Keeping disease activity under control with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and biologics is an important part of managing the skin symptoms of psoriatic arthritis. But many lifestyle habits can help or worsen psoriasis. Here are 9 self-care tips that can relieve symptoms and promote healthier skin.
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. One of the best remedies for scaling skin is moisture. Applying moisturizers frequently can relieve dryness and itching and promote healing, particularly in cold, dry weather. The best one for you will depend on how dry your skin is – the thicker the product the more moisture it will hold in, says Steven R. Feldman, MD, professor in the department of dermatology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. Dr. Feldman recommends fragrance-free products. A few brands to look for: Cetaphil, CeraVe and Eucerin.
Drink plenty of water. Moisturize your skin from the inside out by staying well hydrated, particularly in summer months. You can tell if you are getting enough water by the color of your urine. If your urine is pale yellow or straw colored, your water intake is on target. If your urine is darker yellow, have another glass or two.
Try topical treatments. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter products that can improve skin lesions. These include:
- tar products, which are derived from coal and may help slow the overgrowth of skin cells, relieve inflammation and improve the appearance of the skin,
- medicated shampoos containing salicylic acid, ketoconazole (an antifungal) and propionate (a topical steroid) to help relieve scalp psoriasis, and
- ointments containing hydrocortisone, a corticosteroid, to relieve itching and reduce skin lesions.
Cleanse your skin gently. Take short, warm baths or showers to avoid drying the skin and use gentle soaps. Dr. Feldman recommends avoiding liquid soaps, which tend to be harsher than bar soaps. After bathing, gently pat your skin dry with a clean towel and immediately apply a moisturizer.
Catch some rays. Doctors often prescribe phototherapy, the use of ultraviolet light to slow rapidly growing skin cells, for psoriasis. You can get a similar effect by spending time in the sun daily, says Dr. Feldman. Use a step up approach, starting with 5 minutes a day and gradually increase the amount of time daily so you can carefully monitor how your skin reacts and avoid sunburn. Always protect unaffected skin with a broad-spectrum UVA and UVB sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Sun damage not only increases skin cancer risk, but it may cause your psoriasis to flare, Dr. Feldman says.
Soak in salt water. Soaking in salt water can help clear skin lesions. Dr. Feldman recommends adding Dead Sea salt, Epsom salts or even ordinary table salt to a bathtub of warm (not hot) water and soaking for at least 15 minutes.
Avoid skin irritation. Trauma to your skin can cause psoriasis to flare, says Dr. Feldman. Wear shoes both in and outdoors to avoid stepping on sharp objects, clip nails carefully to avoid pinching the skin and wear gloves when cleaning or doing yard work. Avoid bug bites by wearing protective clothing and an insect repellent without DEET, which can irritate your skin, and staying indoors at dusk when mosquitoes are most active. While bug bites may not directly affect your psoriasis, scratching itchy bites can.
Relax. Research suggests that stress can worsen psoriasis. Learn and practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation and yoga. Spend time with a friend, listen to soothing music, get plenty of sleep, and take time for activities you enjoy. Seek professional help if your anxiety is worsening or you think you may be depressed.
Practice a healthy lifestyle. Healthy habits – including exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthfully, avoiding cigarettes and consuming alcohol in moderation – can help improve your skin disease and reduce your risk of other health problems as well.