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Skin sense—Taking charge of psoriasis

» Recognizing the disorder

» Multiple triggers

» Step-by-step solutions

Skin sense

If you have psoriasis, you can keep outbreaks to a minimum and lessen the discomfort they cause by taking these measures:

1. Use moisturizing lotions and ointments. These help keep your skin moist and reduce itching. But the ingredients in them are often not strong enough to help clear your skin when you have an outbreak.

2. Get some exposure to the sun every day. A few minutes each day—but not enough to cause burning—can help reduce the number of outbreaks you have and affect how severe they are. If you are being treated with medicines or light therapy, talk with your healthcare provider first. With some treatments, exposure to sunlight can cause serious side effects.

3. Use mineral oils when you bathe.

Psoriasis is more than dry skin. It is a chronic condition that can flare up, disappear and come back over and over.

Recognizing the disorder

Psoriasis causes skin to become inflamed. You may notice patches that look red, thick and scaly. These spots may itch or burn, and the skin may crack. Most often, people report psoriasis on their elbows, scalp, knees and lower back, but it can affect any part of the body, including the nails and the inside of the mouth.

Multiple triggers

What causes psoriasis isn’t entirely clear, but it seems to result from a change in the immune system that stimulates skin cells to reproduce faster than normal. That’s what causes the scaling.

A lot of things can trigger an outbreak. Some people have it more often in winter when their skin becomes dry and they get less exposure to sunlight. Others have flare-ups as a result of stress, infections or alcohol use. And some medicines that control high blood pressure can cause an outbreak.

Step-by-step solutions

To minimize side effects and maximize effectiveness, healthcare providers usually prescribe psoriasis treatments in a particular order.

The first approach is to use ointments that are applied directly to the skin. These ointments might include steroids or vitamin D. Or your healthcare provider may ask you to apply a coal-tar solution. If the ointments don’t help, light therapy may be the next step. Exposing the skin to certain wavelengths can help clear psoriasis, but the treatments should be done only by a medical professional since the ultraviolet light used can cause other problems, including skin cancer. Oral medications may also relieve symptoms.

Eating a balanced diet can also enhance treatment by keeping your immune system functioning at its peak.

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