What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis makes your skin red, dry, and crusty, especially around your elbows, knees, and scalp. Other places you might find psoriasis include your upper buttocks, your palms, the soles of your feet, and your genitals.
It’s not contagious, so you can’t “catch it” from another person like you do a cold, however it does seem to run in families – so you might have a cousin, or an aunt or uncle, brother or sister who also has psoriasis. You may have inherited psoriasis just like you may have inherited your mom’s laugh, your grandmother’s nose, or your father’s toes. Psoriasis is just another one of the one million or more things that make you who you are.
Why is my skin different?
When you have psoriasis, your skin is actually growing faster than “normal” skin. You might say that you have “superhero” skin! The top layer of skin (the keratin layer) is constantly being worn away. It is replaced by skin cells that move up from the bottom layer. Where your skin is “normal”, it takes four weeks for skin cells to go from the bottom skin layer to the top skin layer.
Where you have your “superhero skin”, the whole process takes only three to four days! How’s that for speed! But too much speed can cause a pile up, just like cars on a highway. The cells can’t fall off quickly enough to get out of the way for the cells that are moving up from the bottom layer. These cells pile up on top of each other, making silvery white scales that are called “plaques”. The pile ups of skin cells irritates the new skin underneath, making it red and itchy.
You probably take your skin for granted, but it actually is very important. Your skin is an organ just like your heart, liver and lungs, and it’s the largest organ of your whole body.
Your skin is always hard at work at a lot of different jobs, including:
- Keeping your body at its perfect temperature
- Helping you get rid of things you don’t need, like extra salt and water and chemicals, in your sweat
- Keeping germs (bacteria) out of your body
- Stopping you from hurting yourself; the nerve endings in your skin tell you “ouch” when you touch something that might burn or poke you
- Telling you what is going on inside your body; some skin rashes can tell your doctor you have an infection, an illness or an allergy
- Showing your emotions; when you turn red from embarrassment, or white from fright, your skin is showing everyone exactly how you feel without you saying a word!
Most people don’t realize that their skin is actually made up of four layers. That’s because you need a microscope to see all the layers.
Can I make it go away?
Psoriasis sometimes goes away on its own or you may need some kind of treatment. There isn’t a cure, so you may need to keep on using your treatments. Having to put on lotion and going to the doctor can be annoying, but it will help your psoriasis to look better, and maybe even go away. If your psoriasis is mild, your doctor may give you a cream or lotion to help. But if your skin is very dry and scaly, your doctor may talk to you and your parents about using pills, light therapy, or both.
What makes psoriasis worse?
What makes your psoriasis better or worse is pretty personal. For some people being stressed out or angry can make it worse, but for others it doesn’t seem to make a difference.
There are a lot of things that may or may not affect your psoriasis, like changes in the weather, injuries, illnesses and starting or stopping any medications.
The best thing you can do is to pay attention to what works or doesn’t work for you, and to try and avoid the things that you find make your psoriasis worse.