Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2003;68(8):1606

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis (say: “sor-eye-ah-sus”) is a skin problem that causes thick red marks like scales on your skin. The thick scaling is probably caused by an increase in the number of skin cells. Sometimes pus-filled blisters form. Most of the time, the skin on the elbows and knees is affected, but psoriasis can occur anywhere on the body, including the scalp, fingernails, and mouth, and even the skin over your joints.

Doctors are not sure what causes psoriasis. It seems to get worse in many people when they are under stress or if they have an infection. Some medicines make psoriasis worse.

Is psoriasis contagious?

No. You will not catch psoriasis from another person or give it to someone by touching him or her.

How is psoriasis treated?

Your doctor will decide which treatment is right for you. Keeping your skin moisturized with an over-the-counter lotion is a good first step. Body lotion can help remove the scales.

Prescription creams, ointments, lotions, and gels (all are called topical medicines) that you put on the affected areas are often used to treat psoriasis. Your doctor may tell you to put your medicine on the areas of psoriasis before you go to bed and then cover the treated areas with plastic wrap (such as Saran Wrap).

Special soaps and shampoos are used for psoriasis on the face and scalp. If you have a severe case, you doctor might have you take pills. Other treatments include using a special kind of ultraviolet light.

Sunlight can help psoriasis, but be careful not to stay in the sun too long. A sunburn can make your psoriasis worse. You should put a sunscreen on the parts of your skin that are not affected by psoriasis. It is especially important to put sunscreen on your face.

Will psoriasis go away with treatment?

The scales of psoriasis should get better almost right away after you start treatment. It may take two to six weeks for the affected areas of your skin to become more normal, and the redness may last several months. While psoriasis will get better, it may not all go away. Some scaly spots may get better at the same time other spots get worse.

After you have been using a certain kind of medicine for a while, your psoriasis may “get used to” the medicine. If this happens, that medicine will not work as well as it used to. Your doctor may change your medicine or give you a stronger dose of medicine. Talk to your doctor if your psoriasis does not seem to be getting better with treatment.

Where can I get more information about psoriasis?

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