Although the exact cause of psoriasis is still a matter of debate in the medical world, a theory that’s backed up by an ever-increasing amount of research is that inflammation in the body can lead to this chronic skin condition.
Inflammation is a normal part of the body’s healing process; for example, when you cut yourself, the area around the wound is inflamed for a short time. Blood vessels surrounding the injury expand to deliver more blood to the area, and white blood cells increase to speed up the recovery process. However, in someone with psoriasis, the white blood cells become overactive, producing excess amounts of chemicals that trigger inflammation in the skin and other organs.
One effect is an abnormally fast multiplication of the main cells in the skin’s outer layer. In healthy skin, these cells take about a month to go through a cycle of dividing, maturing, moving to the skin’s surface and shedding to make way for younger cells. But in skin affected by psoriasis, the cycle takes only a few days, resulting in red, thickened skin with silvery scales of cells that have matured too quickly.
“Psoriasis is an inflammatory condition, so anything you can do to reduce that inflammation will reduce psoriatic flares,” dermatologist Amy Spizuoco tells SheKnows. “People with psoriasis are also at risk of psoriatic arthritis and heart disease when that inflammation moves past the skin to joints and the circulatory system, so anything you can do to reduce inflammation will help keep your psoriasis under control and benefit your overall health.”
To help reduce inflammation, Spizuoco recommends drinking lots of water, getting plenty of rest, exercising regularly, taking steps to minimize stress at home and at work and eating a healthy, balanced diet.
To combat inflammation, Harvard Medical School recommends eating plenty of tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and collards, nuts like almonds and walnuts, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, and fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries and oranges.
People with psoriasis should also avoid lots of foods with inflammatory properties: refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pastries, fried foods, soda and other artificially sweetened beverages, red meat, processed meat, margarine, shortening and lard. Unhealthy processed foods are also more likely to lead to weight gain, which is in itself another risk factor for inflammation.
For skincare products that help reduce inflammation, Spizuoco advises looking for products that are close to the skin’s natural pH level (about 4.5). So, go for slightly acidic treatments with ingredients like urea and lactic acid, and stock up on ointment-based moisturizers and emollients.
Because psoriasis is an inflammatory condition, avoiding certain triggers can also help avoid flares. Dermatologist Fayne Frey recommends taking all necessary precautions before exposing the skin to the sun to avoid sunburn (avoiding midday exposure, wearing protective clothing and always wearing SPF) and wearing bug repellent to avoid bites.
“Psoriasis can appear in any area of skin that has been inflamed or injured,” Frey tells SheKnows. This is known as a Koebner response, and it happens in about 1 in 4 people who have psoriasis. Other things that might cause a Koebner response are burns, cuts, bumps, rubbed skin and conditions like diaper rash, eczema, infection, scabies, warts and dermatitis, allergic reactions and skin irritations.
Getting a tattoo or vaccination, having acupuncture and even shaving can trigger a Koebner response in some people.
Treat your Koebner plaques the same way you treat your regular psoriasis plaques — but taking steps to reduce inflammation to your skin can help decrease the likelihood of a Koebner response happening in the first place.
Psoriasis treatments, which include topical treatments like corticosteroids, vitamin D analogues and topical retinoids, light therapy and oral and injected medications, are designed to reduce inflammation in the skin. Make sure you follow the treatment plan recommended by your primary health-care provider, and do as much as you can at home to reduce inflammation in your body. Your skin will thank you for it.
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