Manage Your Psoriasis Better This Winter: 7 Top Tips

Skip wool sweaters this winter — they can be scratchy — and opt for cotton or another soft material instead.

In a survey by the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF), 4 in 10 people with psoriasis said that winter is the season that most aggravates their disease. If you have psoriasis, you may find that the cold, the dry air, and the short days result in more flares.

Lack of sunlight, in particular, can make skin symptoms worse, says Jenny Murase, MD, a dermatologist in Mountain View, California, and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California in San Francisco.

If winter weather is a trigger for your psoriatic disease, the last thing you want to do is get out of sync with your treatment schedule, says the NPF: Be sure to stick closely to the plan you’ve devised with your doctor.

Read on for seven other things you can do to manage your psoriasis in the winter months.

Keep Out of Hot Water

Although it seems counterintuitive, water — especially hot water — can dry out your skin. When you take a bath or a shower, for instance, you’re not just washing away the dirt; you’re also washing away your natural, protective skin oils, says Dr. Murase.

To minimize this effect and prevent psoriasis flares, take no more than one shower or bath per day and keep it short — no more than 5 minutes in the shower and 15 minutes in the bath, advises the American Academy of Dermatology. Lukewarm water will be less drying than hot water.

Apply moisturizer right after showering, bathing, or washing your hands, while skin is still damp, to help seal much-needed moisture into your skin.

Add Moisture to the Air

Hot, dry indoor air can parch sensitive skin and worsen itching and flaking. Ideally, the humidity in your home should be between 30 and 50 percent, says the Mayo Clinic.

As part of your winter psoriasis management plan, consider using a humidifier. One of the best options is to install a central humidifier into your home’s heating or air-conditioning system. A simpler, less costly alternative: placing a portable home humidifier in your bedroom (and possibly also your office). Be sure to keep it clean to ward off bacteria and fungi.

Go Heavy on the Moisturizer

“Many people find their skin gets drier in winter regardless of whether they have psoriasis,” Murase points out. This year, all the extra handwashing and sanitizing aimed at preventing COVID-19 can make things even worse.

The solution is to moisturize even more frequently than usual, says Murase. Choose creams that are free of chemicals, fragrances, and dyes (which could irritate your skin), says the NPF. And the thicker, the better. “The general rule of thumb is that if you turn the container of moisturizer over and it doesn’t run out, it’s thick enough to moisturize,” says Murase. Apply the cream liberally and often — even if your psoriasis patches have cleared and you think you don’t need it.

Don’t Wear Wool

Wool tends to be scratchy. If you suffer from psoriasis, your skin is already itchy and irritated, so why make it worse? If you must wear wool sweaters to stay warm in a cold climate, put them on over cotton or silk undergarments that are soft to the touch and don’t have fibers that exacerbate your psoriasis, Murase advises.

Just don’t bundle yourself up too tightly. You may be tempted to pack on the layers, thinking it will help you stay warm, but if you overheat, you’ll sweat, which could further irritate dry, chafed skin and trigger psoriatic flares.

Consider Phototherapy

Sunlight has been shown to have a healing effect on psoriasis flares, but because of the shorter days, your skin probably gets less sun exposure during winter. To compensate, you may want to consider phototherapy, or light therapy, which directs artificial ultraviolet rays to affected areas. “Phototherapy is a really good way to get over the problems that psoriasis patients experience in the winter,” Murase says. “I really encourage my patients to try it.”

Protect Yourself Against Contagious Illnesses

As the COVID-19 pandemic converges with cold and flu season, everyone needs to take extra precautions to stay healthy this winter — and this is especially true if you have psoriasis. Any illness that affects the immune system can trigger psoriasis, says the NPF, which may explain cases of people experiencing flares after they’ve been infected with the coronavirus. Some infections, such as strep throat, have been proven to trigger guttate psoriasis (small, round raised spots).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone age 6 months and older get a flu shot. If you are taking immunosuppressive drugs to treat your psoriasis, you must be vaccinated with a shot (which contains inactivated or killed virus) instead of a nasal spray (which contains weakened versions of the live virus).

The CDC also advises frequent handwashing, social distancing, and covering your mouth and nose with a mask when you are around people you don’t live with. This will help protect you from COVID-19, as well as other contagious infections like the flu that commonly circulate in the winter months.

Don’t Scratch

When psoriasis makes your skin itch, the urge to scratch may be almost irresistible. But don't give in — you could make the itchiness worse or accidentally open the lesion to infection. Plus, for some people, scratching may trigger a new psoriasis flare. This is known as the Koebner phenomenon, in which even small traumas to the skin such as friction and rubbing can intensify psoriasis, according to the NPF. Studies have found that about 25 percent of people with psoriasis experience the Koebner phenomenon.

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