What does an average person have in common with Kim Kardashian? Well, if you’re one of 7.5 million people in the United States living with psoriasis, then you and KK share that experience. She is just one of a growing number of celebrities speaking out about their struggles with the skin condition. So many millions of people are affected by psoriasis, but much is still misunderstood about the condition.
Psoriasis causes itchy, flaky, red skin that can resemble a rash, but it’s more than your typical dry skin. It’s actually a type of autoimmune disease, meaning the body can’t tell the difference between healthy cells and foreign bodies. As a result, the body attacks its own organs and cells, which can be frustrating and difficult to manage.
In the case of psoriasis, this attack causes an increase in the production of new skin cells, so dry, hardened patches form as skin cells build up on the skin’s surface.
Psoriasis can tend to look contagious on another person, but don’t be afraid to shake hands or touch someone living with it. Even if a close relative has psoriasis and you begin showing signs of the disease, it’s not because you “caught” psoriasis from them. Certain genes have been linked to psoriasis, so having relatives with psoriasis does increase the risk that you’ll have it.
But the bottom line is that it’s not contagious, so there’s no danger of “catching” psoriasis.
As with other autoimmune diseases, there’s no cure for psoriasis.
A flare-up of psoriasis can come and go without warning, but several treatments can reduce the number of flare-ups and bring on remission (a period of time when symptoms disappear). The disease can be in remission for weeks, months, or even years, but this all varies from person to person.
In addition to Kim Kardashian, celebrities from Art Garfunkel to LeAnn Rimes have publicly shared their psoriasis stories to help others maintain a positive outlook.
One of the most outspoken has been supermodel and actress Cara Delevingne, who says the stress from the modeling industry contributed to her developing the condition. It ultimately led to her public advocacy for psoriasis as well.
Cara also acknowledged the common misconceptions about the disease. “People would put on gloves and not want to touch me because they thought it was, like, leprosy or something,” she told London’s The Times.
Whether it’s modeling or something else, a stressful career choice can definitely cause someone’s psoriasis to flare up, but it’s certainly not the only trigger out there. Other triggers like skin injuries, infections, too much sunlight, smoking, and even alcohol use can cause psoriasis to flare up. For those living with the condition, it’s important to recognize your triggers and take steps to protect your skin.
Psoriasis is an unpredictable disease that can develop on any part of the body, but more common areas include the scalp, knees, elbows, hands, and feet.
Facial psoriasis can also develop, but it’s rare in comparison to other places on your body. When the disease does occur on the face, it typically develops along the hairline, eyebrows, and the skin between the nose and upper lip.
Cold weather can also dry the skin and trigger inflammation. But here’s where things get complicated: many people spend more time indoors during the winter months to protect themselves from the cold, but that winds up limiting their sun exposure. Sunlight provides an ample amount of UVB and natural vitamin D, which have been proven to prevent or ease psoriasis flare-ups. They should be limited to 10 minutes per session.
So while the cold may be harmful to your skin, it’s important to still try and get some sunlight exposure.
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, the average onset of the disease is between the ages of 15 and 35, and it affects men and women equally. Only about 10 to 15 percent of people with psoriasis are diagnosed before the age of 10.
Plaque psoriasis is the most common type, characterized by raised, red patches of dead skin cells. There are also other types with distinct lesions:
In addition, up to 30 percent of people living with psoriasis have psoriatic arthritis. This type of psoriasis causes arthritis symptoms like joint inflammation along with skin irritation.
Even though the severity of psoriasis varies by person, the good news is that 80 percent of people have a mild form of the disease, while only 20 percent have moderate to severe psoriasis. Severe psoriasis is when the disease covers more than 5 percent of the body’s surface area.
If you suspect you are developing signs of psoriasis, be sure to check in with your doctor so they can review your symptoms as they appear.
Valencia Higuera is a freelance writer who develops high-quality content for personal finance and health publications. She has more than a decade of professional writing experience, and has written for several reputable online outlets: GOBankingRates, Money Crashers, Investopedia, The Huffington Post, MSN.com, Healthline, and ZocDoc. Valencia has a B.A. in English from Old Dominion University and currently resides in Chesapeake, Virginia. When she isn’t reading or writing, she enjoys volunteering, traveling, and spending time outdoors. You can follow her on Twitter: @vapahi