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Psoriasis: What It Is and What Causes It

psoriasis cause

When myself and the Nerdettes were at Pippa’s Fashion Factory in Dublin last weekend, we were absolutely bombarded with questions about psoriasis and informed by everyone that last Sunday was World Psoriasis Day.It wasn’t clear whether the psoriasis sufferers were out in their droves due to the fact that it was their official day, or if it was just a mere coincidence, but it was refreshed in my mind how common psoriasis is.

Due to its symptoms, it is quite easily confused with other disorders and many tend to self-diagnose, which is never the solution to anything (although, side note, if what you have is a gut feeling rather than a self-diagnosis, I’d say to follow it).

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis, in the words of the Irish Skin Foundation, is a “chronic, systemic inflammatory skin disease”. What this means is that it must be treated with a multi-pronged approach – there is no one wonder product that will heal you of the scales forever.

Psoriasis is a medical condition in that it is an autoimmune disorder and I cannot stress enough that when it comes to psoriasis, eczema, chronic acne and this type of skin concern, there is only so much that can be done without the help of a medical professional such as a GP.

What are the symptoms of psoriasis?

It is characterised by plaques, AKA patches of reddened roughness accompanied by silvery white mermaid scales and can become itchy or gain a bit of heat. It can make the skin incredibly dry and thus cause cracking to the point of bleeding.

psoriasis cause

What is the cause of psoriasis?

It is all within, unfortunately, psoriasis sufferers, and it is to do with how your immune system is wired. The immune system of those with psoriasis is more active than others due to inflammation in the body. The skin responds to this internal inflammation by overproducing healthy skin cells.

Your skin cells are like stock in a supermarket that is renewed in a 28 day cycle. To make room for new, fresh skin cells, the dead skin cells have to be removed first.

Having psoriasis means that the skin is frantically re-stocking new skin cells even when the older skin cells are not ready to be gotten rid of. This causes an accumulation of skin cells that are the cause of the scales on the skin surface.

Some people see scaly skin in patches on their body and associate it with the weather, the time of year, a lack of hydration and other causes of general dryness and leave it without diagnosis as they see it as just “something their skin does”. Because of this, they attempt to treat it from just the outside of the skin with heavy, protective emollient creams or products that won’t do anything bad to the skin but won’t help with the root of the problem.

As you now know, it is a minor glitch in your design as a hooman and cannot be solved from the outside… it is how your skin is hard-wired to be.

What causes psoriasis flare ups?

Psoriasis, like eczema, acne and rosacea, waxes and wanes. Most people who suffer from psoriasis will not have it all the time and will suffer from it on a specific part of the body.

I, for example, am prone to psoriasis on my hands. I find that my hands will flare up in times of stress, when I’m tired, when my immunity is down and when I am not eating well…. So practically all the time.

Other stressors to psoriasis include but are not limited to low humidity levels (which can further dry out the skin), the cold and dry Winter winds, some medications, too much sun exposure and excessive consumption of alcohol.

How do I deal with psoriasis flareups?

The first port of call for dealing with psoriasis is to SPEAK TO YOUR GP. Your GP will be able to prescribe drugs, medicated creams and other things to deal with psoriasis on a long term basis with a view to genuine relief.

Tracking your triggers is key. Many find that reducing alcohol, smoking and stress can have a humongous effect on reducing the amount of flare ups they have. Starting a skin diary is much easier than trying to remember what you ate when, and how much alcohol you had just before a flareup!

Outside of this, skincare can help with the outside, aesthetic side of things. The products that clients have found effective in helping with their psoriasis would be Advanced Nutrition Programme Skin Omegas+ and Environ Derma Lac Lotion and A, C & E Body Oil.

Increasing your intake of omegas, either through supplements or through the inclusion of omega-rich foods like fish, nuts and avocados (and as if we need an excuse to eat more avocado, am I right?!) boosts the skin’s ability to pull moisture from the air and prevents it from escaping from the skin.

Moisture is one of the keys to coping with psoriasis, and omegas help to protect the Tupperware seal on the skin that keeps all of that delicious moisture in.

Some believe there to be a connection between psoriasis and gut function although there is little hard, cold evidence on this. Probiotics such as Advanced Nutrition Programme’s Probiotic powder can help to balance the good bacteria in the gut, contributing to overall health. If you are at your wit’s end, it is worth a shot, in my nerdie opinion.

psoriasis cause

Seeing as the problem at the heart of psoriasis is down to the skin’s natural exfoliation process, as there is a build up of skin cells due to to many fresh ones being created, including a mild exfoliating product in your routine can aid greatly in the battle against it.

NEVER EVER scrub at plaques with a granular exfoliating product like a scrub… scrubs can be harmful to even typically functioning skin, so imagine what they do to skin that is already raw and irritated. Instead, opt for products like Environ’s Derma Lac Lotion which uses lactic acid to slough off dead skin cells gently and skin-respectfully.

Lactic acid is slightly milder than other exfoliating acids such as salicylic acid or glycolic acid so it is ideal for skin that needs exfoliating but also needs to be treated very delicately. Following up with Environ’s A, C & E Body Oil hydrates the skin from the outside also.

I know I spoke earlier about how some try to cure their mis-self-diagnosed “dry skin” with heavy emollient creams in a slightly sarcastic manner, but emollient creams are essential for protection of the skin when used in conjunction with other modes of medication.

Emollient or barrier creams are usually thick creams that are formulated to create a wall of product between the skin and harsh conditions, preventing the skin from drying out and stopping flareups in their tracks. They are not a treatment as much as they are a preventative method.

There are other options for emollient treatment, including the often recommended emollient bath. Bathing daily in an emollient bath is beneficial for a number of reasons: it helps to get rid of dead skin cells, which can contribute to the itching sensation and build up on the skin, soothe the irritation and aid in the penetration of any products or creams used after.

Are there any treatments available for my psoriasis?

Outside of doctor-prescribed medication, I have heard that light therapy, both UVB and PUVA (AKA psoralen and UVA) is fantastic for it, but I will return to that topic in full in the future.

The nerdie recap:

  • Psoriasis is a systemic skin disorder and so must be treated primarily by a medical professional
  • The plaques are the physical effect of an over-production of fresh skin cells
  • The key to managing it from a skincare perspective lies in hydration and mild exfoliation
Jennifer Rock

About Jennifer Rock

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