Some common questions about psoriasis.
Click on an option below to find out the truth behind these psoriasis questions...
Is psoriasis caused by being unclean?
Psoriasis is not brought on by poor hygiene, and the presence of psoriasis doesn’t mean that someone’s hygiene is poor.
Is psoriasis contagious?
Is psoriasis just a skin thing?
The visible part of psoriasis is the red, scaly plaques that appear on the surface of the skin. However, the effects of psoriasis can run much deeper.
People with psoriasis often suffer with low confidence and self esteem, which in turn impacts on their relationships and social lives. The treatments can be time-consuming with unpleasant side effects, and people with psoriasis often spend the day feeling uncomfortable, embarrassed, itchy and in pain.
Psoriasis on the hands and feet can make everyday activities difficult, and psoriasis on areas such as the groin or buttocks can make even sitting down or going to the toilet quite painful. Psoriasis is also linked to the development of psoriatic arthritis, although many people with psoriasis never develop this condition.
Will I grow out of my psoriasis?
Unfortunately, usually not.
Psoriasis is a long term condition, and is known to wax and wane (meaning it comes and goes - sometimes it flares). Like other long term conditions (for example arthritis, diabetes or asthma), there is no 'cure', although there is a wide variety of treatments which can be used to manage psoriasis. Everybody is different, and so it can be a process of trial and error to find a treatment or combination of treatments which work well for you, but many people do find treatments which work for them,
Due to the nature of the condition, some people find areas of psoriasis clear up on their own in time. Some people may experience just a handful of psoriasis 'flares' in a lifetime, whereas others might have some stubborn patches which are almost always there. It can be hard during a flare, but try to remember that psoriasis often does follow this waxing and waning pattern, and that there are treatments to help you get a flare under control.
Are psoriasis and eczema basically the same thing?
No they are not, although they do have some similarities!
Both are inflammatory skin conditions, which can appear very red, itchy and sore, and both can be triggered by the immune system acting in a strange way. Psoriasis is caused by an overactive immune system, which causes inflammation and makes too many skin cells, too quickly, leading to the buildup of plaques.
Eczema can also be caused by an immune system response, which breaks down the skin’s protective barrier, making it drier and itchy. There are different types of both psoriasis and eczema but, classically, eczema is red, rash-like and weepy, whereas psoriasis appears in well-defined areas, with white, scaly or flaky ‘plaques’.
Eczema can be associated with other conditions such as allergies, asthma and hayfever, whilst psoriasis can be associated with other inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis and bowel conditions.
Can you dye your hair with scalp psoriasis?
Yes, but always patch test first!
It’s true that certain dyes can be quite harsh to the scalp, and can irritate open lesions, but if you use milder dyes, do a patch test and talk to a reputable hairdresser, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t dye your hair! Same goes for other hair products; do a test and, if they don’t irritate your scalp, you’re good to go.
Check our Body Image section for further tips.
Can people with psoriasis use makeup or fake tan?
Yes, just make sure you do a patch test first.
The face is a delicate area, so you do need to be careful that the makeup you use doesn’t irritate it, and it is always unwise to apply cosmetics to open sores. However, like with hair products, if you do a patch test and find that no irritation occurs, you should feel free to wear makeup. This is the same for fake tan on the body.
Remember, however, that tanning beds have health risks, which can be increased if you are undergoing UV light therapy. Faking it with bronzers, gels and lotions is the safest way to tan. You might also be interested in finding out about camouflage, specifically designed to cover scars and skin conditions such as psoriasis.
Check our Body Image section for more info on tanning and makeup.
Can people with genital psoriasis have sex?
People with psoriasis anywhere on their body may feel self conscious when it comes to sex, and this is likely to be increased if psoriasis is actually in the groin or genital area. Also, people with psoriasis in these areas may find that sex can irritate the psoriasis. However, neither of these potential problems means that someone with genital psoriasis shouldn’t have sex.
There are practical tips for making sex more comfortable, and body confidence issues can hopefully be dealt with through honest communication with a loving partner. Remember, psoriasis is not contagious and is not sexually transmitted.
Go to our Relationships section for more info.
Can people with psoriasis go swimming?
Swimming’s a great way to keep fit, cool off on holiday, or to have fun with mates, and there’s no reason why someone with psoriasis shouldn’t go for a splash!
