People with Psoriasis Share How They Respond to Nosy Comments

Leann M. has had psoriasis since the age of 14, and at the age of 30, was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. When she has a flare, her skin cracks and bleeds, and gets caught on her clothing. At its worst, 45 percent of her body is covered in painful, dry plaques from head to toe. Over the years, she’s gotten used to the stares; but, sometimes, she still can’t believe the offensive comments thrown her way. “Once at a local mini-mart, I overheard someone refer to my psoriasis as leprosy,” she says, adding sarcastically, “That was special.”

Psoriasis is not leprosy or scabies or bed bugs. “Someone asked me if my psoriasis was AIDS when I was 12. It confounded me and I was devastated,” Brandy R. admits. Psoriasis is not a virus or an infection, nor is it contagious. As you probably know, it’s a chronic, lifelong disease in which an overactive immune system causes inflammation in the body and speeds up the growth cycle of skin cells. Patients may develop pitted nails, lesions, pustules, dandruff-like scales and/or raised, itchy, red, flaky patches or spots on their elbows, knees, scalp and body.

Psoriasis can be very painful—both physically and emotionally. Many people with the condition may be very self-conscious about their appearance; and, constantly dealing with unwanted comments and advice is mentally exhausting. Plus, people can be very cruel, unintentionally or not. “You know, you can’t blame people for not knowing about this disease,” says Kami J., “but you totally can blame them for opening their big fat yaps when they don’t know what they’re talking about. So insensitive!”

Sometimes, it’s not what people say but how they say it that can be hurtful. “I’ve noticed people are generally too nervous to ask about my psoriatic arthritis,” Brittany W. says. “But when they do, it’s generally very blunt or with judgment in their tones.”

Nicola H. admits she once lost her temper and “socked someone in the face” for a rude comment about her psoriasis. That’s not recommended. There are more effective ways to respond without ending up behind bars.

“I’m normally happy when people politely ask about it because I’d rather take the time to explain versus them making wild assumptions,” Brittany W. says. So, what should you say?

Here, psoriasis patients explain how they respond to the most commonly heard questions, comments, and insults from people they’ve never encountered before or those they can’t avoid on a typical day.

The Co-Worker

The workplace is an incubator for germs. Think about how the flu spreads like wildfire in an office environment. So, it’s not surprising that your fellow employees may get a little paranoid at the sight of psoriasis and be wary enough of picking up an illness to ask if they can catch it.

“I've had co-workers ask if it’s contagious,” Idolina G. confirms. “I've had ’em pick on my skin to ‘see what it is.’ I don't like to be touched, so that doesn’t go over well. I just want them to go away.”

Pennie R. has the best comeback for her nosy cubicle neighbors: “I say it’s a glitch in my immune system that causes those skin cells to die faster than it can slough off. It’s a DNA thing, not a contagious thing.”

If you are harassed, made an outcast or discriminated against at work, report the incidents to HR. Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (visit AskJAN.org for more information).

The Frenemy

Everybody’s got that one so-called friend who passive-aggressively makes you feel crappy about your psoriasis (not to mention everything else in your life). One time, Megan B.’s pal came up to her with dry winter skin and blurted out, “Look, I caught your rash!” Megan was nonplussed for a moment then shot back, “It’s not contagious, but if you’re really concerned, just do your own research or ask your doctor and he’ll explain it to you.”

It might be tempting to shoot back something like “I guess we’ll both be locked in quarantine now!” But if you want to avoid being passive aggressive, prepare a few measured comebacks to the offensive remarks you hear the most.

The Self-Care Staffers

It doesn’t happen often, and they should have “seen it all,” but some psoriasis patients have horror stories about hairstylists, massage therapists, and manicurists refusing to touch them.

“I had a hairstylist that went on and on about a client before me that she refused to do because of her scalp psoriasis and how gross and nasty it was and how she would be afraid she would catch it, all while washing my hair in a full flare,” Tammie K. reports. “I just let her keep going on, and then, when she was done, I told her she might want to head straight to the doctor because she might have caught it from me. She freaked out and ran to the back room and I walked out. Needless to say, she didn’t finish my hair after shampooing it, and I didn’t pay.”

If you want to avoid a dramatic fight, be upfront and proactive about explaining your disease at your initial appointment. Tell them what psoriasis is and confirm it’s not contagious or a fungal infection. Point out the spots on your body that might be sensitive or should be avoided. If they are still rude, scared or squeamish, find somewhere else to go. For instance, there are plenty of nail salons and nail technicians who offer medical manicures and pedicures.

The Inquisitive Kid

Kids say the darndest things—and are brutally honest. But there’s no malice in their little hearts. “Usually with the kiddos, it’s just straight unbiased curiosity,” Valerie P. says.

Nicola H. reports that children usually ask her what happened to her knees and elbows and are usually concerned she’s fallen and hurt herself. “It’s quite sweet,” she says, adding that she lets them touch it so they can see it’s no big deal. “I just tell them my skin grows too fast and that’s what they’re seeing.”

For Brittany W., a flare means massive red patches that look like “very angry, dry skin.” She can see how children would mistake it for a burn.I remember once a child saw my legs and was like, ‘Mommy, that woman has burned legs,’ and the mom turned to me and was like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I explained politely what it was. The kid was totally cool about it but the mom was like, ‘Well, if you lost some weight it would clear up.’ I was shocked.”

The Complete Stranger

Strangers win the award for blurting out the most inappropriate, inconsiderate comments while hiding behind their anonymity. Megan B. remembers being a teenager and being stunned that someone she didn’t even know could be so cruel. “A woman told me to stay away from her and her family because I had psoriasis on my eyelids and said she didn’t want to catch my ‘pink eye.’ It was pretty devastating, as at that point I was pretty shy about the condition.”

Nicola H. reports being sexually harassed. “It’s males, my age [32] and older, the latter of which I find supercreepy, that always insinuate things by saying ‘Oh, jeez girl, you must spend a lot of time on your knees,’ wink-wink, nudge-nudge. I often don’t handle these ones quite as well.” (That was the aforementioned punch in the face.) I don't know what gives them the idea that that's an appropriate thing to say to someone they don't even know. The kids’ sweetness helps make up for all the other times, that's for sure.”

Janet G. was once asked if she was like the Elephant Man. “I just said yes and hobbled away. I wasn’t hurt by the Elephant Man comment, I just was tired of answering questions. I just say yes and move on now.”

Janet believes the more you engage, the more unsolicited, useless advice you get, usually about moisturizers, essential oils, and plant-based diets. “I get [comments] like, ‘You need more exercise’ or ‘Reduce your sugar’ or ‘Are you sure you have arthritis?’” Brittany W. always hears, “‘I know a person who had it, you should try this random holistic cure,’ as if they’re suddenly doctors.”

“Thanks, Karen, for advice about something you know nothing about!” Allyson L. jokes.

While you can’t change people’s ignorance or lack of tact, you can make yourself seen and respected. When she overheard that stranger in the mini-mart whisper she had leprosy, Leann M. decided to confront the woman. “I just leaned around the aisle and told the lady, ‘If you have something to say, you should probably just say it to me.’ She denied anything was said. I just walked away laughing. When they see I’m smiling they typically realize I'm joking. It’s all in good humor.”

Laughter is the best medicine and may be the best, healthiest comeback to the craziest comments, whether blissfully ignorant or genuinely concerned about your psoriasis.

“I tell people it’s road rash, dumped my bike in Sturgis,” jokes Terri S.

“I tell people my body is having a hissy fit and takes it out on my skin,” says Jenna C.

“I have dozens of situations like this,” Megan B. adds. “Thankfully, I can laugh about it now.”