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October 01, 2014

The impact of the seasons on psoriasis

If you are living with psoriasis, you may have noticed over the years that certain factors can exacerbate your symptoms or trigger their onset. Weather conditions are one of these factors.

What is psoriasis?

Normal skin cells take about 30 days to grow, mature and shed. With psoriasis, this process occurs at an accelerated rate of three to four days. As a result, skin cells build up and form thick, red plaques of dry skin.
 
The exact cause of this inflammatory skin condition is not yet fully known, but researchers suspect that an immune system defect and genetics may be involved. It does not discriminate when it comes to age, race or gender. There are five types of psoriasis.

How to weather the seasons with psoriasis

Different people react differently to weather conditions throughout the year.  For some, a change in season can make their psoriasis symptoms worse, for others it can improve them. Here are a few tips to help you cope with the ups and downs of our seasonal weather.

Fall and winter

Wind, cold temperatures, indoor heating and dry air can all aggravate psoriasis and even trigger a flare-up. These suggestions may help:  

  • Use a humidifier in your home to keep the relative humidity at 30 to 50 percent.
  • Lower the heat, especially at night.
  • Take lukewarm showers and wash with a moisture-rich shower gel.
  • Moisturize your skin well after showering and throughout the day, as needed.
  • Apply sunscreen to exposed skin; use a product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
  • Drink plenty of water.

Psoriatic lesions can also occur following a viral or bacterial infection, such as a cold, the flu or a sore throat. Plenty of rest and a healthy diet are great ways to reduce your risk of developing these ailments. You should also ask your doctor if the seasonal flu shot is right for you.

Spring and summer

When it comes to psoriasis, the sun is a double-edged sword. On one hand, exposure to UV rays seems to help reduce symptoms.  In fact, light therapy is one of the treatments doctors use to help their patients with psoriasis. On the other hand, getting a sunburn can aggravate the condition. Better to err on the side of caution. Here are some guidelines:

  • Limit your exposure to the sun. Remember that nearly 80 percent of UV rays can pass through clouds and fog.
  • Keep in mind that certain medications, including some for psoriasis, can increase your sensitivity to the sun.
  • Before going outside, apply a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 approved by the Canadian Dermatology Association. Reapply every two hours.
  • Rinse off well after swimming. Pool chemicals and sea salt can irritate or dry out your skin. Apply a moisturizer after getting out of the water and, if you go back into the sun, reapply sunscreen.
  • Choose loose, lightweight clothing that lets your skin breathe without trapping moisture and perspiration.

People with a skin condition like psoriasis should also take precautions to prevent Koebner’s phenomenon, the appearance of new lesions at the site of a skin injury. This means preventing mosquito bites by wearing clothing that covers your entire body and applying an insect repellent with a low DEET level to healthy skin. You also need to avoid shaving nicks and cuts as much as possible.

Learn to relax!

Finally, since stress is present year round and a leading trigger of psoriasis flare-ups, it is a good idea to practise a relaxation technique like deep breathing, yoga or meditation.

Pharmacy services

If you need more information on psoriasis, its treatments, photosensitizing medications and the type of sunscreen and mosquito repellent you should use, talk to one of your family pharmacists. They’re always here for you!