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Is Psoriasis Contagious?

Medically reviewed by Steven Devos, M.D., Ph.D.
Written by Victoria Menard
Updated on March 12, 2024

People living with a chronic skin condition like psoriasis sometimes face misunderstandings from friends, family, co-workers, and strangers as to the nature of their condition. One common misperception is that psoriasis is contagious.

“A little girl came up to me and asked if I was contagious,” wrote one MyPsorasisTeam member, while another noted, “A lot of people think it’s contagious and move away from you.”

Psoriasis is not contagious. A person cannot catch it by touching someone with psoriasis, even if they are in a flare state with visible symptoms. However, fear of contagion is a stigma that has real impacts on people living with psoriasis.

Here, we will discuss how a person may develop psoriasis. We’ll also examine the social, emotional, and professional effects of misunderstandings and stigma surrounding this skin disease.

What Is Psoriasis? How Does a Person Develop It?

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells (in this case, the skin cells). This overactive immune response leads to inflammation and faster production of skin cells.

In people with psoriasis, the skin builds up more quickly than it can shed. This buildup of skin cells results in characteristic patches of thick, scaly skin known as plaques (seen in plaque psoriasis). Discoloration associated with psoriasis can vary, depending on skin color. It can be red or pink in people with lighter skin and purple or dark brown in those with darker skin.

Plaque psoriasis may appear as raised pink or reddish lumps. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 NZ/DermNet)

In darker skin tones, psoriasis may appear as brown or purplish patches of skin with silvery scales. (CC BY-SA 4.0/Masryyy)

Dermatology experts are not sure exactly why certain people develop psoriasis. It is believed that psoriasis causes include several factors, including genetics and environmental factors. Different circumstances can trigger psoriasis flare-ups.

Dermatologists are certain, however, that psoriasis is not contagious. A person can’t catch psoriasis by coming into contact with someone who has the condition — even if they are experiencing a psoriasis flare-up and have visible skin symptoms. Likewise, if you have psoriasis, you can’t give it to anyone else by skin-to-skin contact or any other method of transmission.

Is Genital Psoriasis Contagious?

Genital psoriasis occurs anywhere in the genital area. Up to two-thirds of people who experience psoriasis will have it on their genitals at some point. It has the same overall symptoms as psoriasis elsewhere, including itching, pain, and split skin. The common types of psoriasis, including inverse psoriasis, pustular psoriasis, plaque psoriasis, and guttate psoriasis, can all affect your genitals.

The most difficult symptom of genital psoriasis, for 82 percent to 100 percent of people with the condition, is severe itching. For most people, this is worse than any pain or burning they might also experience.

Genital psoriasis can cause emotional upset and embarrassment. “I’ve been too embarrassed to talk about it with anyone,” one MyPsoriasisTeam member said. Another added, “It’s painful, itchy, and shame-inducing.”

The condition may also affect your feelings around intimacy. One MyPsoriasisTeam member with genital psoriasis said, “Intimacy is uncomfortable because the area is so inflamed.”

Part of the distress of living with genital psoriasis can come back to the question of whether psoriasis is infectious. To be clear, genital psoriasis is psoriasis, and it is not a sexually transmitted infection. Psoriasis is never contagious, no matter where you have it. That includes your genitalia.

The Impacts of Misunderstandings About Psoriasis

Many MyPsoriasisTeam members have experienced the impact of stigma and misunderstandings about psoriasis. Misunderstandings can cause many different feelings and, in some cases, can affect self-esteem.

Members often share that they feel uncomfortable or embarrassed when others mistake their psoriasis for a contagious disease. “It’s embarrassing,” one member wrote. “People look at you like it’s contagious.”

As another member shared, “It makes me sad when I reach for change or something and people don’t want to touch me because they think it is contagious.”

Yet another shared that they had a similar experience: “I had one cashier that didn’t want to give my change back — she saw my hands and froze.” Another said, “Most people think that it’s contagious and back away from me even after I tell them that it is not contagious.”

These interactions cause some people living with psoriasis to avoid socializing or going out in public: “I stay in,” wrote one member, “because when I go out, people stare at me like I’m contagious.”

Another shared that their psoriasis symptoms make them “want to be a hermit crab and not leave my house because I feel like everyone’s staring at me like I have some kind of nasty contagious disease.”

Some people with psoriasis decide to cover up their lesions with clothing or makeup. One member who did this said, “I don’t even feel comfortable going out in shorts because of my skin. People stare like it is contagious.” As one member explained, this can become tiring, but the alternative feels just as difficult: “Just tired of wearing makeup to hide my sickness. Then, when I decide not to wear it, people look at you like you have the worst contagious skin and move away from you.”

Some MyPsoriasisTeam members find that misconceptions about psoriasis follow them to work, in some cases even affecting their jobs. One member shared the following: “I had my current job for just over 5 months, and my boss only just noticed my skin today. He asked me if I was contagious, then sat on the far opposite side of the office. He may not have meant it in a bad way, but it made me feel so self-conscious and depressed.”

“I was suspended twice from my employer,” shared another member, “because they thought I was contagious.”

“My problem is that I can’t find a job,” wrote another. “They look at my resume, call me for an interview, then when I take my hands out from under the desk, they suddenly have a change of heart. They think I am contagious.”

Having Conversations About Psoriasis

It’s up to you whether you want to explain your psoriasis to others. Some people with psoriasis find that misconceptions from strangers present opportunities to spread awareness: “You could use these incidents as opportunities to educate those ignorant of psoriasis,” suggested one member. “Explain that it is not at all contagious and that it is simply areas of rapid reproduction of skin cells. We all naturally shed and reproduce skin daily. These are just overactive areas.”

That said, not everyone with psoriasis feels like educating others who are unaware of the condition. As one member put it simply, “I, too, am way too tired to keep explaining that my psoriasis is not contagious.”

Ultimately, it’s your choice — not your responsibility — to talk about your psoriasis with others.

If you want to talk about your psoriasis but don’t know how, ask your health care provider for suggestions. They can offer medical advice and direct you to other professionals who can help you find the language to explain symptoms like purple or red patches, blisters, and scaly patches.

Meet Your Team

Managing the symptoms of psoriatic disease can be a challenge. The good news? You don’t have to go it alone.

MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriatic disease and their loved ones. Here, more than 126,000 members come together to ask questions, share advice, and connect with others who understand life with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

Has your psoriasis ever been mistaken for a contagious disease? How do you handle comments from others? Share your experience and tips with others in the comments below or by posting on your Activities page.

Updated on March 12, 2024
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Steven Devos, M.D., Ph.D. received his medical degree and completed residency training in dermatology at the University of Ghent, Belgium. Learn more about him here.
Victoria Menard is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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