The Stress of Quarantine Is Triggering Psoriasis Flare-Ups. Here's What Derms Recommend
One 23-year-old shares the reality of having an autoimmune skin condition amid coronavirus pandemic panic.
Psoriasis can be an ordeal in the best of times. For many people with this chronic autoimmune disease, trying to manage symptoms under lockdown is taking its toll. Stassi Schroeder can relate. The Vanderpump Rules star shared a makeup-free selfie on Instagram last week with a caption that referenced her "psoriasis covered face.”
Schroeder’s definitely not the only one. Other people with psoriasis are sharing their lockdown skin stories, such as 23-year-old Hannah Williams, who lives in the UK. She posted a graphic facial photo on Instagram and wrote in the caption, “If anyone is wondering how my lockdown is going... not well… but at least no one can see how bad my skin looks rn.”
“All the uncertainty right now and being in lockdown has increased my stress levels, which has made my skin break out,” Hannah tells Health. She was first diagnosed with psoriasis at age 13. “It started on my scalp and eventually travelled down my body,” she recalls. “Over the past few years, I’ve gone from being clear to covered head to toe. At the moment it’s mainly on my face.”
Hannah treats her psoriasis with a combination of moisturizers, a topical corticosteroid cream and Dovobet, a prescription medication. She also gets comfort and stress relief through connecting with other people with psoriasis on Instagram.
“It’s nice to see the sense of community; everyone is willing to share the tips and tricks that work for them,” says Williams. “Seeing everyone go through their own cycles while trying to live through this moment in time makes me feel less alone.”
Connecticut-based dermatologist Rhonda Q. Klein, MD, tells Health that many of her psoriasis patients are experiencing flares right now. “It’s not a surprise, given our heightened stress levels,” she explains. Although scientists still don’t know exactly what causes psoriasis, stress is a well-known trigger, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. At the same time, a psoriasis flare can cause stress, resulting in a frustrating vicious cycle.
If you can’t see your dermatologist right now for help because of the lockdown, that too might increase stress levels. Dr. Klein says she’s mainly seeing patients by telemedicine, but she's able to offer in-person consultations when necessary in accordance with social distancing guidelines.
Rather than stress about not being able to see your derm in person, try to see the benefits of a virtual visit, if your doctor offers it. California-based dermatologist Ava Shamban, MD, tells Health that psoriasis patients often just need "confirmation of a flare and a prescription, or a recommendation of products we can ship or they can pick up curbside,” says Dr. Shamban, adding that this can be done via telemedicine.
To help psoriasis patients reduce stress levels in general, Dr. Shamban recommends meditation and relaxation breathing exercises. But avoid a long soak in a hot bath, as appealing as that may sound. For your skin’s sake, the less time in hot water, the better. “Have a calming bath with oatmeal but make it quick,” she says. “Go for shorter and more tepid showers and baths.”
Meanwhile, try to do all the things you do under normal circumstances to help ease your psoriasis symptoms and avoid a flare: follow the treatment plan recommended by your dermatologist, get plenty of sleep, wear loose cotton clothing, and forgo junk food in favor of whole, unprocessed foods like fruits and veggies. Dr. Klein recommends cutting out inflammatory ingredients like sugar, alcohol, and dairy and upping your intake of anti-inflammatory choices like berries, salmon, and turmeric.
The additional hygiene precautions we’re all practicing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 may also be taking their toll on people with psoriasis. “Take care with the extra handwashing,” advises Dr. Klein. “A gentle cleanser used appropriately (at least 20 seconds with warm water) will do the job. Avoid alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which can really dry out compromised skin like psoriasis.”
Wearing face masks and gloves and using chemical disinfectants in the home can also aggravate chronic skin conditions and increase dryness, which can make psoriasis worse. To keep skin moist, Dr. Shamban recommends using a thicker moisturizer on your body both day and night. “After your bath or shower, ‘seal’ your skin with a salve, like an aquaphor ointment,” she says. “If you don’t have one, or can’t get one quickly, make your own with petroleum jelly and olive oil. Apply this to affected areas at night before bed and cover them with something—even plastic wrap—to retain moisture.”
Another way to maintain moisture levels in the skin is to use a cool mist humidifier. Dr. Klein recommends having one bedside or by your home office, if you're WFH these days.
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