How Moving to a New Climate Helped My Psoriasis: Chelseas Story

After living with psoriasis for nearly two decades, Chelsea Hull-Williams seems convinced that climate makes a difference. Warm and sunny gets good reviews; cold and dark, not so much.

Hull-Williams, now 21 years old and married, was just 3 years old when she was diagnosed with guttate psoriasis, a type of psoriasis that often starts in childhood. At the time, she lived in Alaska, where it’s cold and dark many months of the year, and her psoriasis symptoms made her feel miserable.

“It was pretty much as bad as it could get,” she recalls of her childhood with psoriasis. She had small red spots everywhere that would bleed. Doctors gave her steroid creams and light therapy to treat it, but "because I was so young, they didn’t want to put me on other medications with potentially dangerous side effects,” she says. “Besides, doctors didn’t have as many options then as they do now.”

Because her mother had heard that living in warmer, sunnier climates could help improve psoriasis, the family packed up and moved to the Bakersfield, Calif., area when she was 8 years old. Her psoriasis cleared up soon after arriving in the sunny region, Hull-Williams says. "I have pictures of myself from when I was 8 or 9, and my skin was almost completely clear,” she says. “I was able to wear short sleeves and shorts almost all year-round. The psoriasis never was fully gone, but I didn’t have to use medications.”

However, her dad’s company was bought, and he was transferred to Kansas when she was 11 years old. “It gets cold there, and that winter my psoriasis came back pretty bad — and pretty quickly," she says. "I had spots everywhere except my face. It didn’t crack and bleed like it did when I was in Alaska, but it still was pretty severe.”

Psoriasis and Changing Climates

By middle school, Hull-Williams's skin seemed to have adapted to the climate in Kansas, and her psoriasis symptoms mellowed out. “In about ninth grade, my psoriasis went from severe to mild, but I never did as well as when I was in California," she says.

When she was 18 years old, she moved to Utah to go to college. She and her husband still live there today, but they plan to move to a warmer climate as soon as they can to help improve her psoriasis. Though she knows that everyone’s psoriasis is different, she recommends that most people try living in a warmer climate, if that's possible — "especially if their life isn’t livable where they are."

Donald Belsito, MD, a dermatologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, isn’t surprised that some people with psoriasis find they have clearer skin in warmer, sunnier climates. “If a person lives in New York, where for 9 months of the year they can’t go out and get sunlight, versus Miami, where they can go out and get sunlight most of the year, chances are the individual in Miami will do better without having to seek medical care,” he says. Very dry climates may not be best either, since dry skin can wash away your skin’s natural protective oils.

However, Dr. Belsito adds that he wouldn’t recommend everyone move with the hopes of improving their psoriasis. Moving is a stressful event, he says, “particularly if you’re moving away from your family and your support.” And stress is known to trigger psoriasis flares for some people.

Also, Belsito warns, prolonged exposure to the sunlight can cause sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer. So, if you use sunlight to help control your psoriasis, be sure to use sunscreen to minimize the risks.

If moving to a different climate isn’t feasible, you might want to talk to your doctor about trying light therapy for psoriasis. This is not the same as using an indoor tanning bed – it involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet light under medical supervision. Your doctor might also be able to prescribe home light therapy for you.

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