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How to Manage Irritating Winter Psoriasis Symptoms

Managing PsA

January 05, 2024

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Photography by Berena Alvarez/Stocksy United

Photography by Berena Alvarez/Stocksy United

by Hannah Shewan Stevens

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Medically Reviewed by:

Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI

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•••••

by Hannah Shewan Stevens

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI

•••••

•••••

These are my top tips for staying warm in winter without triggering a psoriasis flare-up.

Affecting close to 7.6 million people in the United States and 125 million worldwide, psoriasis looms over the lives of many people throughout the year before heightening its assault in winter, when the cold exacerbates symptoms.

Even in warmer months, it can be time-consuming to accommodate psoriasis intrusions. When winter comes around, it can be even more challenging.

Irritating fabrics, icy winds, and cooler weather unite to swiftly turn manageable psoriasis into a nightmare flare. But never fear — the season is not unconquerable — as long as you learn how to adapt to its wily, wintry ways.

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Psoriasis symptoms

“Psoriasis is an example of a chronic skin condition where the body makes flaky patches of skin that form scales as the immune system becomes overactive, causing skin cells to multiply too quickly — hence the scales,” says Dr. Hana Patel, NHS GP and GP Medico-Legal Expert Witness.

The inflammatory disease appears anywhere on the body, most commonly affecting the scalp, elbows, or knees with itchy, inflamed plaques.

Although its causes remain unknown, like many inflammatory autoimmune conditions, there is some research suggesting that genetics and environment factor in.

“Depending on your skin tone, plaques can appear pink, red, brown, violaceous, or ashy in color,” says Dr. Geeta Yadav, a board certified dermatologist and founder of FACET Dermatology. “Plaques can be quite itchy and hard not to scratch, causing irritation in the skin.”

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How does winter affect psoriasis?

As the weather cools in winter — unless you’re one of the lucky ones living where it’s sunny all year round — the temperature change may trigger flare-ups.

A flare-up is when a chronic disease is exacerbated for a period of time, which could be days, weeks, or months. Typically, flare-ups occur when the body or the mind becomes stressed, either by other physical ailments or life stressors.

“In terms of how cold weather affects psoriasis symptoms, many individuals with psoriasis report that their symptoms worsen during the winter months,” says London-based general practitioner Dr. Giuseppe Aragona.

“Cold, dry air can contribute to dry skin,” Aragona says, “which is a common trigger for psoriasis flare-ups. Additionally, reduced exposure to sunlight, which provides natural ultraviolet (UV) light, can also impact psoriasis, as UV light can help manage symptoms.”

As air temperatures drop, moisture is extracted from the air, making all skin types dry out. People with conditions like psoriasis or eczema are especially vulnerable because their skin is already extra sensitive to environmental changes.

“Another factor [that may affect psoriasis] is using a heater indoors where people stay warm amid the winter season,” says Dr. Hamdan Abdullah Hamed, MBChB, dermatologist.

Additionally, the skin is exposed to less ultraviolet light from the sun, diminishing our vitamin D intake and drying out our skin in autumn and winter. Our skin thrives on vitamin D, so the sudden reduction may feel significant.

Steps to help navigate psoriasis in winter

Managing psoriasis in the winter may put a dent in your bank balance just a little.

Stock up on plenty of moisturizers, opting for medically-approved, fragrance-free choices to create a shield for your skin.

“Regular moisturizing can go a long way toward soothing and softening plaques, which are dry and flaky. In winter, cold, dry air and forced heating can strip skin of its natural moisture, further sensitizing affected areas of skin,” says Yadav.

Try to avoid taking extremely hot showers, too. High temperatures may irritate the skin more. Opt for lukewarm showers instead and trap the humidity inside the bathroom to keep the moisture in your skin.

“Take warm (not hot) baths to soothe the skin. Adding oils, colloidal oatmeal, or Epsom salts to the bath may also be beneficial,” suggests Aragona. “If sunlight exposure is limited during winter, consider UV light therapy under the guidance of a healthcare professional.”

It’s always worth checking in with your primary doctor or dermatologist before winter sets in. They will be able to adjust medications accordingly and offer more personalized advice for your psoriasis symptoms.

“Beyond following your regular psoriasis maintenance regimen as prescribed by your dermatologist, you should take extra care to keep your skin hydrated and comfortable in winter. Use moisturizing body washes and lotions using ingredients like hyaluronic acid and colloidal oat to draw and seal hydration into the skin,” says Aragona.

A humidifier can also help. It will keep the air inside moist, and your skin will thank you. And when sitting inside, don’t sit right next to heaters or fireplaces. The intense heat may inflict more damage on your sensitive skin.

“Smoking and drinking too much alcohol are recognized to be habits that can make psoriasis worse,” adds Patel. “Being more active can improve your psoriasis, help reduce your weight, increase your heart health, and help your mood.”

Look after your mental health during the winter, too. The darker days often affect people’s mental well-being, which is a common trigger for psoriasis flare-ups.

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Adapting your wardrobe to psoriasis

Some popular winter fabrics may irritate psoriasis. It might be time to retire some old favorites and invest in some new pieces to survive the colder months.

Fabrics like wool and polyester are more likely to irritate psoriasis, and so is tight clothing, which causes friction.

“You want to wear fabrics made of natural fibers that will allow for proper airflow and won’t abrade the skin,” says Yadav. “Wear layers made of cotton, bamboo, or linen, which will breathe without causing skin irritation.”

Hamed says, “A reason why cotton is favored is that people with psoriasis are less likely to sweat with it, which would decrease symptoms.”

Choose loose-fitting layers you can shed or add to throughout the day. As we slip inside and outside throughout the day, the sudden temperature changes may cause additional flare-ups. Transition slowly by adding and removing layers accordingly.

Keeping connected with community and support in winter

When winter arrives, we often want to hibernate, hiding from anyone and everything. But staying in touch with our inner circle is essential. Your support system is invaluable.

“Explain how psoriasis affects you personally, including any physical and emotional challenges you may face,” says Aragona. “This can help others empathize with your situation. Share information about psoriasis openly and honestly. Educate others about the fact that it is not contagious.”

When things get tough, your loved ones will be there to provide the support you need, so speak up, or they’ll never know they’re needed.

Aside from your inner circle and medical team, look outward. Millions of people live with psoriasis, and you are far from alone. Trade tips to help each other make it through wintertime with minimal damage to the skin and maximum enjoyment of the temporary winter wonderland.

Medically reviewed on January 05, 2024

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About the author

Hannah Shewan Stevens

Hannah Shewan Stevens is a freelance journalist, speaker, press officer, and newly qualified sex educator. She typically writes about health, disability, sex, and relationships. After working for press agencies and producing digital video content, she’s now focused on feature writing and on best practices for reporting on disability. Follow her on Twitter.

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