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How to Deal With the Stigma of Psoriasis

By Camille Noe Pagán
WebMD Feature

Flaky, red, oozing, cracking, or bleeding skin? You can get some pretty unkind comments from people who don't understand psoriasis. Luckily, there's plenty you can do to deal with the stigma.

"It helps to have some quick and simple responses ready," says Julie Nelligan, PhD, a psychologist and assistant professor at Oregon Health and Science University. That can help you move past uncomfortable situations faster and get on with your life.

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Here are several remarks you may hear, and ways you can reply to each.

"Is it contagious?"

"People with psoriasis get this comment all the time," says Carolyn Jacob, MD. In addition to serving as director at Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology in Illinois, Jacob has psoriasis.

"It's understandable that others don't want to catch something," she says. "But it still hurts, because if your rash was contagious, of course you wouldn't expose others to it." Her go-to response: "No, I have psoriasis, which is a genetic condition. You can't catch it."

Know that you may still feel upset, even if the other person apologizes. "It's helpful to have someone you can talk to if you're feeling discouraged or sad," Nelligan says. "It could be another person with psoriasis, or a friend or family member who has another illness and really understands the wear and tear of having to explain yourself to others."

"What's the big deal? It's just a rash."

Yes, psoriasis can be itchy and uncomfortable. But what many people don't realize is that it's a serious health condition.

"I'm sometimes surprised when people act like it's 'just psoriasis.' It can lead to skin infections and scarring, and research even shows that it's linked to an increased risk of heart problems," says Gary Spivak, 45. "I should know, because I suffered a heart attack several years ago, and I have psoriasis."

What you can say: You don't have to explain this to every person who asks about your skin. But if a friend, family member, or colleague asks, you could look at it as an opportunity to spread awareness, Jacob says.

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