13 Lifestyle Changes That Help Fight Psoriasis
How to prevent psoriasis flare-ups
If you suffer from psoriasis, you know the skin condition can cause serious discomfort—and you’re not alone. The inflammatory disease, which is commonly characterized by scaly, raised patches on the skin, affects up to 7.5 million Americans. The most common of the five forms of the disorder, plaque psoriasis tends to develop on the scalp, knees, elbows, hands, and feet.
Do manage stress
There is a clear link between psoriasis and stress, with up to 78% of people with psoriasis believing stress aggravates their condition. It can also be a vicious circle with psoriasis flares adding to your stress levels. Though there is no research definitively showing that lowering stress can improve your psoriasis, many patients swear by the strategy. Lori Leyden-Rubenstein, PhD, who has had psoriasis for 30 years and is the author of The Stress Management Handbook: Strategies for Health and Inner Peace ($16; amazon.com), is one of them. "[My psoriasis] has been under control for the last 20 years, every since I started practicing stress management,” she says.
One simple (and virtually free) way to manage stress? Meditation. Studies have proven time and time again meditating can ease stress and alleviate anxiety. A 2014 study from Carnegie Mellon University found that 25-minute meditation sessions done three days in a row helped decrease stress. Meditators reported feeling less anxious when completing math and speech-related problems after their three-day meditation regimens.
Another study published in Frontiers in Immunologyfound that meditation practices including yoga and Tai Chi can even alter a person's DNA. Researchers found that those who practice mind-body exercises produce fewer cytokines, proteins that contribute to inflammation, cancer risk, and depression. "These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed," said study author Ivana Buric in a press release.
Do get in aerobic exercise
Throwing a few punches at boxing class or hitting the running path may be the last thing you want to do when you have psoriasis, but research shows exercise, specifically the aerobic kind, can alleviate stress and symptoms of the skin condition. A 2017 review in Brain Plasticity found that positive mental effects can be felt immediately following one sweat session. These effects include less stress, an overall better mood, and better brain function. "The studies presented in this review clearly demonstrate that acute exercise has profound effects on brain chemistry and physiology, which has important implications for cognitive enhancements in healthy populations and symptom remediation in clinical populations," noted co-author Julia C. Basso in a press release.
Fitting in aerobic exercise can be as simple as flowing through a few sequences in yoga class or dancing it out to a workout video. Either way, the results are extremely beneficial in soothing psoriasis-related stress and anxiety.
Do try therapy
Skin conditions like psoriasis take an obvious physical toll on a person, but the mental effects can be just as harsh. An analysis in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology found that people with psoriasis lead more stressful and anxiety-ridden lives than people without the skin condition. "Disfigurement and stigmatization connected with psoriasis may lead to depression," the study authors also noted.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or talk therapy, can help people better deal with anxiety and depression. A 2015 review in BMJ looked at 11 previous studies and found that CBT, when used alone or paired with antidepressants, can alleviate depression symptoms as effectively as treatment with meds alone.
Do consider antidepressants
People with psoriasis have double the chance of developing depression as the rest of the population, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. If you find exercise or therapy doesn't soothe your anxiety or depression, it might be time to talk to your doctor about antidepressant medication options.
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A 2013 study in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that people with plaque psoriasis who used SSRIs, a type of antidepressant drug, were less likely to need additional, stronger psoriasis treatments after taking the SSRI for six months.
Don't be overweight
Eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight is critical, says Neil Korman, MD, PhD, clinical director of the Murdough Family Center for Psoriasis in Cleveland Heights, Ohio: "We do know that people who are obese are at increased risk for psoriasis, and that losing weight may help improve your psoriasis." Being overweight may also make your psoriasis more severe and may speed progression to psoriatic arthritis, which affects about 30% of people with skin psoriasis, and reduce the effectiveness of medications. Losing weight can make your condition easier to handle, amp up the power of drugs and reduce your risk for heart disease, a very real concern if you have psoriasis.
