Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin disease of multifactorial origin, characterised by the appearance of flaky, red plaques on various parts of the body (1). Sufferers generally experience flare-ups interspersed with periods of remission.
It’s now known that this chronic disease is caused by immune cells mistakenly attacking skin cells(2). This generates excessive skin inflammation and stimulates the production of keratinocytes (keratin-producing cells). Large numbers of these still-immature keratinocytes accumulate on the skin’s surface, producing a thickening of the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the epidermis) and scaliness.
In its milder forms, psoriasis primarily affects areas of friction (elbows, knees, forearms, lower back…), the scalp and nails. In severe cases, it can affect the whole body, including the face and mucous membranes – and be complicated by rheumatic or metabolic damage(3).
According to the WHO, around 125 million people globally are affected by psoriasis, with onset peaking between the ages of 20 and 40(4). Though its causes remain poorly understood, there is a strong genetic predisposition (around a third of sufferers have a family history of the disease). Factors such as stress, alcohol consumption, changes in the weather, infections and certain drugs can all trigger flare-ups (5).
As there is currently no cure for psoriasis, the aim is to reduce symptoms in order to improve the quality of life for sufferers. As a first line treatment, vitamin D- or cortisone-based creams can be applied topically. When large areas of the body are affected, immunosuppressive drugs, or UVB light therapy, may be prescribed. For treatment-resistant forms, biotherapy (injections of monoclonal antibodies) offers remission in 75% of cases (6). Whichever the case, it’s always important to follow the advice of your health professional.
In addition, there are some simple everyday steps you can take to help minimise the discomfort of psoriasis and even reduce the frequency of flare-ups.
Psoriasis very often causes itching(7), but scratching only makes the skin flake even more. To limit these effects, make sure you moisturise your skin well by applying a hydrating cream at least once a day, focusing on scaly patches (8).
Scalppsoriasis is particularly challenging, as hair shafts make it harder for any treatment to penetrate and adhere (9).
In addition to applying the topical creams prescribed by your doctor, try to avoid inflicting trauma on your scalp as it will maintain or aggravate inflammation: using hair-dryers on too hot a setting, wearing hairbands, headbands, headscarves… Hold your hairdryer at least 20 cm away from your scalp and use a soft brush.
While the link between psoriasis and levels of vitamin A is still unclear, a study in 2011 showed that psoriasis patients had lower skin concentrations of carotenoids, a type of vitamin A, than healthy subjects (10). More generally, it’s worth noting that this vitamin is known to play a role in maintaining healthy skin and normal immune system function(11-12).
To correct any deficiency, make sure you eat plenty of yellow-orange fruits and vegetables such as squash, carrots, sweet potatoes and corn. After checking with your doctor, you could also supplement with carotenoids (the product Carottol offers a combination of beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and astaxanthin in a single capsule) (13).
During a psoriasis flare-up, the skin becomes more permeable to allergens. Dermatologists therefore recommend avoiding perfume and essential oils that may contain it (14).
Obtained from the leaves of the aloe plant, aloe vera gel has a high mucilage content, giving it emollient and softening properties. It was traditionally used by the ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilisations to fight various skin infections. Since the 1930s, there has been renewed interest from dermatologists and cosmetologists in the topical use of aloe vera (15). Used internally, this plant also helps to maintain healthy immunity due to its content of the polysaccharide acemannan(16).
In the case of psoriasis, where the skin is under severe stress, it’s important to choose a pure, organic aloe vera gel and apply it directly to affected skin (17).
Cosmetics-wise, Aleppo soap is just about as natural as you can get! Produced from olive oil, laurel oil and soda, it has been popular for more than 3000 years for its cleansing and purifying properties.
The fatty acids it contains means it can reduce hardening of skin plaques and skin discomfort without aggravating psoriatic lesions. It can therefore be used for washing without any problem.
There’s now a clearly-established link between fatty acid consumption and inflammation levels. It’s therefore a good idea to increase your omega-3 intake to counterbalance the high levels of omega-6 in modern diets (which in excess are pro-inflammatory) (18-19).
The best sources of omega-3 are oily fish, rapeseed oil, linseeds and hemp seeds. To ensure an optimal intake, you could also take a supplement of these valuable fatty acids (such as the highly-stable product Super Omega 3, which combines EPA and DHA obtained from sustainable fish sources) (20).
Highly-emollient, oatmeal gently eliminates dead cells and soothes redness (21). Simply add 100g of oatmeal to 5 liters of water and bring to the boil. Once cooled, spread the mixture over affected areas and leave to work for 15 minutes before rinsing off.
Healing and detoxifying, Dead Sea salt has long been associated with relieving atopic skin. It’s also helpful for the joint stiffness which can accompany severe psoriasis (22-23). Add 3-4 tbsp to your bath water for guaranteed relaxation!
Part of the Polypodiaceae family, the fern Polypodium leucotomos grows deep in the forests of South and Central America. It has long been used by the indigenous people of Honduras for reducing skin discomfort and maintaining beautiful skin.
Containing caffeic and ferulic acids, both powerful phenolic compounds, its role in photoprotection and mode of interaction with the immune defenses are currently the subject of several scientific studies (24-25).
This therapeutic gem from traditional South American medicine is available in supplement form (such as the product Polypodium leucotomos Extract, stabilised with acacia gum and rice flour for a composition that’s 100% natural).
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