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.