Psoriasis affects 7.5 million Americans, but as widespread as it, there's still a lot we don't know about this chronic disease. The most common autoimmune disease in the U.S., psoriasis triggers overly enthusiastic skin cell growth. [source: National Psoriasis Foundation].
Psoriasis comes in five types: plaque, guttate, inverse, pustular and erythrodermic. Plaque psoriasis is the most prevalent and is marked by red lesions covered with silver scales made of dead skin cells. The disease isn't contagious, but its causes remain a mystery. The prevailing theory is that psoriasis is an autoimmune disease with a genetic component.
There are several ways to treat psoriasis, based on the severity of the condition. For mild psoriasis, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved salicylic acid and coal tar. They are both found in over-the-counter products that are easily obtainable. Salicylic acid works to remove the outer layer of skin (the scales), while coal tar slows skin growth and cuts down on inflammation.
At-home skin care for psoriasis is simple. A moisturizer will help with the itch and dryness of psoriasis, as will a dash of oatmeal, oil or Epsom salts in the bath. Anti-itch products like calamine lotion and hydrocortisone cream can also soothe irritated skin. An even easier (and cheaper) solution: sunlight. Limited exposure to the sun (10 to 30 minutes a day) has been shown to improve symptoms.
People with moderate to severe psoriasis may need more intensive interventions. Prescription topical medications such as synthetic vitamin D (Dovonex) and corticosteroids slow the production of skin cells. Therapies with excimer lasers and pulsed dye lasers can be performed in a doctor's office.
If your psoriasis doesn't respond to these methods, it may be time to consider oral or injected medications. These drugs, such as methotrexate, are only used for moderate to severe psoriasis because they can have serious side effects. They quiet the immune system to keep inflammation down and keep it from signaling more skin production.
But before you being any sort of treatment, consult your doctor so you're aware of all the possible side effects.