Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune skin disease that affects more than 7 million people in the U.S. and approximately 125 million people worldwide. There are five major types of psoriasis, with varying degrees of severity. The inflammatory condition occurs when overactive T-cells attack healthy skin cells, causing them to reproduce at an abnormally rapid rate, which results in irritation, scaly patches and thick, flaky lesions on the skin and scalp. Psoriasis also can affect joints, and up to 30 percent of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis as a result.
The exact cause of psoriasis is unknown, but research suggests that genetics may play a factor. "The good news is it's not life-threatening, but the bad news is there is no cure," explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee.
The inflammatory process caused by psoriasis has been linked to specific triggers, such as stress, injuries to the skin and certain medications. While psoriasis is not contagious, people who develop the condition should seek medical attention, as it can worsen over time and become increasingly difficult to treat.
There is currently no cure for psoriasis; however, the condition can be managed with various prescription and over-the-counter creams, LED and/or UV phototherapy and laser treatments. Systemic medications, administered either orally or via injections, also are commonly used to control the inflammation. The FDA recently approved an oral medication called Otezla, which has been shown to reduce the size and severity of skin plaques and alleviate joint pain from psoriatic arthritis in some patients. Additionally, a new ceramide-based emollient called Derma Rescue can help soothe the symptoms of psoriasis and other damaging skin conditions.
Since psoriasis varies from person to person, Dr. Lee stresses that treatment needs to be individualized. "It's not the same for everybody, so you really have to find the right product for you," she says.