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What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a common inflammatory skin condition. About 2% of the UK population have psoriasis: it affects men and women equally and can develop at any age.

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What causes it?

There isn’t just one cause of psoriasis – it can be a complex mix of different causes. Psoriasis can be inherited, but environmental factors can also play a part.

It’s important to know that psoriasis isn’t contagious, so you can’t catch it from someone else or pass it on to others if you have it.

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How is it different to healthy skin?

Skin cells usually have a life cycle of about 21–28 days. They develop in the bottom layer of the skin’s epidermis and move up towards its surface, gradually changing as they go until they reach the top, harden and flake off. 

If you have psoriasis, this process is dramatically sped up, so that skin cells form and die in as little as 3–7 days. This is thought to be related to the way the immune system works.

Normally you don’t notice your skin cells shedding and renewing, but when your body can’t shed these skin cells fast enough, the cells can build up and form raised, scaly patches (plaques) on the surface of your skin.

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What are the signs and symptoms?

Psoriasis often causes plaques on the skin: these are areas of pink or red patches with silvery white scales. The psoriasis might only affect a few small areas of your body, or in some more severe cases it could be more widespread – the severity of psoriasis differs from person to person.

E45 skin school: types of psoriasis

E45 skin school: types of psoriasis

There are many different types of psoriasis:

  • Plaque psoriasis is the most common. It causes itchy patches of silvery scales on various parts of the body, but they’re often found on the knees, elbows, trunk and scalp
  • Guttate psoriasis is more common in children and young adults under 30. It can cause small, red scaly dots which look like small drops of water and are often sprinkled over the trunk and limbs
  • Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis that affects around 5–7% of people with psoriasis and up to 40% of people with severe psoriasis. It causes one or more of the joints to swell and feel stiff and painful

Talk to your doctor if you think you might have psoriasis, or if you have any concerns about your skin they’ll be able to offer you more help and support.

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How can you treat it?

Psoriasis is a chronic condition unfortunately, this means that there isn’t a cure, but many people learn to manage it through a balance of professional help and treatment (e.g. a topical treatment such as an emollient). With a good, consistent skincare routine you can help your skin improve and keep your symptoms under control.

Actively moisturising your skin will help retain more moisture and protect its natural barrier by:

  1. Replenishing your skin’s natural oils (lipids) that can trap water in between your skin cells and prevent it from getting out
  2. Supporting the role of natural moisturising factor (NMF) by enhancing the skin’s ability to attract and hold on to water
  3. Maintaining your skin’s naturally acidic pH that can affect the function of its protective barrier

When you’re treating psoriasis, it’s important to use the appropriate emollient for you as part of a personalised skincare routine. Your routine needs to be something you can manage as easily as possible around other aspects of your life. The more it fits in with what you’re doing, the more you can keep it up and keep your skin healthy.

Find out more about emollients and soap substitutes that can help reduce the scale and itch of dry cases of psoriasis here.

If your skin flares up, a doctor or pharmacist might recommend you use a topical steroid cream – but you should only use them if you’ve been advised to do so by a healthcare professional. Always speak to your HCP for further advice and treatment. You can find out more about treating psoriasis here.

Andy's story

“In winter... when it really dries out... that’s when you need to be moisturising a lot because the cold weather can make it quite sore.”

Andy has had psoriasis since he was a teenager