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A complete guide to psoriasis: Causes, symptoms, and treatments

We don’t have all the answers yet, but here’s what we know about this chronic condition so far.

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Curology Team
Jan 13, 2023 · 6 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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Here at Curology, we currently focus on the diagnosis and treatment of acne, rosacea, and anti-aging concerns. We do not treat many of the conditions mentioned in this article. This article is for information purposes only.

Psoriasis can make it harder to maintain your skin’s health. In addition to its physical symptoms, the chronic condition may also take a toll on your self-esteem. Luckily, there are steps you can take to mitigate it. Although Curology doesn’t provide psoriasis treatment, we want to help. Here we’ll explain how psoriasis affects the skin, list the different types and symptoms, and discuss how to manage the condition.

What is psoriasis? 

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory condition that causes skin cells to multiply at an increased rate, often resulting in dry, reddish patches of skin with white, silvery scales. Psoriasis usually appears on the scalp, elbows, knees, and lower back, but it’s not restricted to those areas. It can flare up and then resolve, only to flare up again. Unfortunately, psoriasis cannot be cured, but it is treatable.¹

It isn’t completely clear what causes psoriasis, but it’s believed to be an autoimmune disorder. This skin condition affects men, women, and children of all skin colors and types. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), psoriasis affects 3.2% of the U.S. population.²

Close up of elbow with psoriasis and red dry patch on skin

Six types of psoriasis 

Psoriasis shows up in many different ways and can affect the skin, nails, and joints. Some people only experience one type, while others experience multiple types of psoriasis. Psoriasis can start as one type only to evolve into another. 

Here are various types of psoriasis and how they affect the skin:

  1. Plaque psoriasis is the most common type of psoriasis.³ It appears as raised, inflamed, scaly patches of skin that may be itchy and painful. It can look like silvery scales covering dry, red patches of skin. It often affects the nails as well, with symptoms that include discoloration, pitting, or separation from the nail bed.

  2. Guttate psoriasis leads to small, pink spots on the skin. These are often scaly and distributed across large areas of the body. They can appear on the torso, legs, and arms. 

  3. Pustular psoriasis causes pus-filled bumps on the skin, usually on the hands and feet.⁴ Generalized pustular psoriasis is characterized by bumps covering larger areas of the skin. This type is often triggered by an infection or abrupt end to corticosteroids.⁵ 

  4. Erythrodermic psoriasis appears as redness on most of the skin. It results when severe psoriasis isn’t well-controlled, medications abruptly stop, or a trigger occurs, such as severe sunburn or allergic reaction. 

  5. Inverse psoriasis occurs where skin contacts other skin, often stemming from a significant weight gain. Most often, it occurs in the armpits, groin, or underneath the breasts. It results in smooth, brightly colored patches of raw skin.

  6. Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis that includes joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. It’s characterized by flare-ups with periods of remission. Psoriatic arthritis affects 30% of those with psoriasis.⁶

Some people may experience symptoms on their scalp, too. So, what is scalp psoriasis? It often looks similar to dandruff and may also appear as thick, crusted plaques covering the entire scalp. While it may look like seborrheic dermatitis, scalp psoriasis has a silvery sheen, whereas seborrheic dermatitis has a yellowish, greasy appearance.⁷  

Symptoms of psoriasis

Psoriasis symptoms vary depending on the type, but common symptoms of this skin condition include the following:

  • Raised patches of skin with silvery-white scales. Patches can appear as dry, cracked skin. They range from isolated patches to significant eruptions over large portions of the body. Patches vary in color from red with silvery scales to purple with gray scales.

  • An itching and painful sensation can occur.⁸ This can be symptomatic of erythrodermic psoriasis.⁹ It can appear rash-like and may be short-term or chronic.

  • Dry, cracked skin that may bleed can occur, and the nails may pull away from the nail bed, split, or crumble.¹⁰ 

Psoriasis can happen at any age. However, it most often appears between the ages of 15 and 20, with a second peak between 55 and 60.¹¹ Risk factors include family history and smoking, which can also exacerbate the condition. People with psoriasis are at a greater risk of developing other health conditions, such as psoriatic arthritis, conjunctivitis or other eye conditions, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and other autoimmune disorders.¹², ¹³, ¹⁴

Seven common triggers for psoriasis

What causes psoriasis in the first place remains mostly unknown. It may have an immune system connection resulting from a proliferation of fast-growing cells (keratinocytes). The normal skin cell cycle takes about a month to form new skin cells and shed old ones. With psoriasis, this process takes roughly three to four days. As a result, plaques—areas of thickened skin—form. Plaques may itch, burn, or sting and be covered by silvery scales. Most often, they occur on the elbows, knees, and scalp.¹⁵ 