Don't OD on junk
Small tweaks (eating more vegetables, trading white bread and rice for whole grains, eliminating processed food) can improve your health with psoriasis. These are also important ingredients of a heart-healthy diet. Other tips to take care of your heart: avoid saturated fats, trans fats and salt, focus on protein from fish and lean meat and opt for fat-free or low-fat dairy.
Also monitor how much alcohol you drink. Too much can make your psoriasis worse, especially if you’re a man.
Do avoid harsh products
Avoid harsh soaps (such as deodorant soaps) as well as scrubs, which can be very irritating, says Neil Korman, MD, PhD, clinical director of the Murdough Family Center for Psoriasis in Cleveland. Also avoid products that contain chemicals, fragrances and dyes. Some widely available natural bath products, on the other hand, can actually help. Try Epsom salts ($5; target.com) or Dead Sea salts ($18; amazon.com), oil or oilated oatmeal in your bath to get rid of scales and calm itching.
Don't dry out
Doctors recommend that psoriasis patients keep their skin well moisturized to prevent scales, soothe dry skin and ease itching. This is especially important during the winter, the year’s worst season for dry skin.
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The most moisturizing formulas are ointments (Vaseline, Aquaphor), followed by creams (Cetaphil, Nivea, CeraVe) and lotions (Aveeno, Lubriderm, Neutrogena). There are also products created specifically for people with psoriasis, such as Dermarest Psoriasis Medicated Moisturizer ($8; walgreens.com), MG217 Medicated Multi-Symptom Cream ($9; walgreens.com) and Psoriasin Multi-Symptom Psoriasis Relief Ointment ($9; walmart.com). Even cooking oils and shortening from your kitchen can do the trick.
The best time to apply moisturizer is after a shower or bath, or after washing your hands.
Do practice scalp care
Many psoriasis patients have lesions on their scalps, ranging from barely noticeable to severe. Coal-tar shampoos ($19; amazon.com) slow the proliferation of skin cells and reduce inflammation, especially for mild scalp psoriasis. They also help with itching. Apply these shampoos gently and be wary of chemical processes like perms, hair dye or straightening which can aggravate scalp psoriasis. UV light as a dedicated treatment or from the sun can also help. Try parting your hair in many rows to give the rays a better chance of penetrating. Or try a handheld UVB comb, which will actually get the healing light right to where it’s most needed.
Don't skip conditioner
Conditioners can disguise the smell of tar shampoos (which aren’t meant to clean your hair anyway) and restore the moisture that shampoos take away. After using a tar shampoo, shampoo your hair from the ends up to about an inch from your scalp then do the same with a conditioner.
Some choices are Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Special Conditioner ($16; walmart.com), Aveda Scalp Benefits Balancing Conditioner ($21; aveda.com), and Head & Shoulders Dry Scalp Care Conditioner ($8; walgreens.com).
Dermarest Psoriasis Medicated Shampoo Plus Conditioner ($9; walgreens.com) takes away itching and adds moisture back to your scalp. It also keeps scaling and flaking under control. Ask your doctor about ingredients in other products that might aggravate your psoriasis.
Do sun with care
Though UV light can be therapeutic, you don't want to get burned. Even a mild sunburn can trigger a psoriasis outbreak. Because sunscreen prevents rays from getting to your skin, experts recommend staying in the sun for 10 to 15 minutes—long enough to get the benefit of the sun, but not long enough to get burned. If you’re new to the practice, start your exposure gradually.
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Too much sun can also render certain drugs ineffective, or exacerbate side effects. Other drugs and supplements, like St. John’s Wort, can make you more sensitive to the sun. Tell your doctor about all medications and supplements you are taking. And never get your rays from tanning beds. They don’t give you the right kind of rays even while they magnify your chances of getting skin cancer.
Do choose the right makeup
It's safe to use makeup any time, even if you have a breakout. Just look for makeup that says noncomedogenic or nonacnegenic. Hypoallergenic, alcohol-free, fragrance-free and products designed for people with rosacea or sensitive skin also tend to be less irritating to people with psoriasis. If you’re worried about aging skin and want to stem the tide of wrinkles with retinoid treatment, over-the-counter preparations tend to be gentler than prescription compounds.