What is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a skin condition that makes cells build up quickly on the skin’s surface.   Extra skin cells appear thick and slivery and are usually dry and itchy. They can also be painful.  It is a long-term disease that is chronic and can be better or worse at various times.  The purpose of treatment is to stop the skin cells from growing quickly.

There are several type of psoriasis including:

  • Nail psoriasis
  • Plaque psoriasis (the most common form of psoriasis)
  • Guttate psoriasis (characterized by salmon-pink drops. From the latin word “gutta”=drop)
  • Scalp psoriasis
  • Inverse psoriasis (found in body’s skin folds)
  • Psoriatic arthritis (that might affect joints and create swelling and/or stiffness)
  • Pustular psoriasis (white blisters/pustules)
  • Erythrodermic psoriasis (severe inflammatory rash that may affect the entire surface of the skin)

What are the Symptoms of Psoriasis?

Symptoms are quite variable but some of the most common ones include dry skin that can crack and bleed, soreness, itching, stiff joints, and skin with red patches or silvery scales.

Symptoms often cycle. They may flare up for weeks at a time and then be minimal for periods of time. It can even go into remission for long periods of time.

Psoriasis Causes

Psoriasis plaques occur when skills cells mature and shed abnormally. Skin cells usually take 21 to 28 days to mature, at which point they reach the surface of the skin and begin to shed off. Psoriasis causes skin cells to mature much faster – within four to seven days – and this creates a buildup of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin.

The cause of this abnormal skin cell behavior isn’t fully understood, but one theory is that the body’s immune system becomes overactive and causes the rapid growth of skin cells. However, it isn’t clear why some people’s immune systems have an abnormal reaction and others do not.

Psoriasis is often hereditary, which means that genes play a role in the cause. However, since it is a multi-genetic condition, where multiple different genes play a role in the way the disease presents itself, not everyone will inherit psoriasis from parents who have it. Furthermore, the disease can skip generations. The genetic factor explains why psoriasis can affect people in vastly different ways.

How is Psoriasis Treated?

Treatment for psoriasis attempts to stop skin cells from growing quickly or remove the scales.

There are three main types:

  1. Oral/injected medications: These are usually used when you are resistant to other types of treatment because they sometimes have serious side effects. They are often used for short periods and alternated with other options. They can include methotrexate, retinoids, cyclosporine, biologics that alter the immune system and other experimental drugs.

2. Phototherapy or light therapy: This involves the use of artificial or natural ultraviolet light on the skin. It can include natural sunlight, Goeckerman therapy, narrow band UVB therapy, regular UVB therapy, excimer laser therapy, or photochemotherapy.

3. Topical treatments:  These include ointments and creams that are applied directly to the skin.  They are usually used in combination with other therapies.  Topical treatments for psoriasis include: corticosteroids, anthralin, calcinerurin inhibitors, vitamin D analogues, topical retinoids, moisturizers, salicylic acid, and coal tar.

Psoriasis Prevention

It isn’t possible to completely prevent psoriasis, but those with the condition may be able to reduce the risk of future flare-ups and minimize the severity of plaques.

Firstly, it’s important to avoid picking at the skin, since this can often make symptoms worse. Soothing bath products and moisturizing lotions will also help to keep skin hydrated to reduce large flakes which are tempting to pick.

Cold, dry conditions often cause psoriasis flare-ups, so keeping skin covered and thoroughly moisturized during autumn and winter will help. Humidifiers may be useful for keeping indoor air moist to prevent skin from drying out.

Trauma to the skin can cause flare-ups of psoriasis, so it’s very important to avoid getting scrapes and cuts. Insect bites can also cause this, so use an insect repellent whenever you’re likely to come up against insects. Sunburn can also trigger psoriasis, so this should be avoided. However, a moderate amount of sun can actually help symptoms; if you’ll only be outside for less than 20 minutes, go without sunscreen to help improve your psoriasis. Any longer and you’ll need to put sunscreen on.

Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
January 17, 2018