Common triggers that can cause psoriasis flare-ups include:

  1. Infections

  2. Cold, dry climates

  3. Injury to the skin (scrapes, cuts, bug bites, or severe sunburn)

  4. Smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke

  5. Overconsumption of alcohol 

  6. Medications (lithium, beta-blockers, NSAIDS)

  7. Sudden discontinuation of oral or injected corticosteroids

How to manage psoriasis

What is good for psoriasis is often similar to a generally healthy skincare routine. A dedicated skincare routine includes cleansing, moisturizing, protecting, and treating with products formulated for your unique skin.

Although there are some things you can’t control, knowing your triggers and avoiding them can help. The National Psoriasis Foundation also recommends some topical skincare ingredients that can help with the treatment of psoriasis, including aloe vera, jojoba, and zinc pyrithione.¹⁶ Capsaicin (found in cayenne pepper) may be beneficial as well. These ingredients can help moisturize, soothe, and relieve itching. Some people find relief with scale softeners, anti-itch creams, and hydrocortisone creams and ointments.¹⁷ 

Managing psoriasis means working with your healthcare provider to find the best treatment for you while minimizing side effects. 

What can Curology do?

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Although you should see an in-person medical provider for psoriasis management, your skincare journey doesn’t end there. At Curology, we currently don’t treat psoriasis, but we do provide expert skincare information so you can look and feel your best. We maintain a library of information on our blog, including articles to help you determine your skin type, differentiate between an allergic reaction and irritation, and other helpful info. The information provided is not intended to replace sound medical advice; it’s for educational purposes only.

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Curology is a dermatologist-founded company that focuses on treating acne, rosacea, and anti-aging concerns. We provide customized prescription skincare with clinically researched ingredients to treat your skin needs. Our licensed dermatology providers work with you to examine your skin, assess your skincare goals, and provide custom treatment options. 

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FAQs

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory condition that causes skin cells to multiply at an increased rate, often resulting in dry, reddish patches of skin with white, silvery scales. Psoriasis usually appears on the scalp, elbows, knees, and lower back, but it’s not restricted to those areas.

What are the symptoms of psoriasis?

Common symptoms of this skin condition include the following:

  • Raised patches of skin with silvery-white scales.  

  • An itching and painful sensation.

  • Dry, cracked skin and the nails may pull away from the nail bed, split, or crumble.

How to manage psoriasis?

A dedicated skincare routine includes cleansing, moisturizing, protecting, and treating with products formulated for your unique skin. Although there are some things you can’t control, knowing your triggers and avoiding them can help.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Pragya A. Nair; Talel Badri1. Psoriasis. StatPearls. (January 2022)

  2. American Academy of Dermatology. Psoriasis clinical guidelines. (n.d.). 

  3. American Academy of Dermatology. Types of psoriasis: Can you have more than one? (n.d.).

  4. Pragya A. Nair; Talel Badri1. Psoriasis. StatPearls. Ibid.

  5. American Academy of Dermatology. Types of psoriasis: Can you have more than one? (n.d.).

  6. Pragya A. Nair; Talel Badri1. Psoriasis. StatPearls. Ibid.

  7. American Academy of Dermatology. Scalp psoriasis: Symptoms. (n.d.).

  8. Weigle, N. and McBane, S. Psoriasis. American Family Physician. (2013 May 1).

  9. Pragya A. Nair; Talel Badri1. Psoriasis. StatPearls. Ibid.

  10. Aldredge, L., Higham, R. Manifestations and Management of Difficult-to-Treat Psoriasis.Journal of the Dermatology Nurses’ Association. (July-August 2018).

  11. Pragya A. Nair; Talel Badri1. Psoriasis. StatPearls. Ibid.

  12. Weigle, N. and McBane, S. Psoriasis. American Family Physician. Ibid.

  13. Renden, A. and Schäkel, K. Psoriasis pathogenesis and treatment.International Journal of Molecular Science. (March 2019). 

  14. Rajguru JP, et al. Update on psoriasis: A review.J Family Med Prim Care. (2020 January 28).

  15. Pragya A. Nair; Talel Badri1. Psoriasis. StatPearls. Ibid.

  16. National Psoriasis Foundation. Over-the-counter topicals. (n.d.)

  17. American Academy of Dermatology. What psoriasis treatments are available without a prescription? (n.d.). 

Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

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