are several environmental and lifestyle factors that dermatologists have identified as psoriasis triggers.3 Although there is no cure for psoriasis just yet, psoriasis symptoms can be helped by using properly formulated over-the-counter drug-based skincare products that address itching in addition to avoiding your unique triggers. It’s important to keep in mind that there are several types of psoriasis.
Potential Psoriasis Triggers:
- Sun exposure: Although a small amount of sun may improve symptoms in some, sunburn is likely to trigger an outbreak4
- Dietary triggers: Alcohol, whole milk, citrus fruit, gluten and high-fat foods have been linked to flare-ups5
- Cold, dry weather6
What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a common skin condition that causes red, raised, scaly patches of skin that typically appear on the outside of the elbows, knees and scalp, although it can affect other areas of your body and face as well.2
One of the most frequently asked questions is, “How do you get psoriasis?” First of all, psoriasis is not contagious. Dermatologists and researchers have yet to identify the root cause, but it is believed that psoriasis is a genetic immune-related skin condition. Affecting men and women equally, psoriasis is most common in Caucasian adults, and it can come and go, clearing up for months or even years at a time.2 There are also several types of psoriasis, so it’s best to see your dermatologist who can make a proper diagnosis if you experience any unusual skin changes.
What does psoriasis look like?
Signs of psoriasis can appear on the face (especially around the eyebrows, between the nose and upper lip and on the forehead) as well as the body (most commonly on the knees, elbows and lower back). Psoriasis symptoms can include skin flaking, redness and irritation, as well as raised patches of silvery scales.2 Some people with psoriasis may have a single patch in one area, while others may have several patches that eventually join together and cover a larger area of skin.7 It’s important to keep in mind that signs of psoriasis can vary by type.
Psoriasis Causes and Triggers
Dermatologists and researchers have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of psoriasis, but it is generally believed this rapid overproduction of skin cells (and associated redness and inflammation) is a form of auto-immune disease. There also seems to be a genetic component to this chronic skin condition, so if your parents had psoriasis, you are more likely to experience it yourself.2
A chronic skin condition, psoriasis can clear and then flare up for no apparent reason, although several triggers have been identified. Environmental factors like sun exposure and cold, dry weather can cause an outbreak, as can lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking alcohol and eating certain foods. Stress can lead to flare-ups as well.5 Over time, you may be able to figure out your unique triggers—and avoid them to help keep your psoriasis in remission. A dermatologist can suggest additional treatments to help control your psoriasis symptoms if necessary.
Is Psoriasis Curable?
If you’re wondering how to get rid of psoriasis, unfortunately, there is no permanent psoriasis cure—yet.8 However, psoriasis symptoms may clear up for extended periods of time before they come back.9 Because psoriasis has become so common, this condition is the subject of much dermatological research that has resulted in many prescription-based treatments, including topical, oral and injectable biologic medications.10
A good first step for addressing your symptoms is to target itching with an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. Salicylic acid is another helpful over-the-counter active ingredient to look for in psoriasis skincare products for the face and body because it helps gently exfoliate visible scaling.11 If over-the-counter drug skincare products don’t help improve your psoriasis symptoms, a dermatologist can recommend additional treatment options.
A lotion or cream with ceramides can be beneficial as well since this ingredient can help restore your skin’s barrier, which in turn helps seal moisture into the skin and relieve dryness.12 Urea can also be helpful because it provides moisture that helps smooth rough skin.13
- Coderch, L., López, O., de la Maza, A. et al. Am J Clin Dermatol (2003) 4: 107.
- Baumann, L. (2015) Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients (pp.84-86). New York: McGraw-Hill Medical