psoriasis winter Young stylish woman outdoor

8 Tips for Managing Your Psoriasis In Winter

Master seasonal psoriasis management and you can look forward to the fun parts of cold weather—rather than obsessing about what it might do to your skin.

Winter will never be quite as easy to love as summer, but it has more than its share of romantic accouterments—crackling fires, cashmere sweaters, snow-dusted trees, seasonal carbs. Not to mention all the wholesome cold-weather activities starting with S that we eagerly anticipate: sledding, skating, skiing, snowshoeing, and most important, sipping (be that hot cocoa or a hot toddy). That said, winter might can feel like a less-than-enjoyable stretch of time when you’re living with a chronic inflammatory skin condition like psoriasis. While not everyone finds the cold months more challenging when it comes to managing psoriasis, anecdotally, dermatologists report that many of their patients do see a worsening of psoriasis symptoms in winter. Research on the topic is still limited, but in one survey conducted by the National Psoriasis Foundation, nearly half said winter is the season when their psoriasis flares up the most.

Dermatologists haven’t pinpointed precisely why the winter months can lead to an increase in psoriasis symptoms, but there are plenty of potential contributing factors to consider. The most obvious: Cold weather and dry air—including indoor heat—deplete moisture in the skin, leading to dryness and irritation and, in turn, the inflammation that triggers psoriasis symptoms. Another likely reason for psoriasis symptoms worsening in winter is that during the months when daylight hours are abbreviated, our skin gets significantly less sun exposure, and UV light is known to help calm and prevent psoriasis flare-ups. Reduced sun exposure can also lead to lower levels of vitamin D, and some research has begun to establish a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and psoriasis. Finally, ’tis the season of peak germ exposure, and common viruses like strep throat can also (you guessed it) trigger flare-ups of psoriasis. It all sounds like a lot, but for every winter psoriasis challenge, there are tricks you can use to counter the effects. Here are eight tips for mastering seasonal psoriasis management so you can look forward to the fun parts of winter weather rather than obsess about what it might do to your skin.

Ramp up your skin care regimen.

It’s always a good idea to step up your lotion routine in cold weather, but even more so if you have psoriasis. Dry, itchy skin can prompt scratching, which can cause irritation and cuts that may become infected and trigger psoriasis symptoms. Actually, you should swap out lotion for a thick cream or an ointment, which does a better job of repairing your skin’s natural moisture barrier. Stick to a fragrance-free formula, since the ingredients used to add scent are common triggers for psoriasis symptoms. Some dermatologists recommend using over-the-counter creams that contain salicylic acid, to help dissolve excess skin cells that cause thickened psoriasis patches and let moisture penetrate more effectively. Moisturizing before bed is a highly effective daily skin care habit to adopt, especially during the winter months.

Set up a humidifier (or two).

Replacing some of the ambient moisture that’s missing from drier indoor air during the winter months will help prevent moisture from your skin from being rapidly drawn out into much more arid surroundings, resulting in dryness. Put one in your bedroom and one near where you work during the day.

Resist the temptation to take long, hot showers.

Hot showers and baths are even more of a treat during the winter months, but as soothing as they feel, they can seriously sap hydration from your skin. A more psoriasis-friendly idea when you crave some heat therapy: Curl up under a weighted blanket with a cup of tea. When you do shower, keep it brief (the American Academy of Dermatology recommends five minutes or less) and warm water instead of hot water. To avoid stripping your skin’s moisture barrier, wash with a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizing soap designed for sensitive skin, skipping the loofah or shower pouf, and apply a rich cream immediately afterward, while your skin still feels a little damp. This will seal in moisture from the shower to help keep your skin barrier healthy. Think less in-shower time, more post-shower skin pampering.

Book some phototherapy sessions.

Sunlight helps alleviate psoriasis symptoms in a way that can seem downright magical, and while the details remain a bit mysterious to dermatologists, it appears that UV light prevents some of the inflammatory cell activity at the root of this autoimmune skin condition. Yet we all tend to get significantly less sunlight in the winter. One way to make up for the lower levels of UV light your skin soaks up during the colder months—and up your vitamin D levels at the same time—is to go for light therapy sessions. This involves standing in a booth (much like a tanning booth, only with targeted UVB rays) in a dermatology office for up to 15 minutes a session, up to three times a week. The sessions can be a relaxing source of warmth during cold weather, too. As your doctor if a dermatology office or hospital near you offers this treatment; if there are no nearby locations, your health insurance may cover the cost of an at-home light therapy device or booth. As your psoriasis symptoms clear up, you can reduce the number of phototherapy sessions you do each week.

Protect your skin from the elements.

This one might go without saying, but for those who are tempted to quickly take the dog out in PJ pants and a T-shirt in the middle of a blizzard: If you struggle with winter psoriasis, it’s extra important to keep your skin as covered as possible on very cold or windy days, including wearing gloves and a scarf or neck gaiter you can up over some of your face. When you come inside, remove damp clothes and shoes right away.

Keep stress in check.

Winter kicks off with the holidays, when extended-family drama and extended breaks from school and healthy routines cause a seasonal spike in stress for lots of people. Then there’s the fact that cold weather can prevent us from doing things that reduce stress, like going for a jog or heading out to meet friends for dinner. If you’re managing psoriasis, it’s extra important to keep stress levels in check, since the hormones associated with anxious feelings can be a major psoriasis trigger. Make a little time each day for winter-friendly activities that bring your stress levels down, like snuggling up with a book, sneaking in a nap, or streaming a yoga class.

Take winter bugs seriously.

During cold and flu season, we’re accustomed to hearing sniffles everywhere. Seasonal infections can seem like no big deal. Yet even mild illnesses can lead to psoriasis flare-ups, which can occur two to six weeks after things like strep throat, an ear infection, or bronchitis, according to the AAD. So, keep up with your vigilant hand washing, using gentle soap and moisturizing right away afterward, and see a doctor when you do come down with an illness, since prompt treatment may reduce the risk of a serious psoriasis flare-up.

Make a dermatologist appointment.

Everyone with psoriasis should see a dermatologist. The reason: While this autoimmune condition isn’t curable, it’s possible to get your skin clear and keep it that way for long stretches of time when following a personalized treatment plan. Even if you have already seen a doctor and are using prescription medication, it’s important to book another appointment if your symptoms suddenly become more severe in the winter (or any time). Your doctor will be able to discuss a variety of topical and oral medications that can help you manage your psoriasis more effectively all year-round.

Petra Guglielmetti is a health, wellness, and beauty journalist who taps into a broad network of doctors, scientists, and medical experts to write in-depth service articles for leading publications like Glamour, Health, Real Simple, and Parents.