If you are one of the millions of Americans with psoriasis, you know that skin redness and irritation can flare up at any time. You may not be able to prevent some psoriasis triggers, like stress and colds, but there’s a lot you can do to avoid others, including dryness and injury to the skin.
Managing your psoriasis means working closely with your doctor, taking your medications as directed, and keeping all your medical appointments. And then there are things you don’t want to do, to avoid making your skin condition worse.
Here are five skin care don’ts to help keep your psoriasis under control.
1. Don’t Leave Skin Open to Injury
When you have psoriasis, even a minor skin injury can lead to a psoriasis plaque forming at the site of the injury. This reaction is called the Koebner phenomenon. More than 100 years ago, Dr. Heinrich Koebner, a German dermatologist, discovered that any injury that extends below the skin surface can cause a plaque.
Common skin injuries that can lead to the Koebner phenomenon include insect bites, skin scrapes, poison ivy, and burns. These skin plaque reactions occur in as many as 50 percent of people with psoriasis, and they can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to develop.
Always remember to protect exposed areas of your skin, especially in the summer—when you’re more likely to get insect bites and poison ivy. Don’t pick or scratch bug bites. If you notice any break in the skin, get first aid right away.
2. Don’t Cleanse Vigorously
Many doctors recommend a daily bath or shower for people with psoriasis to keep skin clean and infection-free. How you cleanse your skin is important.
Don’t use hot water when you bathe or shower. Hot water can burn your skin and make it dry, so use warm water instead. Keep your bath or shower short, and cleanse with a moisturizing, fragrance-free soap. After your bath or shower, gently pat your skin dry with a towel and apply a moisturizer.
You can also help your skin by adding a soothing skin care product to your bathwater. Ask your doctor to recommend a bath oil or bath salts that can help gently remove psoriasis scales and relieve itching. Epsom salts and oilated oatmeal are two examples.
3. Don’t Ignore Dry Skin
Dry skin can lead to itching and scratching, both of which can make your psoriasis worse. That’s why you want to slather on a rich moisturizer right after bathing and keep skin nourished until your next bath or shower. Ask your doctor to recommend a good cream or ointment that locks water into your skin. Be cautious about any over-the-counter moisturizers that claim to have “natural” ingredients.
If your psoriasis is acting up, you can try a super-moisturizing strategy called occlusion. To increase the effect of a moisturizing cream, place plastic wrap over the area you just moisturized or cover it with a waterproof dressing. Try this intensive moisturizing at night before bed and leave it in place overnight, but check with your doctor first if you are using a new cream or ointment, or one that contains steroid medication.
4. Don’t Get Sunburned
You probably know that sunlight is good for psoriasis. Sun exposure slows down your immune system and helps your skin make more vitamin D, which may also help psoriasis. But too much sunlight can lead to sunburn, and that can make psoriasis worse. Ask your doctor how much sun is safe for you and when you should apply a sunblock.
5. Don’t Scratch Skin Plaques
As tempting as it may be when your itching escalates, resist attacking your plaques with your nails. Vigorous scratching can lead to more lesions and the Koebner phenomenon mentioned earlier. Good skin care with the richest skin creams should ease the itch of dry skin. Try to cool a persistent itch by keeping your home and office thermostats at a comfortable temperature and by wearing light, breathable fabrics—stay away from itchy wool and any other fibers that bother you. If the itch becomes unbearable, try giving it the deep chill by applying an ice pack.