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When you have psoriasis, a chronic inflammatory disease, it’s completely normal to feel self-conscious about your skin. When red, scaly lesions pop up on your hands, face, or legs, they can attract unwanted attention. For some people living with psoriasis, this 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 (NPF) survey. The study also found that women are more severely impacted by the emotional and social effects of psoriasis than men. Psoriatic arthritis, a related condition which affects up to 30 percent of people with psoriasis, can also cause deformed fingers and toes, which contribute to self-consciousness.
Members of MyPsoriasisTeam say “psoriasis shame” 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, active lesions on hands, arms, and legs can trigger fear in others. “They don’t want to touch me at the nail salon,” said one 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.”
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 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 someone in a grocery store to ask, “Is it snowing outside?” “I wanted to cry,” the member reported.
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 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 reports an increase in flares on the face before interviews.
Up to two-thirds of people with psoriasis experience flares on a more hidden body part — their genitals. Because it’s rarely discussed with doctors, 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,” admitted one member. “I’m too embarrassed to date,” said another.
To avoid negative reactions, many psoriasis warriors keep their skin under wraps, even in hot weather. “I used to wear shorts in summer. Now I can't because my legs look so awful,” said one 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.
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.” Another member 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, Cindy 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 challenging skin condition. “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.”
Left untreated, severe psoriasis can have a deep psychological impact on family and social relationships, work, education, self-esteem, and overall quality of life. Seeking proper treatment for the physical symptoms of psoriasis and support for mental stress can be life-changing.
Treating and clearing psoriasis lesions can help people break out of the embarrassment shell. One MyPsoriasisTeam member who achieved clear skin with proper 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.”
Because psoriasis can lead to depression, treatment is critical. It may require collaboration between a dermatologist and a psychologist to address both the physical and mental effects of the condition. Successful treatment of physical symptoms often leads to improvement in psychological effects — such as depression, alcohol dependence, or a behavioral disorder.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in treating the psychological impact of psoriasis by changing behavior and belief systems around the disease. A free guide from the Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Alliance (PAPAA) can help you get started addressing the fear, worry, and doubts that accompany living with a chronic skin condition.
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.
By joining MyPsoriasisTeam, the social network and online support group for those living with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, you gain a support group more than 75,000 members strong. Embarrassment and psoriasis is a frequently discussed topic.
How do you cope with embarrassed feelings about psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis? What would you tell others who are feeling embarrassed? Share your comments below or go to MyPsoriasisTeam today to start the conversation.