Psoriasis is not contagious, other people can’t ‘catch’ it, and it’s not going to infect or contaminate the water. Some people - whether they have psoriasis or not - find Chlorine quite drying to the skin, so it might be a good idea to put a thick barrier ointment on before swimming, and remember to moisturise well after.
Should people with psoriasis avoid drinking alcohol?
Half and half.
People taking certain medications for psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis - such as methotrexate or acitretin - definitely shouldn’t drink, as it can be dangerous. You should always check with a doctor or pharmacist, and check the patient information leaflet of any medication you are taking, before you drink alcohol.
There are plausible arguments for why drinking might affect psoriasis (alcohol is dehydrating, and therefore could dry skin out even more), but no research has found that it significantly worsens the condition. Some people might find that alcohol does worsen their condition, but if you don’t, and it’s safe to drink with whatever medicine you’re on, then moderate alcohol consumption can be one of life’s pleasures.
See the alcohol page for more information.
Drinking is not an effective way of coping with your skin, or other emotional problems. If you think you’re drinking because you feel upset, worried or depressed, you need to talk to your GP.
Is it difficult for people with psoriasis to work?
Many people with psoriasis have little or no problem with their ability to work, and most can and do have jobs and successful careers. You should always talk to your employer if there are parts of your job that make your psoriasis worse, and work together to find ways around these issues.
Some industries, such as food handling and even the NHS, sometimes have concerns over psoriasis and if it is likely to harbour infection or contaminate food and clean areas. Most of the time, this can be addressed by covering the psoriasis with dressings when at work.
Do get in touch with the Psoriasis Association for more information on this or any other employment issues.
If you have psoriasis are you more likely to have a heart attack?
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that doctors should discuss cardiovascular risk factors with all people who have psoriasis, and support any lifestyle changes (such as weight loss, quitting smoking ,etc) that might be needed. It also recommends that people with severe psoriasis should be offered a cardiovascular risk assessment every five years. This is because recent scientific research has suggested that people with psoriasis could be more likely to develop certain other conditions, including heart disease.
However, we still don't completely understand what the link between psoriasis and heart disease is, and certainly not everyone with psoriasis will get heart disease (and vice versa). Research on this topic is ongoing, most notably the IMPACT project based at Manchester University, which is looking into the potential co-morbidities (related conditions) of psoriasis. This is a multi-million pound study, that the Psoriasis Association is involved in directing.
Remember, you can't change the fact that you have psoriasis, but there are other risk factors for heart disease that you can change: make efforts to eat a balanced diet; keep active and maintain a healthy weight; try to give up smoking and to moderate alcohol intake. Visit the British Heart Foundation website for more information on how to keep your heart healthy.
Can what I eat affect my psoriasis?
There's no definite answer to this one!
If you look online, you’ll find lots of diets that ‘cure’ psoriasis, and you might see features in magazines or hear people saying that psoriasis can be controlled through eating - or not eating - certain foods. The truth is that scientific research has not yet found a definite link, or found a diet that works for everybody. Some people do say that they’ve noticed an improvement when they cut something out of their daily diet, and if you think you might be eating something that makes your psoriasis worse, then keeping a food diary is an easy way to spot any patterns.
There has been some research in other inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, that suggests that eating foods that reduce inflammation in the body (such as those high in Omega 3 fatty acids – oily fish, nuts and seeds) may be helpful. There is no definite evidence to say that this works in psoriasis, but, again, it may be an approach that some people find helps. Additionally, some very recent research has suggested that gluten-free diets may help some people with psoriasis. Much more work needs to be done in this area to establish if this is definitely the case.
If a treatment I'm prescribed doesn't work, what do I do?
Treating psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis is often a case of trial-and-error, and many people try lots of different things before they find a treatment, or combination of treatments, that works for them. Because of this, it is not uncommon to find yourself using a treatment that is not working as well as you’d hoped, or that has gradually become less effective.
If your treatment doesn’t work, or stops working, you should make an appointment to see your doctor (Dermatologist or GP) to discuss your other options. There are many different treatments available for psoriasis, and they should be able to advise you. You can read about the different available treatments on our website, or can get in touch with us for more information. Bear in mind that many treatments take weeks to work rather than days, so it’s important to give them a good chance to work even if they don’t seem to be doing much at first.
For more information, or for a list of resources used in the production of this information resource, please contact the Psoriasis Association. March 2017 (Review: Mar 2020).