3 Tricks to Shorten a Psoriasis Flare-Up

Hailie W. always has a large supply of plastic wrap in her cabinet—and it’s not for prolonging the life of leftovers. Whenever she gets a psoriasis flare-up, she applies a thick layer of petroleum jelly to the affected area and covers it with the plastic wrap. “After a few hours, I remove the wrap, and my skin is less scaly and more moisturized,” Hailie explains. “I may not be able to prevent a flare-up, but I know my plastic-wrap technique helps shorten it.”

Hailie is right. Psoriasis is a notoriously unpredictable disease, and even if you stick to your recommended treatment plan and go to great lengths to avoid triggers, you can’t always escape those flare-ups.

Create a Moist Environment

Board-certified dermatologist Rhonda Klein, M.D. of Modern Dermatology in Westport, Connecticut, says Hailie’s plastic-wrap trick works because she’s creating a moist environment. A variation of this is an occlusion suit (also known as a “sauna suit”). Occlusion suits are available from various manufacturers, such as Delasco, where a washable nylon suit costs around $65.

Klein suggests applying a topical steroid beneath the suit. “This allows the steroid to penetrate more effectively, soothing pain and discomfort and helping to support the natural immune response to an active psoriasis flare-up,” she explains.

If you don’t want to use a steroid cream (with or without an occlusion suit), an alternative to petroleum jelly is Vaseline Intensive Care Aloe Soothe body lotion, which comes recommended by board-certified dermatologist Debra Jaliman, M.D., who has a private practice in New York City and has taught dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine for more than 25 years. “This lotion contains aloe, which is anti-inflammatory, as well as microdroplets of Vaseline jelly for hydration,” Jaliman explains. “It keeps your skin moisturized, which is crucial because dryness makes psoriasis symptoms worse.”

Another tip from Klein is to turn on a cool-mist humidifier wherever you spend a lot of time, such as in your bedroom or office. “Fostering a hydrated environment will help soothe the discomfort from dryness associated with psoriasis flares,” Klein says. To that note, she also recommends keeping showers short and using lukewarm water.

“If you're experiencing itchiness during a flare-up, try soaking in a lukewarm bath with Epsom salt for no more than 15 minutes, then apply your topical Rx and moisturizers right after,” Klein says.

Watch What You Eat

While there’s no proven link between psoriasis and diet, Harry B. believes what he puts into his body during a flare-up is just as important as the topical treatments he applies to his skin. “At the first sign of a flare-up, I take a look at what I’ve been eating and drinking,” he says. “Cutting out alcohol helps, and too much dairy seems to be a trigger for me, so I stay away from milk and cheese and focus on upping my intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.”

According to Jaliman, the foods that are most commonly known to trigger psoriasis are whole milk, citrus fruits, gluten, and fatty foods. In her professional experience, some people with psoriasis say acidic foods trigger their symptoms. However, she stresses that more research is needed, and what triggers one person might not trigger another.

Harry finds it useful to keep a food diary to keep track of what might be triggering his flare-ups. “I can’t always identify a dietary trigger,” he says. “But [I try to] to pinpoint foods that might not be working in my favor, [and I think it] helps to minimize flare-ups, so I know what to cut out when they strike.”

Jaliman suggests that a nutritious smoothie packed with healthy ingredients could help suppress symptoms during a flare-up. “Blueberry is an antioxidant superfood, turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties and is also loaded with antioxidants, and avocado is rich in vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids to help reduce inflammation,” she says.

Tackle Stress

Living with psoriasis for more than 20 years has given Amber G. time to identify her main trigger: stress. “When I get a flare-up, I know I need to pay more attention to self-care,” she says. “I do what I can to relieve my anxiety. Meditation helps, deep breathing helps, yoga helps, a leisurely walk in the sunshine helps. I do anything and everything I can to bring my stress levels down. For me, that’s the quickest way to shorten a flare-up.”

When you figure out what works best for you, keep doing it! And if you’re experiencing flare-ups more frequently, or if they’re lasting longer than what’s normal for you, make an appointment with your dermatologist to review your regular treatment plan.