When you have psoriasis, it’s completely normal to feel self-conscious about your skin. Scaly lesions that pop up on your hands, face, or legs can attract unwanted attention. For some people, living with this chronic inflammatory skin condition can erode confidence and even lead to social isolation and depression.
As many as 60 percent of people with psoriasis say the skin disease has reduced their quality of life, according to a National Psoriasis Foundation survey. The study also found that women report being more severely impacted by the emotional and social effects of psoriasis than men.
Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is a related condition that affects up to 30 percent of people with psoriasis, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. PsA also cause changes to joints in fingers and toes, which may contribute to self-consciousness.
Members of MyPsoriasisTeam say psoriasis has affected their self-confidence, relationships, careers, and even the desire to leave the house. “I grew up feeling ugly because I didn’t have beautiful, perfect skin,” shared one member.
“Self-consciousness has been a constant ‘friend,’” lamented another. “Psoriasis stops me from dating or looking for a new job,” said a third member.
“I’ve kept it hidden from family and close friends for 34 years,” one member said. “It has impacted my life in very negative ways.”
Members of MyPsoriasisTeam often discuss the social challenges of living with a visible condition that is misunderstood by many. Here are some of their most common shared experiences.
Although psoriasis is not contagious, lesions on hands, arms, and legs can trigger fear in others. “They don’t want to touch me at the nail salon,” said one MyPsoriasisTeam member. “People think I have an infectious leg disease,” shared another.
“I heard family members whispering that I had head lice!” revealed another member. Even after explaining her psoriasis symptoms, one member said, “People are still sorry for me. It’s as if they see it as a death sentence.”
One survey conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania asked 198 people to view images of people with psoriasis. More than 27 percent of the participants believed that psoriasis is contagious. Many study participants also said they did not want to shake hands with the people in the images or have them in their homes.
Children and adults with various types of psoriasis — including guttate, pustular, and plaque psoriasis — are often subjected to hurtful comments about their skin. “They called me ‘Scabie Baby’ and ‘Chicken Pox Boy’ in grade school, which did in my self-confidence,” recalled one MyPsoriasisTeam member. “I’ve never been the same.”
Another said, “The mean girls in junior high school nicknamed me ‘Fungus.’” One member’s scalp psoriasis prompted a stranger in a grocery store to ask, “Is it snowing outside?” “I wanted to cry,” the member reported.
A group of researchers conducted 62 interviews with people who have acne, psoriasis, or atopic eczema. The interviewees revealed that taunting, bullying, and teasing were all commonly experienced. Another study of people with psoriasis found that 27 percent of participants reported strangers had made rude remarks about their appearance.
Feeling self-conscious about psoriasis can affect relationships with co-workers and job performance, particularly among women. “People at work are noticing,” shared one concerned MyPsoriasisTeam member.
“A bad psoriasis experience at work knocked out my confidence,” revealed another. “Everyone thinks I don’t clean my hair,” shared one member about reactions to her flaking scalp.
Even job hunting can be challenging. One member reported an increase in flares on the face before interviews.
One survey of 787 people with psoriasis found that 55 percent of participants believed their career progression was limited by their disease, while 35 percent of participants reported that psoriasis reduced their earning potential. Treatments can also affect the ability to work, and 37 percent of the study participants reported losing between three and 10 work days in the previous three months for doctors’ visits and treatments.
Up to two-thirds of people with psoriasis experience symptoms on their genitals, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation. People with genital psoriasis report a greater impact on quality of life than those with lesions in other areas. “I have it around the edge of my penis. Very embarrassing,” shared one member of MyPsoriasisTeam. “I’m too embarrassed to date,” said another.
A review of 28 studies on 52,520 people with psoriasis, published in JAMA Dermatology, found that between 40 percent and 55 percent experienced sexual dysfunction. Having depression, anxiety, genital psoriasis, or psoriatic arthritis increased the chances.
To avoid negative reactions, many people with psoriasis cover their skin, even in hot weather. “I used to wear shorts in summer. Now I can't because my legs look so awful,” said one MyPsoriasisTeam member. Another member added, “I’m always covered with long sleeves and pants.”
For many members of MyPsoriasisTeam who are uncomfortable in public or tired of explaining their disease to others, it’s easier to stay home. “I rarely do the things I love anymore,” said one member. “I'm just happy to be home where no one’s looking at me like I'm diseased,” said another. “I just want to stay home and not have to cover up. It’s soooo depressing!” shared a member.
These feelings are not uncommon. One study of 84 people with psoriasis found that many experienced social isolation and loneliness, which can lead to anxiety and depression.
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Coping with the social challenges of psoriasis is as important as treating the condition itself. Members of MyPsoriasisTeam share how they’ve learned to be happy and healthy in their own skin.
Learning to accept that you’re more than your physical appearance is an important first step to improving quality of life. For many members, the realization often comes after a lifetime of living with the disease. “As I approach my 60th birthday — and my 35th year with psoriasis — I no longer care about hiding out,” one member said.
Another said, “I no longer care if I show my psoriasis. I’ve gotten past the stage of embarrassment and realized that it’s part of me. What others think doesn't bother me anymore.”
You’re not alone. Many celebrities and models — including Kim Kardashian West, Cyndi Lauper, and LeAnn Rimes — have opened up about their struggles with psoriasis. One MyPsoriasisTeam member finds inspiration in Canadian model Winnie Harlow, who has vitiligo, another skin condition that can cause feelings of embarrassment. “She’s gorgeous and carries on regardless. A model for us all.”
Because cosmetics can irritate psoriatic skin, finding the right makeup takes trial and error. Some members first apply hydrating coconut oil or redness-reducing moisturizers on dry, flaky skin.
“I use E45 Cream (a moisturizer), then liquid foundation and a primer,” said one member. “I’m no longer stressed or worried about wearing shorts.”
Psoriasis can have a deep psychological impact on family and social relationships, work, education, self-esteem, and overall quality of life. Successful psoriasis treatment can involve treating the physical aspects of the disease, as well as caring for your mental health and well-being. You may work with both your dermatologist and a psychologist to best manage your overall health.
Treating and clearing psoriasis lesions can help people break out of the embarrassment shell. One MyPsoriasisTeam member who achieved clear skin with medications wrote, “There are ways to put this disease in remission. One just has to be patient, have a good dermatologist, and follow treatment protocol. Thankfully, I am 99.9 percent free and clear and can wear whatever I wish.”
Successful treatment of physical symptoms can often ease the psychological effects of psoriasis. A free guide from the Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Alliance can help you get started addressing any fear, worry, or doubts that accompany life with a chronic skin condition.
Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective in treating the psychological impact of psoriasis by changing behavior and belief systems around having a chronic health condition. Other kinds of therapy, such as mindfulness or meditation-based therapy, can also help those living with psoriasis. Techniques such as emotional disclosure — where a person writes or speaks about their experiences and feelings — can be beneficial.
Members of MyPsoriasisTeam recommend leaning on friends and family who “get it” for support during trying times. “Your true friends will understand and will keep loving you,” said one member.
“I have psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. It gets easier as time goes on — and having a good support group helps,” shared another.
MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 108,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis.
Have you ever felt embarrassed by your psoriasis? What has helped you? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyPsoriasisTeam.