Psoriasis isnt the kind of disease you can forget about between visits to the doctors office. This systemic illness waxes and wanes over a lifetime and requires different treatments at different times. When you do find a combination that works, sometimes its not for long.
“It often takes a long period of trial and error to find a treatment that will work for you,” says Nicora Gardner, health education manager at the National Psoriasis Foundation.
This is why its important to address psoriasis on many frontsincluding at home. By supplementing prescription medication, injections, and creams with home treatments, you can help ease symptoms and have fewer outbreaks. Here are a few tools to add to your psoriasis tool kit:
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize
Doctors and patients agree that keeping your skin hydrated is a key to reducing itching and redness. “When used regularly, any moisturizing treatment will help remove scales and reduce thickness,” says Robert E. Kalb, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine in Buffalo, N.Y.
This is certainly true for Derrick Thompson, 49, from Fayetteville, N.C., who has had psoriasis for five years on his scalp and back. Immediately after showering, he slathers Vaseline on his back before putting on a soft cotton T-shirt. “That really stops the itching,” he says, enough so that Thompson, who runs a psoriasis support group, doesnt think about his skin all day.
Since everybody has different results, no one product is right for everyone: “Whichever one works best for you is the best one,” says Steven Feldman, MD, PhD, professor of dermatology at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The most important thing, Thompson says, is to avoid products that contain alcohol or are overly scented, which tend to dry and irritate the skin. Moisturize within a few minutes of getting out of the bath or shower to lock the moisture in.
Other ways to keep the skin moist include adding a few drops of oil to your bath, using only mild soaps and lotions, and carrying around a jar of your favorite moisturizer to apply throughout the day. Wearing soft clothing made of natural fibers also helps. (For more tips see our Psoriasis Skin-Care Product Guide.)
See the light
Eighty percent of the people who get daily doses of sunlight experience improvement or clearing of plaque psoriasis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. And many psoriasis sufferers report that their symptoms get better during the summer and worse in the winter. Doctors recommend cautious sun exposure several times a week, but you should be sure to get only the appropriate amount of sun exposure for your particular case. Certain drugs cause the skin to be more sensitive to the sun, and sunburn can cause a flare-up of psoriasis.
Patients with extensive psoriasis may be candidates for UVB phototherapy.
“UVB is a very effective systemic treatment for psoriasis,” says Dr. Kalb. Although it can be costlier and more inconvenient than a walk in the sun, it is much more effective than natural sunlight and is ideal for people who want to avoid systemic medications, Dr. Kalb says. Whatever you choose, work out a schedule with your doctor and stick to it. “Once its cleared up,” Dr. Feldman says, “use phototherapy as seldom as needed to keep it under control.”
Say no to stress
“There is some data on stress and biochemical responses that happen during stress that can explain why stress can make psoriasis worse,” says Dr. Kalb.
“Stress makes everything worse,” Thompson says. To minimize it, Thompson makes sure he gets enough exercise each day and keeps a good attitude: “Its worse when you are always thinking about it and it stays on your mind.” When he stays positive, he says, he feels better. “Any time you dwell on anything too long, it will affect you,” says Thompson.
Veronica Lopez, 40, a singer/songwriter in Las Vegas who has had psoriasis on her arms and legs since the age of six, uses music to decrease stress. “When Im working on my music, I feel a lot more at ease with my body,” she says. “It helps to make your mind just more peaceful and less stressed.” Others point to exercise, massage, meditation, and prayer as stress-busting activities to stay focused and calm. (For more stress-relieving ideas, check out How Managing Stress May Help Your Psoriasis.)