With more than three million US cases every year, psoriasis is an incredibly common skin condition that messes with the life cycle of skin cells, causing them to build up rapidly and form thick, itchy, dry, red, scale-y patches. Sounds fun, right?
Though there may be times when your skin looks and feels normal, if you suffer from psoriasis, this all-too-common autoimmune disease is persistent, long-lasting and unfortunately doesn't have a "cure." However, there are several factors that can contribute to the severity of the condition from individual to individual, and learning how to get them under control can do wonders.
As a holistic practitioner specializing in dermatology, I focus on whole-body healing to address both the skin and the underlying systemic causes. With psoriasis — as with any autoimmune condition — results are best when treatment targets both the physical and the emotional.
Here are my top five tips for healing and managing psoriasis, both inside and out.
1. Try herbal medicine.
Various lifestyle changes can prevent flares of psoriasis, but I rely on herbal medicine to clear up existing lesions. I treat psoriasis with Chinese herbal formulas that are customized for each patient. This way, specific herbs are chosen to directly target the unique nature of each person’s skin.
For example, different herbs are prescribed for brick red lesions versus pale lesions. Different herbs are prescribed for thick white scaling and dry yellow scaling. The key is to analyze the precise look of each person’s psoriasis while also addressing other physical and emotional components in their overall health picture.
Of course this is something you'll have to visit a professional for, as I don't recommend experimenting with Traditional Chinese Medicine on your own. But herbs can do wonders for your general and more targeted health problems.
2. Pay attention to your diet.
There's no scientific evidence that any diet is more beneficial for psoriasis, but there's no harm in experimenting with elimination diets to figure out if certain foods work with your system.
In my experience, psoriasis is considered a “hot” condition, meaning it can be made worse by foods that "heat up" the body, triggering flare-ups. This means it's best to avoid spicy foods, red meat, alcohol and coffee. Instead, incorporate a wide variety of vegetables and fruits across the color spectrum, and include foods rich in omega-3s like avocado and fish oils. Focus specifically on anti-inflammatory foods that benefit auto-immune conditions.
3. Let meditation serve you.
There's no doubt about it: experiencing stress will almost certainly cause a psoriasis flare up. And while the occasional stressors are inevitable, you can work to get your stress levels under control and in turn, get a handle on your psoriasis.
Will meditation clear up the lesions on your skin that were originally caused by stress? Probably not. But meditation will go a long way to prevent future flares and manage the condition long-term. It takes time to see the clinical benefits of meditation, and it’s referred to as a “practice” with good reason.
What I emphasize with my patients is consistency. Set realistic goals like meditating for 20 minutes every day as part of your morning or evening routine. Use an app on your phone or a guided meditation CD to make it easy to begin a regular program.
4. Practice visualization.
Now that you've committed to a daily meditation, make sure to spend time at the end of your practice imagining your skin as clear and itch-free. Affirm that the steps you're taking now to adopt a lifestyle of wellness will result in the psoriasis healing in the long term.
It helps to stay motivated when you create a link in your mind between the present and the future. The visualizations you do today during yoga, prayer or meditation will ultimately benefit the healing of your skin over time.
5. Focus on all-natural topical ingredients.
Topical treatment is essential to relieve skin discomfort and expedite healing, but turning to a prescription medication may not be the best choice. Topical steroids are powerful medicines and can provide immediate relief for itching and inflammation, but they don't get to the root of the problem and they have some pretty serious side effects (think paper-thin skin, bruising, pigmentation, etc.).
Luckily, there are myriad natural ingredients that can help with psoriasis, so there’s no need to turn to steroids or other chemicals for topical treatment.
Adding ingredients like oatmeal or dead sea salts to a bath can help relieve itching and heal the skin. Soaking in the warm water can help to loosen the scales, and adding these soothing ingredients to the water can moisturize your skin. Additionally, oils such as sea buckthorn and neem — which have been used in Eastern medicine for centuries to treat skin conditions — have been shown to be anti-inflammatory and promote tissue regeneration when applied topically.
Keep in mind that psoriasis benefits from both holistic treatment and lifestyle changes. This sort of transformation is a journey with long-term, lasting benefits. Be patient and keep in mind that healing is a marathon not a sprint. With time, results are noticeable and significant.
Lin YK, Leu YL, Yang SH, Chen HW, Wang CT, Pang JH. Anti-psoriatic effects of indigo naturalis on the proliferation and differentiation of keratinocytes with indirubin as the active component. J Dermatol Sci. 2009;54(3):168-74
May, BH et al. "Oral herbal medicines for psoriasis: a review of clinical studies." Journal of Integrative Medicine. March, 2012
Shiqiang Deng, et al. "Topical Herbal Formulae in the Management of Psoriasis: Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis of Clinical Studies and Investigation of the Pharmacological Actions of the Main Herbs" Phytotherapy Research. April, 2013
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