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Can Psoriasis Spread? 5 Facts To Know

Updated on January 5, 2024

Psoriasis isn’t contagious — it doesn’t spread from one person to another — but on your own body? That’s a different, often frustrating story. Once you have psoriasis on one part of your body, symptoms can spread to other locations. Psoriasis flare-ups come and go, often without warning or a clear trigger. Keeping stress levels down, eating anti-inflammatory foods, and maintaining a gentle skin care routine may help you achieve remission, but even taking every precaution can’t guarantee psoriasis symptoms won’t flare again.

Although you may not have total control over the spread or severity of psoriasis, you can use some strategies to help keep this chronic skin condition under control. This article explains why psoriasis may spread and what you can do to stop it.

1. Other Skin Damage Can Trigger Psoriasis Symptoms

Psoriasis often spreads unpredictably, but a couple of causes can be pinpointed — an effect called the Koebner phenomenon and a particular type of psoriasis.

The Koebner Phenomenon

Avoiding skin trauma may help prevent the spread of psoriasis because scratches, burns, and other types of injury can lead to the Koebner phenomenon. The Koebner phenomenon occurs when a person’s skin responds to damage from a sunburn, an insect bite, an irritant, excessive scratching, cuts, tattoos, or other trauma with new scaly patches of psoriasis.

A MyPsoriasisTeam member said, “I have Koebner’s, and when I get cut or if one of my joints is hurting … Bam! I get psoriasis in that spot every time.”

Several members first noticed the Koebner phenomenon after getting a tattoo. “I got a tattoo to celebrate surviving my bone marrow transplant. It was not my first tattoo, but it caused a severe psoriasis flare-up all over my body,” one member said. “The flare-up was initially just where the tattoo was, but it’s spreading like wildfire.”

Another shared, “I went back to the tattoo parlor irate, wanting a retouch and my money back because I couldn’t figure out why it looked so bad. I thought it was bad ink or an infection. My dermatologist then explained the Koebner phenomenon to me.”

The new psoriasis lesions typically develop within 10 to 20 days after the skin injury. However, it’s possible to notice a reaction three days or as long as two years after the trauma. A simple and effective way to prevent skin issues is by using sun protection and bug repellent when you’re outdoors to shield your skin from environmental factors.

A sunburn can sometimes trigger new psoriasis lesions to develop. Using sunscreen and wearing protective clothing can help prevent sun damage and potential psoriasis flares. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 NZ/DermNet)

2. A Rare Form of Psoriasis Tends To Spread if Untreated

Sometimes, psoriasis manifests as pus-filled bumps called pustular psoriasis. This rare condition affects 3 percent of people with psoriasis. Pustules form over 48 hours, join together, and eventually burst open. The surrounding raw skin is prone to new pustules. If left untreated, the affected areas can spread and grow into a life-threatening condition.

Pustular psoriasis is a rare condition that causes pus-filled bumps called pustules to form and burst. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 NZ/DermNet)

Pustular psoriasis requires immediate attention from a health care provider. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 NZ/DermNet)

3. Diligent Skin Care Can Fend Off Flares

Taking action to reduce the spread of psoriasis isn’t much different from the approach you may take as part of your treatment regimen.

Keeping up with your usual skin care routine and avoiding psoriasis triggers are essential. You can’t prevent every flare-up, but avoiding irritants and keeping your skin hydrated, along with staying in touch with your dermatologist, will help you catch any newly affected areas. That way, new lesions; silver, purple, or red patches; and other symptoms can be treated promptly.

Topical Treatments

Along with lotions and creams to help prevent dryness and itching, topical corticosteroids can often be used to curb skin inflammation. However, applying topical steroids doesn’t appear to prevent psoriasis outbreaks due to the Koebner phenomenon.

Nonsteroid moisturizers containing ingredients such as aloe vera, capsaicin, zinc, salicylic acid, coal tar, jojoba, zinc pyrithione, and synthetic vitamin D or vitamin A may also provide psoriasis relief and general skin protection.

4. Systemic Drugs Protect Against Psoriasis Spread

Koebner’s phenomenon and other types of psoriasis spread may be inhibited by systemic psoriasis treatment, which comes as injections or pills and works throughout the entire body. Systemic treatment may include biologic medications, immunosuppressants, and others like methotrexate (Otrexup, Rasuvo, Trexall). Biologic medications work by calming an overactive immune system to address the root cause of psoriasis. Nonbiologic medications help with psoriasis in other ways, such as by slowing skin cell growth.

5. Regular Phototherapy May Be Recommended To Manage Psoriasis

Phototherapy (light therapy) uses the power of ultraviolet (UV) light to keep skin cells from growing too fast. Unlike sunlight, which contains both UVA and UVB light, phototherapy machines use just UVB light to treat psoriasis. For phototherapy, it’s important to work with professional equipment rather than other sources like tanning beds. Tanning beds use UVA light, significantly increasing the risk of skin cancer without offering benefits to treat psoriasis.

Many people with psoriasis benefit from phototherapy in their doctor’s office or at home. Maintaining a consistent light treatment schedule can help prevent psoriasis from spreading and keep flare-ups from becoming severe. A prescription is required to purchase a phototherapy machine for home use. Your dermatologist will want to monitor your skin if you’re using phototherapy, so it’s crucial to maintain regular visits and get medical advice even when your skin is doing well.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 123,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

Are you concerned about your psoriasis symptoms spreading? What steps have you taken to keep flare-ups at bay? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Updated on January 5, 2024
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Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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