Before my diagnosis, I spent my time much like many other young Canadians; participating in sports, hanging out with friends and enjoying time at the cottage. But at 18, I started to notice red patches on my scalp, elbows and knees, which were appearing alongside scaly white skin. I felt embarrassed and wanted to cover-up. I was scared to go out in public, because I was afraid of what people would say or think of me.
I decided to go to my doctor and ask him what I could do. He told me I had a condition called psoriasis, when red, flaky patches appear on your skin. It's a chronic, auto-immune disease and will never go away. Obviously, I wanted to treat it; not only was it visibly unappealing, the patches hurt and were itchy.
My doctor sent me to a dermatologist, who prescribed a steroid topical cream, which seemed to work well for me. After the diagnosis, I spent years using this treatment, and if I forgot to apply it, or didn't use it consistently, I would itch and flake so much I felt as though I was leaving behind piles of skin everywhere I went.
Living with Psoriasis
Despite being on treatment that I felt was working, I usually wore pants and long sleeves when I went out to cover up the psoriasis. It was an easy solution that stopped people from asking me what it was. But as expected, constantly covering up made me hot most of the time and the sweat would only make the itching worse.
Instead of people asking what was on my skin, they were asking why I was scratching. Beyond the questions I would receive from friends or family when I was wearing t-shirts or shorts, little things like swimming would irritate my skin, making the pain unbearable, bringing me to tears while I tried to rub the ointment on.
A New Approach
About three years ago, I decided I'd had enough and wanted to take matters into my own hands. My nurse referred me to a local dermatologist, and it at was at her clinic that I started a new treatment for psoriasis. It was a trial drug, and worked well for the itch, but couldn't seem to clear the patches. After a few months on the trial, I was switched again to a treatment that I call my "saving grace."
For the first time in 15 years, I was able to stop fearing what people thought of me. More importantly, I don't feel self-conscious at all, mostly thanks to the fact you wouldn't be able to tell I am living with psoriasis unless you looked closely to see the blemishes left on my skin. Psoriasis no longer determines my wardrobe, either -- my mood and the weather do. And most importantly, I no longer feel as though I am trapped in my own skin.
Perseverance in finding the right treatment has returned my life to normalcy, despite living with a chronic, lifelong disease. I have been freed from the confines of my body, and couldn't be happier.
October is Psoriasis Awareness month, a time to help educate friends, family and all Canadians about the impact this disease can have -- beyond its physical symptoms. I would encourage anyone else who is living with an uncomfortable condition, like psoriasis, to have an honest conversation with their doctor about the impacts of the condition -- both physically and emotionally. Don't settle for a treatment that may not be right for you, and remember that you are your greatest advocate when it comes to your own health.
For more information, visit Living Well With Psoriasis.
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Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat psoriasis, "sal acid," as it's commonly called, is available in a variety of products, including shampoos, ointments, lotions, creams, soaps, and pastes. Salicylic acid helps to soften scales and exfoliate or lift them off your skin. Sal acid can be helpful as long as you use it according to directions. Too much salicylic acid, or salicylic acid left on the skin (or scalp) for too long, can cause irritation or stinging. If your shampoo has salicylic acid, focus it on your scalp rather than your hair, because it can weaken shafts, leading to breakage and hair loss (hair should return to normal once you stop using it).
Most shampoos contain sulfates to create a rich, foamy lather -- without the froth, it seems, people don't think their shampoo is working. However, sulfates can irritate the scalp. If you have a sensitive scalp and psoriasis, look for sulfate-free shampoos. Sulfates may be listed under ingredients as sodium laureth (or lauryl) sulfate or ammonium lauryl sulfate.
Coal tar is another ingredient approved by the FDA to treat psoriasis, including scalp psoriasis. However, you might want to test coal tar on a small area of your skin to be sure it doesn't cause irritation or redness. Because coal tar can make your skin more sensitive to the sun's ultraviolet rays, be sure to apply sunscreen to treated areas if you're going to be outside for any length of time. "Coal tar can be messy, so some people don't like to use it," says Stefan Weiss, MD, of the Weiss Skin Institute in Boca Raton, Fla. Refined coal tars such as liquor carbonis detergens (LCD) have less odor and cause less staining, but they're also less effective and can be harder to find.
"At one time, tea tree oil was seen as the panacea for psoriasis," Dr. Weiss says of the oil that's extracted from the leaves of a tree native to Australia. "Now, not so much." Some people report that tea tree oil helps relieve symptoms of their scalp psoriasis, and others find they're allergic to it.
The trace element zinc is found in many topical psoriasis treatments and some shampoos. A study from the Skin Disease and Cutaneous Leishmaniasis Research Center in Mashhad, Iran, found that a topical emollient containing zinc pyrithione proved to be an effective treatment for localized psoriasis.
Extracted from the nuts of the argan tree of southwestern Morocco, argan oil is rich in antioxidants and has been popularized as a food, a health treatment, and a beauty ingredient. However, according to a recent review in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, there's a lack of clinical studies to definitively support its effectiveness.
Shea butter is full of moisture, which can make it an effective ingredient in skin care products. When you have psoriasis, it's important to keep your skin moisturized, Weiss says. Skin creams made with shea butter tend to be thicker, he says, and when it comes to moisturizer, the thicker, the better. Heavy moisturizers for psoriasis help lock in the skin's natural moisture.
Several ingredients have been approved by the FDA for treating itch: calamine, hydrocortisone (a weak steroid), camphor, diphenhydramine hydrochloride (HCl), benzocaine, and menthol. Try them with caution, however, because some of them can increase skin irritation and dryness.
If you have sensitive skin, look for fragrance-free skin care products and shampoos. Scents added to make products smell good or just to neutralize their odor can be irritating ("unscented" might not be fragrance-free). Also, Weiss advises avoiding products that contain alcohol, because it is drying.
This medical video will look into different ways and treatments to stop psoriasis.