The skin is the body’s largest organ, so it’s imperative that we take care of it, especially in the summer months when the sun and extreme temperatures can take a toll. Just one unprotected day in the sun, exposed to powerful ultraviolet rays, can leave a lasting impact.
While the sun is responsible for more skin cancer cases than anything else, sun irritation is not the only culprit of skin issues. There are many ways, beyond the sun, in which peoples' skin can act up.
A widespread skin disorder, psoriasis, affects millions of people annually. Psoriasis is a condition that typically improves with humidity and sunshine. However, air conditioning and exposure to chlorine, two common summertime companions, can cause flare-ups.
Learn more about psoriasis and what you can do to keep it at bay during these long, lazy days of summer.
What is Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is an immune system disorder that causes skin cells to multiply more quickly than they should. This rapid generation of skin cells causes an excess buildup of skin, resulting in red, scaly rashes.
"Psoriasis can appear on the scalp, elbows, knees, and other areas of the skin,” says Arielle Romm, PA, a member of the Summit Health dermatology team. “The inflammation and itch are a result of the buildup of skin tissue that has rapidly grown."
Types of Psoriasis
There are several types of psoriasis, each carrying its own set of symptoms. Knowing which type you have helps you and your doctor find the best treatment plan.
Plaque psoriasis is the most common form of psoriasis and is found in about 80 to 90 percent of people living with psoriasis.
Common plaque psoriasis symptoms include:
- Patches of rough, red skin with silvery white scales
- Site pain and irritation
- Broken skin
- Bleeding at site
A rare form, this type of psoriasis occurs in less than two percent of cases and often starts in children or young adults. Guttate psoriasis causes small, pinkish red spots that are usually located on the chest, thighs, upper arms, or scalp.
This type of psoriasis usually doesn’t present with scales as in other cases. Instead, it causes patches of bright red skin that are both smooth and shiny. It usually appears in inconspicuous areas, such as the groin, armpits, or under the breasts, and worsens with sweating.
This is a rare form of psoriasis that causes widespread patches of pus-filled lesions. These lesions generally form on the palms of the hands or on the soles of the feet.
The least common type of psoriasis, erythrodermic psoriasis can cover your entire body with a red, peeling rash that can itch or burn intensely.
Psoriatic arthritis, a condition where you have both psoriasis and arthritis, develops in about 30 percent of people who have the psoriasis. Symptoms range from mild to severe but can include painful, stiff joints along with warmness and swelling of the fingers and toes. This type of arthritis usually appears a decade or so after the onset of psoriasis symptoms.
While a dermatologist can treat psoriasis, it's best to visit a rheumatologist to reduce psoriatic arthritis symptoms.
What Triggers Psoriasis?
Common psoriasis triggers include:
- Skin injury, such as a cut, scrape, sunburn, or bug bite
- Heavy alcohol consumption
- Weather, typically cold, dry conditions
- Certain medications
- Various infections
- Exposure to chlorine
- Exposure to air conditioning
Who is at Risk for Psoriasis?
While anyone can get psoriasis, researchers believe that environmental factors and genetics play a role. Additionally, individuals who have other serious health conditions may be predisposed. For example, those with diabetes are at higher risk for developing psoriasis.
Other risk factors include stress and smoking.
Is There a Cure for Psoriasis?
Unlike more common skin conditions and stress rashes, there is no cure for psoriasis, so having this skin disease is a life-long struggle for many. However, there are multiple treatment options that can help make life a little easier on you and your skin.
Depending on the type of psoriasis, severity, and location, a dermatologist may employ different skin therapies. The most common form of treatment usually incorporates various ointments, topical creams, and/or oral medication.
A mild case of psoriasis symptoms can be reduced using topical creams and ointments. Some traditional treatments are:
- Topical corticosteroid cream
- Salicylic acid
- Coal tar
There are some things you may want to try before testing a topical treatment.
- Enjoy some humidity. But if it’s too hot and you’re enjoying the comfort of air conditioning, stay moisturized.
- Spend some time in the sun. Natural sunlight can be an effective treatment for psoriasis. However, talk to your doctor about how much exposure is safe for you and always wear sunscreen.
- Soak in the ocean. Salt water has many healing benefits, including its ability to remove dead skin. But it can dry you out, so remember to moisturize afterward.
- Limit alcohol. Alcohol can contribute to inflammation so best to drink in moderation.
“It depends on the individual,” says Romm. “But usually, symptoms clear up on their own. In more severe cases, patients may need to undergo more in-depth or advanced treatments, like phototherapy.”
Phototherapy for Psoriasis
Sunlight has been used to treat skin conditions for thousands of years. Today, providers use ultraviolet rays to slow down overactive skin cells.
Is Psoriasis Contagious?
There is a misconception that people with the condition can easily pass it to others by skin-to-skin contact. However, psoriasis is not contagious.
Are Psoriasis and Eczema the Same?
No. These conditions can easily be confused for one another, and people can develop both conditions at once. While psoriasis appears as red and silvery scales on the scalp, elbows, knees, and other locations, eczema appears in more specific places, like the inside of elbows and the arms.
Think You Have Psoriasis?
If you suspect you are experiencing psoriasis symptoms or have any other skin concerns, be sure to consult a dermatologist or skin care professional.