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Psoriasis Health Center

Dealing With the Stigma of Psoriasis

How can a person with psoriasis fight back against ignorance and prejudice?
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

When it comes to facing the stigma of psoriasis, there's one incident that sticks out in Robert Schwartz's mind: the time he was kicked out of a restaurant because of his condition.

After sitting down with a plate of food from a buffet, he remembers being approached by the restaurant manager and quizzed about his condition. "I tried to explain I was not contagious," says Schwartz, a Las Vegas man who has psoriasis on 75% of his body. He suggested that the manager could confirm it with any doctor. 

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But the manager was adamant. Schwartz could take food to-go, but he wasn't allowed to eat with everyone else. "I felt dejected," says Schwartz.

Schwartz has many other stories about the stigma of psoriasis -- being ordered by a casino employee to put on a long-sleeved shirt to cover his skin, being told he couldn't try on clothing at a store.  Tragically, his experiences are not unusual. There are 7.5 million people in the U.S. with psoriasis. Many face similar humiliations day after day.

"I hear it all," says Mark Lebwohl, MD, chairman of the medical board of the National Psoriasis Foundation. "I hear about people with psoriasis being turned away from hairdressers, kicked out of swimming pools, and prevented from donating blood at blood banks."

The stigma of psoriasis can be crushing. But how can a person with psoriasis fight back against ignorance and prejudice? WebMD turned to some psoriasis experts to find out. 

Living With Psoriasis

"The impact of psoriasis on a person's life is profound," says Robert Brodell, MD, a dermatologist at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine. "You're wearing the disease on the outside of your body." And even though it's not infectious, people tend to see the symptoms and connect them with whatever deadly diseases are making news. "People might assume it's HIV, or drug-resistant staph," says Brodell.

The stigma of psoriasis can quickly undermine the confidence of even the most self-assured. Well-meaning family members and friends may suggest you ignore how other people react. That's fine advice, but it's often not realistic. If someone flinches when you offer your hand, it's not something you forget. It's an experience that can radically change how you feel about yourself.

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