Written by Chloe Laws
Psoriasis is an auto-immune disease, not ‘just’ dry skin. Here’s what Stylist’s Chloe Laws wishes people knew about the condition.
I was diagnosed with psoriasis almost a decade ago. A stressed, somewhat feral first-year university student, playing dress-up in adulthood while balancing new friendships, loves, learning, grief, trauma and sambuca shots. And then, suddenly, I was also balancing psoriasis. It started on my eyelids and scalp, which doctors brushed off as allergies. Then, it started to cover my joints, my arms, my back, my legs, the soles of my feet, under my fingernails, on my vulva.
Over the last 10 years, psoriasis has completely reshaped my life. Physically and aesthetically. But also mentally: I’m more anxious and less carefree. And I’m stronger. I’ve been on three types of medication, have tried more steroid creams than I’ve had hot dinners, cut out every food group, smothered myself in turmeric, visited hot springs and explored herbology. I’ve had to do all of these things because psoriasis is an extremely misunderstood condition, one without a medical cure and a plethora of societal misconceptions. So, this is what I wish people knew…
1. Psoriasis is an auto-immune disease
A lot of people think psoriasis is just ‘dry skin’. Although the painful skin is a huge part of this disease, it’s so much more than this.
This is how the NHS describes it:
“Psoriasis occurs when skin cells are replaced more quickly than usual. It’s not known exactly why this happens, but research suggests it’s caused by a problem with the immune system.
It’s not known what exactly causes this problem with the immune system, although certain genes and environmental triggers may play a role.
Many people’s psoriasis symptoms start or get worse because of a certain event, called a trigger. Knowing your triggers may help you avoid a flare-up.”
Pretty vague, right? Although treatments are improving, something I’ve experienced first-hand, medical knowledge around this condition is limited. I now inject myself every two weeks with Humira (adalimumab), a biological treatment used to treat various inflammatory conditions including arthritis, ulcerative colitis and plaque psoriasis. Before that, I spent years on other medications like methotrexate, which felt more like a bandaid than a cure. Like many people with chronic psoriasis, I have now also developed psoriatic arthritis, which causes affected joints to become swollen, stiff and painful. Much like psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis is a long-term condition that can get progressively worse.
2. It’s not contagious
When my skin was at its most covered, cashiers would avoid passing me change.
A barista once audibly whelped at my hands.
A child on the beach asked if they could catch it.
An old man shouted that I had leprosy while walking past me.
It made life so immeasurably hard; I had taken for granted what a privilege clear skin is, and what having a body considered normal affords you in society. People didn’t want to date me once they had seen my skin. Being out in public meant feeling constantly judged. Fashion, something I love, felt taken away from me. I retreated inwards, wearing all black and covering up from head to toe; opting for a hat and gloves in the heat so that people would think I was cold, not contagious.
Since my skin has become more clear, thanks to a medication that is working, I’ve clawed back some of this past freedom. I still get questions about my legs and scars, and whether I’ve injured myself. I hope that when I next have a flare-up (because, as those will chronic psoriasis will know, this is inevitable), I’m able to brush off the insensitive comments, but what I hope for more, is greater and more widespread knowledge so those with diseases like psoriasis don’t have to face ignorance.
“Over the last 10 years, psoriasis has completely reshaped my life. Physically and aesthetically. But also mentally: I’m more anxious, less carefree. And I’m stronger”
3. Psoriasis comes in many forms
Skincare can help, but it cannot cure.
It’s not a one size fits all. According to Mayo Clinic, there are six types of psoriasis we know of:
- Plaque psoriasis, the most common type, appears in patches covered with silver scales. Usually, it appears on joints, the lower back and scalps
- Nail psoriasis, which can be found on fingernails and toenails, causing pitting, abnormal nail growth and discolouration
- Guttate psoriasis, which primarily affects young adults and children. It’s usually triggered by a bacterial infection such as strep throat. It’s marked by small, drop-shaped scaling spots on the trunk, arms or legs
- Inverse psoriasis mainly affects the skin folds of the groin, buttocks and breasts
- Pustular psoriasis, a rare type, causes clearly defined pus-filled blisters
- Erythrodermic psoriasis, the least common type of psoriasis, can cover the entire body with a peeling rash that can itch or burn intensely. It can be short-lived (acute) or long-term (chronic).
Personally, I’ve suffered from three of these: plaque, guttate and erythrodermic. Scratching them off like bingo cards, or like someone with itchy psoriasis.
I’ve found products that really do work for my skin. They can soothe the lesions, make the patches look less red and inflamed and cool down an erythrodermic flare-up. But they cannot cure psoriasis – because nothing can (yet).
Beware the DMs and adverts from companies that claim to; I’ve fallen into many a-trap when it comes to treatment. It’s a desperate disease and you’ll likely go to any lengths to find something that works: I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of pounds over the years on products and supplements. Save your money and invest in basic creams that are fragrance and paraffin-free. Block any accounts that try to sell you a herbal detox tea.
If you think you might have psoriasis, please speak to your GP.
Main image: Getty
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