Dermatology is the branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of skin disorders. Talk to your dermatologist, a medical doctor specializing in treating the skin, hair, and nails for people of all ages, or your pharmacist about your treatment plan and how much sun exposure is right for you.
As we all try to enjoy these final days of summer, we spoke with one of our staff pharmacists, Kate Smullen, PharmD, CSP, MSCS, Director of Clinical Services at Shields for her best tips for people managing psoriasis during the warmer months. Hopefully, one or more of these tips will help people with psoriasis maximize some summertime fun!
Q – Help our readers understand – what is psoriasis?
Dr. Smullen: Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition caused by an overactive immune system that causes cells to multiply faster than normal and results in the formation of white scales on the skin. While there is no cure, most psoriasis can be effectively managed with topical and/or oral medications. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF), more than 8 million Americans have plaque psoriasis, and of those, nearly 2 million have moderate to severe plaque psoriasis, which is the most common form of the disease. While psoriasis is prevalent in only 1.3 percent of the African American population, it is likely to be underdiagnosed among people of color due to differences in clinical presentation. Important to note that individuals with psoriasis also experience higher rates of many comorbidities, including cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, depression, and many others.
Q – What can worsen psoriasis (that people can control)?
Dr. Smullen: Dry skin is especially common in the summer months, which can cause the skin to be itchy and painful from redness and burning. Cool water or ice packs can feel soothing to your skin, especially if you have been out in the heat and are sweaty. Refrigerating your heavy cream or lotions can feel dreamy, as well as help lock in moisture, and remember to alternate creams for maximum absorption. Read instructions or consult with your Shields care team pharmacist before placing any medications in the refrigerator.
Visiting places where there is higher humidity can feel good due to the increased moisture in the air. When you are traveling, be sure to pack plenty of breathable clothing and enough of your prescription medicines and over-the-counter products, including moisturizers. Stress can also trigger flare-ups, so plan to speak with your health care provider about prescription refills in advance of your trip to make it a stress-free get-a-way.
Q – What are some of the unique challenges of managing psoriasis during the summer months?
Dr. Smullen: Some oral and topical medications used to treat psoriasis (i.e., Acitretin, Tazarotene, coal tar, etc.) can make skin more sensitive to the sun, so sunblock is a must. And, although swimming is a great activity for people with psoriasis because it adds moisture back into the skin, chlorine can have a drying effect on the skin and may cause unwanted flare-ups. On the other hand, swimming in the ocean is fantastic because saltwater can help slough off and remove dead skin – just remember wherever you are swimming to pat yourself dry rather than rubbing, which can irritate plaques.
Q – Do you recommend any sun exposure for people with psoriasis?
Dr. Smullen: Natural sunlight can help manage symptoms and healing. Limiting your sun exposure may help heal psoriatic plaques, but it is important to ensure we limit the duration of sun exposure. The NPF suggest starting with 5–10 minutes of noontime sun daily which allows the body to absorb vitamin D and reduce the risk of sun damage. (Anyone currently on phototherapy should avoid direct sun exposure or follow guidance from prescriber)
And remember, protection is a MUST- always apply sunscreen prior to sun exposure, even on cloudy days. Look for sunscreens that are broad-spectrum with SPF 30 or higher to protect you from both UVA and UVB rays and apply all over exposed skin avoiding open or inflamed skin. I recommend sunscreen brands made for sensitive skin and that are fragrance-free which are less likely to irritate skin. (Tip: look for products with the National Psoriasis Foundation Seal of Recognition). Sunburn can trigger a flare, so remember to reapply frequently!
Also, Ultraviolet light B (UVB) therapy or phototherapy has been used to penetrate the skin and slow the growth of affected skin cells. UVB is also present in natural sunlight, which can help the body produce vitamin D, which serves many important functions in the body. Further, light therapy can be effective in treating a wide range of inflammatory skin conditions, including psoriasis. In people with mild to moderate psoriasis, phototherapy may help ease inflammation and reduce scaling.
The good news is that the symptoms of psoriasis are treatable, and many support groups are available. Go to https://www.psoriasis.com/ to learn more.