Psoriasis: Treatment and Tips During the Holidays

The holidays bring joy, but also cold weather and stress.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 29, 2009
5 min read

’Tis the season for good cheer, good friends, good food ... and, if you have psoriasis, a good chance that your skin condition will worsen.

Unfortunately, the holidays can be hard on psoriasis sufferers. Stress, cold weather, overindulgence, and winter viruses can make psoriasis symptoms worse. But the right psoriasis treatment and lifestyle tips can help.

There are some lucky souls who don’t find the holidays stressful. But, for the majority of people, the pressure to get everything done (the baking, the shopping, the office party, ...) and keep everyone happy (is Aunt Sue still not speaking to Cousin Annie?) are notorious stress triggers.

“There are some patients, undoubtedly, in whom stress plays a role in worsening psoriasis,” says Mark Lebwohl, the chair of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine of New York University. “Stress exists all year long, but it can be exacerbated for some people by the holidays in the winter.”

Evidence suggests that particularly stressful times may cause a psoriasis flare for the first time or worsen symptoms for some people who already suffer from the condition.

And, of course, having psoriasis itself can add to your stress level, between the physical discomfort of your skin lesions and concern about camouflaging your condition or handling people’s remarks or stares.

The good news is that there are steps you can take (that don’t include hibernating through the holiday season), to control your stress levels, which may improve your psoriasis symptoms.

The medical establishment is increasingly accepting of stress-reduction therapies that may be beneficial components of your psoriasis treatment plan.

  • For example, you may want to treat yourself to a massage or two (put a few sessions with a masseuse on your holiday wish list). The stimulation of your muscles may alleviate tension and also help minimize the pain of your psoriasis. If you have psoriatic arthritis, a painful condition experienced by 30% of people with psoriasis, massage therapy may also address some of the joint problems you experience.
  • Other options to help ease psoriasis and stress include biofeedback, yoga, and meditation, all of which may offer you some much-needed relaxation and symptom relief.

Evidence suggests that mind-body techniques such as these are most effective when used in conjunction with conventional medical therapies, including topical or systemic medications.

For example, one study found that psoriasis patients who meditated during phototherapy, a procedure that uses ultraviolet light to address psoriasis skin lesions, healed faster than those who were treated with phototherapy alone

Perhaps you have a lot to toast this season with champagne, or maybe Uncle Eddie’s eggnog goes down really easily. Despite the temptation, it’s in your best interest to avoid going overboard with holiday indulgence.

“Alcohol binges have been associated with a worsening of psoriasis,” Lebwohl tells WebMD. Additionally, alcohol may alter the effectiveness of certain medications used to treat psoriasis, so be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist before you drink.

If you tend to smoke when you drink alcohol, it’s important to recognize that cigarettes are a known psoriasis trigger. Studies have found that people who smoke tend to have more severe psoriasis than non-smokers, with people who smoke heavily faring worse than light smokers.

“Some people even say certain foods cause flares, though this hasn’t been proven scientifically,” says Melissa Magliocco, the acting chief of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “But, by avoiding these foods, some patients say their symptoms improve a little bit.”

If you notice that certain foods or overeating tend to worsen your psoriasis symptom, ask your doctor about modifying your diet to see whether your skin condition improves.

(Keep in mind, psoriasis experts agree that it’s important to follow a healthy lifestyle year-round, including during the holiday season. Eating healthy foods and getting regular exercise will help keep your body in top shape and may make psoriasis treatments more effective.)

Taking care of yourself during the holiday season may also bolster your immune system, making it less likely you’ll catch a cold or the flu. Since psoriasis is an autoimmune condition, anything that dampens your immune system, such as a virus, can cause your skin condition to worsen as well.

When the weather outside is frightful, your psoriasis symptoms may worsen.

“Weather changes can be psoriasis triggers for some people, especially changes from warm to cold weather,” Magliocco tells WebMD.

The cold, hard truth is that dry air and limited UV rays from the sun are psoriasis triggers for many people with the condition. Psoriasis experts say that ultraviolet light rays suppress skin cells that multiply too rapidly in patients with psoriasis.

  • If you’re stuck in a wintry locale where your skin won’t see the sun for weeks or months on end, ask your doctor whether phototherapy might be right for you. This psoriasis treatment uses medically supervised exposure to UV light to treat psoriasis, either alone or in conjunction with certain medications.
  • It’s also especially important for you to be diligent about moisturizing your skin during the winter months. Try using a gentle moisturizer daily after you shower to seal hydration into your skin.
  • If you have certain areas where your psoriasis plaques are particularly troublesome, ask your doctor about occlusion. This technique consists of applying moisturizer to your skin, covering it with plastic wrap and leaving it on overnight. The plastic will intensify the effect of the moisturizing and in the morning you can gently exfoliate the area with a towel.

If you and the kids are headed outside for a day of sledding, the right choice of clothing could make the day much more enjoyable.

  • Even though wool might seem like a nice, warm option, many patients with psoriasis find that the texture of the fabric makes the itchiness of psoriasis more bothersome. Instead, try wearing layers of natural fabrics, such as silk or cotton, instead.
  • If you have psoriasis on your scalp that is prone to flaking, wear lighter colored tops and scarves to help disguise any white flecks that do fall.
  • If you can’t or don’t want to cover your psoriasis with clothing, there are cosmetic creams and cover-ups to help camouflage psoriasis. Though not foolproof, these creams can be applied to unbroken areas of skin and may minimize the appearance of psoriasis plaques and lesions.