skin care

How to Deal with Psoriasis

August 02, 2011

Psoriasis Have you heard? Kim Kardashian has a rash...Well, before you jump to any conclusions, let me tell you that it’s actually a common skin condition…it’s called psoriasis. 


Common Symptoms

If you have psoriasis, you’ll typically notice itchy, dry, red patches covered with thick, silvery, scales. There might be some burning and pain. These patches usually appear on the elbow, knees, legs, lower back, feet and hands. They can even get into your scalp. Sometimes, there’s also pitted nails or stiff joints.

Psoriasis is often misdiagnosed as poison ivy, eczema, rosacea and sometimes even acne. Kim’s sister thought it was ringworm…which it wasn’t. (And that’s why you shouldn’t rely on your non-dermatologist friends to diagnose your rashes!) Psoriasis can be both embarrassing and painful. But there’s no need to remain silent about psoriasis—your doctor may be able to offer you treatments to alleviate your psoriasis symptoms.

Where Did It Come From?

So how did you get it? Is it contagious? Psoriasis is thought to be a problem of your immune system. Your body has a type of special cell called a T-cell that travels throughout your body patrolling for foreign substances (like bacteria) and either kills them or alerts your body that these invaders need to be destroyed. This is usually a good thing. In psoriasis, though, your T-cells accidentally attack healthy skin - triggering new skin cells to be created more quickly than normal.

Basically, your skin is tricked into thinking that it’s damaged and needs to rebuild itself, so your skin produces more cells than it can handle - leading to the inflammation and thick scales that appear in psoriasis. It’s not contagious. But there are some factors that can put you at increased risk - these include stress, smoking and obesity. Genetics play a role too. It’s not surprising that Kim’s mother also suffers from psoriasis; nearly 40% of those afflicted have a family member who is also affected.

How Do I Get Rid of It?

Most of the time, symptoms come and go; flare-ups occur and then there’s a time when symptoms subside. But I’ve got news - the symptoms almost always return. Although there’s not a cure for psoriasis, there are a few remedies that you can try at home to alleviate mild or moderate symptoms. 

  • Take a daily soak in the tub for at least 15 minutes with oatmeal, Epsom salts or bath oil to calm inflamed skin and remove scales. After bathing, apply a fragrance-free moisturizer to your skin before it completely dries.
  • Apply an ointment-based moisturizer to your skin before bed, and then wrap the area with plastic wrap. I know, I know…sounds like you’re becoming mummified! Removing the wrap in the morning and then taking a shower or bath can help to wash away scales. Make sure the water temperature is warm but not hot.
  • Apply coal tar to the skin, one of the oldest and most effective treatments. No one knows exactly how it works, but if you’re willing to put up with the odor and the stains it may make on your clothes or bedding, it could be the treatment for you. Coal tar is available over-the-counter in shampoos and creams. The challenge is many people don’t like the smell.
  • Use cream/ointment with corticosteroids. These help to reduce inflammation and itching. These should not be used every day because they may lose their effectiveness if used for too long, and they also can weaken skin elasticity on the face.
  • A natural way to find relief from psoriasis is through sunlight – that’s right, exposing your skin to sunlight for brief periods of time can relieve symptoms. The UV rays found in sunlight kill T-cells in the skin - reducing the scaling and swelling they create. Keep in mind, though, that too much sun exposure may be equally bad for your skin - leading to worsened symptoms and more permanent skin damage. Thirty minutes or so, three times a week is usually sufficient. There are also various forms of laser therapy that may help in treating your psoriasis.

Severe Psoriasis

If your psoriasis is particularly severe, your doctor may prescribe a variety of oral drugs as well as drugs that require an injection. While on any medication for your psoriasis, be sure to avoid alcohol, as alcohol has the potential to decrease the effectiveness of psoriasis treatments.

Although psoriasis flare-ups can be frustrating, embarrassing and painful, you can and should get relief. If you think your skin irritation is more than just a common rash or if it just won’t go away, talk to your doctor - he or she will be able to guide you toward the support you need.


More on Psoriasis:

How Psoriasis Works

Fact or Fiction: Psoriasis

How Scalp Psoriasis Works

28 Home Remedies for Psoriasis


Photo Source: Thinkstock/iStockphoto

How to Choose the Best Sunscreen

July 06, 2011

Sunscreen_girl I remember when there were basically two types of sunscreen – lotion or oil. Nowadays, there’s over 10 different brands and types.  So, how do you choose your sunscreen?

 There are so many different labels, it is easy to become confused. They all have different SPF numbers. Some say they are “waterproof”; others say “water resistant”. What is the difference? Still others say “broad spectrum” while others are labeled “high UVA”. Many of my patients want to know which should they put on before they head out into the sun.

Hopefully, all these different labels will be less confusing. Starting next summer, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will require new labeling that cracks down on confusing claims and makes choosing a sunscreen easier. Meanwhile, we’ve still got a big chunk of summer left—prime time for being out in the sun. Here's a look at the new labels and some tips on how to choose the right sunscreen for you.

What Does the SPF Rating Mean?

I’m sure you already know that SPF 30 means more protection than SPF 15. But did you know that SPF, which stands for “sun protection factor”, only measures one element of sunlight?  SPF tells you about protection against ultraviolet B radiation (usually called UVB). UVB is the main cause of sunburn. However, it’s only part of the picture.

“Broad spectrum” sunscreens protect against both UVB and another type of radiation in sunlight, ultraviolet A (UVA). Both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer as well as premature skin aging. Right now, it’s hard to tell how much UVA protection you’re getting in a “broad spectrum” sunscreen. Starting next year, when you see “broad spectrum”, it will mean the level of UVA protection meets a certain standard, proportional to the SPF number.  

How Much Protection Do I Really Need?

So far, it’s not certain that SPF levels above 50 really provide extra protection. The FDA is thinking about making “SPF 50+” the highest level you’ll see on a sunscreen label. At the same time, sunscreens with an SPF between 2 and 14 must state that the product has not been proven to prevent skin cancer.

Are They Really Waterproof?

Now about “waterproof” sunscreens. It sounds like you could go swimming all day and never bother to reapply your sunscreen, right? But that’s not quite true. Beginning next year, manufacturers can only say that a sunscreen is water resistant, and they have to give you an idea of how long it lasts while swimming or sweating. There will be two categories, 40 minutes and 80 minutes. The term “sweatproof” will also be gone because it’s simply not a true claim.

Remember, the reasons why you should wear sunscreen isn’t just to prevent skin cancer; it’s also to prevent sunburn as well as premature aging, such as wrinkles. So wear at least SPF 15, and reapply every few hours. Make sure you get a product that protects against UVA and UVB. And don’t forget about wearing sunglasses and hats – they help with protection too!

More on Summer Skin Care:

FDA Q&A on Sunscreen Regulation Changes

American Academy of Dermatology - Skin Care Safey

5 Spots Commonly Missed When Applying Sunscreen


Photo Source: Thinkstock/Stockbyte

John J. Whyte, MD, MPH is the Chief Medical Expert & Vice President for Continuing Medical Education where he develops, designs and delivers health programming.








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