In the last 10 years or so, psoriasis has made its way into the limelight. From commercials pushing various treatments for the disease to Kim Kardashian publicizing her psoriasis diagnosis on “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” psoriasis has become more mainstream than ever. I’ll bet most people have heard the term psoriasis, even if they don’t know the exact implications of the disease.
Although public knowledge of psoriasis is increasing, there are still many misconceptions that need to be addressed. You might be surprised by what you thought you knew and what you still don’t know about the disease. Check out these common myths people still believe about psoriasis.
Often times, when I ask people how much they know about psoriasis, they refer to it as simply having dry skin. Many people believe that psoriasis is just a cosmetic issue, which can be easily remedied with the right lotions or soaps. This is totally false. Psoriasis as an immune-mediated disease that causes raised, red, scaly patches to appear on the skin.
Psoriasis begins with an overactive immune system, which tells the body to create skin cells that it really doesn’t need. While nonpsoriatic skin cells die after about 21 to 28 days, skin cells in a person with psoriasis replicate and die within 4 to 5 days. Due to this expedited process, dead skin cells don’t have enough time to flake off the body. Instead, they build on top of the skin, causing patches and inflammation.
The most common form of psoriasis is plaque, which is the type 80 to 90 percent of people with the disease encounter. There are four other types of psoriasis, though, which include guttate, inverse, pustular, and erythrodermic.
Each form of psoriasis has different symptoms and requires different forms of treatment. Erythrodermic psoriasis usually develops in people with an unstable form of plaque psoriasis. It can be life-threatening and requires unique treatment. Guttate is commonly triggered by strep throat and is characterized by dot-like spots on the body resembling bug bites. Inverse psoriasis is a form of the disease found in body folds. Lastly, pustular psoriasis yields red blisters with puss, which is not infectious. It’s important to remember that none of these diseases are contagious.
I’ve heard many horror stories from people with psoriasis. Some people have been accused of “being dirty” as the reason for the plaques and dry skin. This misconception is even more common in those who have scalp psoriasis. Some people wrongly believe plaque buildup and flakes on the scalp are due to a person not shampooing their hair enough. Again, this is a myth that can cause severe insecurities and embarrassment for people dealing with psoriasis.
At times people mistake psoriasis for eczema. Eczema is another skin condition that causes an itchy, inflamed rash of the skin, but it is not the same as psoriasis. Eczema affects 30 million people in the United States and is much more common than psoriasis, which affects around 7.5 million Americans.
This myth is so common, in fact, that many people I’ve spoken with who have psoriasis shared experiences of being misdiagnosed with eczema when their skin issues first appeared. It wasn’t until after failed treatments or a skin biopsy that they learned they had psoriasis and not eczema. Although the diseases are different, The American Academy of Dermatology reports that a person can have both diseases simultaneously.
As someone living with psoriasis, I can’t begin to express how exhausting it becomes to have people tell you changing your diet will cure your disease. It’s important to understand that this disease is different for everyone, and currently there’s no cure. What may affect one person may not affect another.
Therefore, while diets work for some, they may not work for everyone who has the disease. The common suggestions I hear are to go gluten-free, eliminate sugar and dairy, and to avoid nightshade vegetables. A diet adjustment it not as easy as just saying it — it takes a real lifestyle change, which can be difficult for many to do. What’s more, experts say there is little impact of diet change and psoriasis. With that said, research is ongoing, and many people swear by diet changes for life-changing experiences.
While psoriasis symptoms are most apparent on the skin, people living with psoriasis are at an increased risk of developing at least 10 other health conditions, including depression, cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and diabetes.
Due to the mechanics of this disease, depression is the top comorbidity. And people with psoriasis are twice as likely to become depressed than those without, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. This can affect one’s self-esteem, relationships, quality of life, ability to sleep, and much more. It’s important to understand the full scope of the implications of psoriasis and know that they go beyond skin-deep.
Psoriasis can affect all people. It’s a misconception that people of color do not get psoriasis. In fact, the condition affects all races almost equally. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, in the United States, 3.5 percent of Caucasians are affected by psoriasis, as well as 2 percent of African Americans and 1.5 percent of Hispanics.
This myth may exist for a number of reasons. For one, psoriasis is often characterized by “red, flaky skin.” For darker-skinned people, psoriasis can look brown, purple, or pink. But just because it looks different doesn’t mean it’s any less serious.
Thanks to high-profile cases and better research, more people understand more about psoriasis and psoriasis treatments today. Even so, the common misconceptions surrounding the disease can result in stigmas and setbacks for those living with a condition that’s more serious than many suspect. If you know someone with psoriasis, take a minute to talk to them about what you still might not know. And if you live with psoriasis, don’t be afraid to speak up. The more myths we can bust, the faster we’ll progress.
What common psoriasis myths do you still hear about? Share them with us!
Alisha Bridges has battled with severe psoriasis for over 20 years and is the face behind Being Me in My Own Skin, a blog that highlights her life with psoriasis. Her goals are to create empathy and compassion for those who are least understood, through transparency of self, patient advocacy, and healthcare. Her passions include dermatology, skin care, as well as sexual and mental health. You can find Alisha on Twitter and Instagram.