You can’t always hide your psoriasis, but you can learn strategies to help you cope, especially when others react to your skin. Try these tips to make living with psoriasis skin easier.
Even people with mild psoriasis may have a tough time coping because this skin disease is so visible — and misunderstood. Most people with psoriasis have experienced people asking questions, making rude comments, or steering clear because they’re afraid it’s contagious.
Many people cover their psoriasis skin with long sleeves and long pants, but that’s hard to do when psoriasis is on your face (although this location is less common) or on your hands and legs when it’s hot or you’re at the gym or the beach.
So what do you do when you have red, scaly plaques on your arms and legs, but have to go to work or want to be out in public at the mall or a restaurant? How do you explain psoriasis skin to people whose biggest worry might be that it’s contagious — although it’s not? “Even my wife asked me that,” says Alan Eisenberg, 63, of Portland, Ore., who was diagnosed with guttate psoriasis — one of the more common types of psoriasis — four years ago.
Jerry Bagel, MD, of the Psoriasis Treatment Center of Central New Jersey in East Windsor and associate professor of dermatology at Columbia University, believes the best way for people with psoriasis symptoms to cope is to get aggressivemedical therapy. “If you can clear your skin, your behavior will change significantly,” he said.
But as people with psoriasis know all too well, even with treatment, flares occur and can be unpredictable.
Eisenberg and Dr. Bagel offer these coping strategies:
Become an expert. The more you know about psoriasis and psoriasis symptoms, the better you will be able to respond to anyone who stares or makes rude comments. Educating others about the disease can reduce the stigma — if they know what it is and that it is not contagious, they won’t be afraid, Bagel says. Eisenberg adds that when he was first diagnosed, he went online to learn as much as he could about psoriasis symptoms so that when someone made a comment about his psoriasis skin, he could address it intelligently.
Adjust your attitude. It’s not easy, Eisenberg says, but your best weapon is learning not to be bothered by the stares and comments. “When I first had these plaques all over my body, it bothered me and I wore long sleeves and long pants no matter how hot it was outside,” he says. “But then one day, I said to myself that if people are going to stare, I’m going to accept that it’s not my problem, it’s their problem, and I’ve been happier since.”
Don’t hide. You don’t have to tell anyone about your skin condition if you don’t want to. But it’s hard to live in constant fear of exposure. It can put you under a great deal of stress, and stress is one of the factors that can make psoriasis worse, Bagel says. You’re more likely to find that the people you care about will understand, especially once they understand more about the disease.
Seek support. Joining a support group is a great way to learn about psoriasis and what works for others battling it. You may get treatment ideas to discuss with your doctor, and tips on managing the disease. Eisenberg says he learned useful diet tips and information about soaps and moisturizers from other people with psoriasis — and shared his own successes. It also helps, he adds, “to know that you are not alone, that there are others in the same boat as you.” According to the National Psoriasis Institute, psoriasis affects up to 7.5 million people in the United States or 2.2 percent of the population.
If your psoriasis is causing you to be depressed or to have thoughts of harming yourself, you should seek professional help. Therapy can help you to understand what’s happening to your body, and provide skills for coping and fighting back.
“Kids with psoriasis tend to be ‘thinner-skinned,’ emotionally speaking,” Bagel says. “It’s important for moms and dads to talk to their child’s teachers, nurses, and phys ed teachers so that they’re not ridiculed in class.” Support groups for kids can be particularly helpful because kids often need to see it’s not just them, he stresses.
People with psoriasis have been stigmatized since ancient times, Bagel says, but with the right strategies, knowledge, and support, you can educate others about psoriasis and enjoy your life — whether your psoriasis is covered or not.