About 7.5 million Americans have psoriasis. But despite the fact that psoriasis is a fairly common skin condition, it is often misunderstood.
In case you’re not familiar with it, psoriasis is a condition that causes the body to produce new skin cells in days instead of the typical cycle that takes weeks, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). The cells then accumulate on the surface of the skin and can create thick, scaly patches.
For people unfamiliar with the skin condition, psoriasis can seem alarming — and they can be very worried about getting it. But psoriasis is not contagious and there are other factors about this skin condition that many people don’t understand. Here is a breakdown.
No. 1: There are different types of psoriasis
There are actually six different types of psoriasis, according to the Mayo Clinic. These include:
Plaque psoriasis. This form of psoriasis affects up to 90% of people with the skin condition, according to the AAD. Plaque psoriasis causes the skin to form dry, itchy, raised patches called plaques that are covered in scales. These plaques usually appear on the elbows, knees, lower back and scalp.
Nail psoriasis. Nail psoriasis affects the fingernails and toenails, leading to symptoms such as pitting, abnormal nail growth, discoloration and even chipping of the nails.
Intestinal psoriasis. Intestinal psoriasis usually affects young adults and children. It is typically caused by a bacterial infection such as strep throat and causes symptoms that include small, teardrop-shaped, peeling patches on the abdomen, arms or legs.
Inverse psoriasis. This type of psoriasis usually appears on the skin folds of the groin, buttock, and breast. It leads to patches of inflamed skin that get worse with friction and sweating.
Pustular psoriasis. This is a rare type of psoriasis that causes pus-filled blisters that can appear in widespread patches or small areas on the palms or soles.
Erythrodermic psoriasis. This is the least common type of psoriasis. It can cover the entire body with an exfoliating rash that may itch or burn.
#2: Psoriasis is not contagious
While some people may worry about getting psoriasis, it is not contagious. “Psoriasis can make people who don’t have the condition worry because they think it can be passed on through contact,” dermatologist Dr. Ife J. Rodney, founding director of Eternal Dermatology Aesthetics. “However, psoriasis is an autoimmune condition.” With psoriasis, the body’s immune system overreacts and attacks skin cells, causing red, scaly, sometimes silvery rashes to appear, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“It’s just genetic, and no external factor causes psoriasis,” says Rodney. “In other words, you can’t catch or pass the treaty.”
#3: Psoriasis is different from eczema
Eczema is a group of conditions that cause the skin to become inflamed, irritated, and often itchy, according to the AAD. Eczema is usually the term used for atopic dermatitis, which causes rashes, extremely dry skin and skin that is easily irritated. It can also lead to permanently thickened patches of your skin that develop a leathery texture, says the AAD.
“Both conditions have some overlap, but they have different triggers, symptoms, presentation and causes,” says Rodney. “Eczema has many triggers and can appear as dry, red, itchy skin. It can also be localized if you’ve come into contact with an irritant—think: poison ivy, jewelry, or harsh soaps.”
Eczema can also cause “mild but constant, chronic itching,” notes Rodney. Psoriasis, however, “creates large, red patches with silvery scales that can cover large parts of the joints,” says Rodney. “Psoriasis can be painful and even bleed when scratched.”
No. 4: Psoriasis has a distinct appearance
Psoriasis can cause a rash-like appearance, but the patches in particular have a unique appearance. “Psoriasis tends to be more salmon pink to purple in color depending on skin type, with thick, silver scales that look like fish, and is found on the elbows, knees, belly button and buttocks classically,” said Dr. Cindy Wassef, assistant professor. at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tells Yahoo Life.
Psoriasis is also usually “well-demarcated,” Dr. Jessica Kaffenberger, a dermatologist who specializes in psoriasis at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. That is, it has set boundaries around the edges. Eczema, on the other hand, tends to have less defined boundaries around the rash.
No. 5: Patches are formed by inflammation
With plaque psoriasis—which, again, most people with psoriasis have—the plaques form from “inflammation of the skin and a build-up of salts,” New York City dermatologist Dr. Gary Goldenberg, founder of Goldenberg Dermatology, tells Yahoo Life.
Normally, “skin has a life cycle as it matures from the bottom to the surface of the skin,” explains Wassef. “In people with psoriasis, the cells in our skin go through the life cycle process too quickly and don’t get a chance to form properly. This leads to the characteristic appearance of psoriasis.”
There is help, though. “Fortunately, we now have treatments that block many of these inflammatory molecules,” says Kaffenberger.
#6: There is no cure for psoriasis
“You can’t get rid of psoriasis as there is no cure,” says Rodney. “But there are treatment options that can keep flare-ups to a minimum, which we call remission.”
Treatments work to stop the skin cells from growing so quickly and remove the scales, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Mild psoriasis can be treated with creams and ointments that contain steroids, vitamin D, and other compounds,” says Wassef. “For people with more advanced psoriasis, injectable medications that reduce inflammation in the skin are great treatment options.”
Combining treatments with a healthy diet, lifestyle and skin care routines can also help, says Rodney.
Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Find out WHERE behind the hoo with the Yahoo Life newsletter. Register here.