How psoriasis spreads (and how it doesn’t)
Repeat after us: Psoriasis 👏 is 👏 not 👏 contagious. 👏 Not now, not ever.
A psoriasis flare-up can spread to different parts of your body, but it can’t spread to a different person.
Here’s the scoop: Psoriasis is propelled by your immune system, which is why most docs and researchers file it under “autoimmune diseases.” Basically, the inflammation erupts from *inside* your body, not in response to a single outside irritant.
What’s causing that inflammation? It’s essentially friendly fire from your immune system. Your immune system is responding to a trigger and lashing out at the wrong guys (your skin cells). This attack shows up as rashes and plaques on different parts of your body.
So when a psoriasis flare spreads, it’s not because you accidentally touched your arm to the plaque on your leg. It means your immune system is still misguided, but in a new location.
Psoriasis can spread differently depending on the type:
- Plaque psoriasis. These scaly, raised patches of skin can crop up all over your body. They most often occur on the scalp, knees, and elbows.
- Guttate psoriasis. These tiny pink bumps are scaly. They spread fast along your arms, legs, and torso. Some folks also get flare-ups on their face and scalp.
- Inverse psoriasis. These raw, red patches spread in your body’s folds — e.g., your butt, armpits, and groin.
- Erythrodermic psoriasis. These bright red patches look like burns and spread quickly all over your body. A flare-up can also cause uncontrollable shivering and ankle swelling. 🚨PSA: This type of psoriasis is super rare, but it can be life threatening. If you’re experiencing symptoms of erythrodermic psoriasis, get to the emergency room! 🚨
Treat it, stat
Notice the first signs of a flare-up? Start giving your skin a little TLC! Like most other rashes, psoriasis is more likely to dig in its heels when you don’t treat it.
Start by keeping the area clean and makeup-free. Then, you can move in with soothing home remedies or medications.
Figuring out your most effective treatment(s) is a process of trial and error. It’s best to get help from a doctor or dermatologist who specializes in psoriasis.
Kinda goes without saying, right? But if you feel a flare-up coming on, now’s the time to baby your skin, eat nutritious foods, and do what you can to dodge common triggers like sunburn, bug bites, and stress.
Infections and illnesses can be triggers, too, so take steps to protect yourself from those whenever possible.
Try not to scratch
The faster you calm the eruption, the lower the chance that it will spread.
Can’t stop the itch? Hydrate your skin as much as possible.
What’s triggering your psoriasis flare?
Science isn’t exactly sure what causes psoriasis. It seems to be a combo of genetics, environmental triggers, and your immune system going rogue against your skin cells.
If you’re genetically predisposed to psoriasis (gee, thanks, fam), you’ll prob experience your first flare-up because of an environmental trigger.
Here are some common culprits:
- cold weather
- UV exposure
- skin injuries (everything from sunburn and bug bites to tattoos and vaccine jabs)
- certain meds (such as lithium, antimalarial drugs, and beta-blockers)
- infections (There’s a documented link between strep throat and guttate psoriasis.)
Even folks with a tried-and-true treatment protocol can get flare-ups. There’s just no way to control *everything* around you — and trying to control everything would be a lot of stress. (Go figure.)
Most psoriasis flare-ups start as a small itchy patch that spreads pretty quickly. Scratching it won’t speed up the spread, but it could lead to irritation and infection.
Common psoriasis treatments to try
There’s currently no cure for psoriasis (ugh), but there are heaps of at-home and medical treatment options. Most aim to soothe inflammation and keep flare- ups from spreading.
If you’re frustrated by a psoriasis flare-up that just won’t quit, keep looking for options to fight it. Most people try several treatments before landing on one or two that work for them.
The most basic treatments on the market? Lotions and potions.
- Fragrance-free moisturizer. It’s vital to keep your skin hydrated so it can heal quickly. Bonus points for soothing moisturizers that reduce the urge to scratch!
- Corticosteroid creams and gels. Steroid creams like hydrocortisone are considered safe and effective for most folks. They can soothe itching and speed up your skin’s natural healing process. Just remember to use them sparingly, because long-term use can cause skin thinning.
- Tar soap. People have used tar soap to quash psoriasis flare-ups for ages. Just review the potential side effects and use it for only a few weeks at a time.
- Salicylic acid. Soaps and gels with salicylic acid can help gently exfoliate flaky plaques away. But these products can be *too* exfoliating at times, so use a gentle solution and run any questions or reactions by your dermatologist.
- Aloe vera. This skin care classic won’t cure your flare-up, but it certainly can soothe the itch.
Topical treatments not cutting it? Your doctor or dermatologist can help you explore prescription medications for psoriasis.
A few common options:
- antibiotics (to combat underlying infections that may trigger flare- ups)
- acitretin (a systemic oral treatment)
- cyclosporine (another systemic med)
- methotrexate (yet another systemic)
- apremilast (to reduce inflammation)
Systemic medications help dial down your immune system’s overreaction to environmental triggers.
Biologics are drugs administered through an injection or IV. They work like systemic meds — by targeting your immune system’s hyperreactivity.
Heads-up: Dermatologists won’t just give you biologics because you ask for ’em. These heavy-duty injectables are usually reserved for folks with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis.
A few common biologics on the scene:
- adalimumab (Humira)
- risankizumab-rzaa (Skyrizi)
- certolizumab (Cimzia)
- ixekizumab (Taltz)
Is stress one of your main psoriasis triggers? There’s help for that.
Some people living with psoriasis swear by these alternative measures:
- talk therapy
Psoriasis doesn’t spread the same way a contagious rash would. A psoriasis rash is caused by an immune response that’s triggered by something in your environment, so it isn’t possible to pass this rash to another person.
But it can spread across your body as your immune system attacks more healthy skin cells. That’s why it’s important to identify your triggers and find a treatment that can help ease your symptoms.
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