Sign up for this email series:
People living with psoriasis sometimes face misunderstanding from friends, family, co-workers, and strangers as to the nature of their condition. One common misperception: 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.”
The fact of the matter is, 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 pervasive stigma that has real impacts on people living with psoriasis.
Here, we will discuss how a person may develop psoriasis. We will also examine the social, emotional, and professional impacts of misunderstandings and stigma surrounding the skin disease.
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 the accelerated 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 present as red or pink in people with lighter skin and as purple or dark brown in those with darker skin.
Dermatology experts are not sure exactly why certain people develop psoriasis. It is believed that several factors, including genetics and environmental factors, play a role in the condition, and varying circumstances can trigger it.
Dermatologists are certain, however, that psoriasis is not contagious. A person cannot catch psoriasis by coming into contact with a person who has the condition — even if they are experiencing a psoriasis flare-up and have visible skin symptoms. Likewise, if you have psoriasis, you cannot give it to someone else by skin-to-skin contact or any other method of transmission.
Many MyPsoriasisTeam members have experienced the stigma of misunderstandings about psoriasis firsthand. These can cause many different feelings, including depression, and in some cases, impact their 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.”
These interactions cause some people living with psoriasis to avoid socializing or going 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. 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 members find that misconceptions about psoriasis follow them to work, in some cases even impacting their ability to remain employed. One member shared the following: “I had my current job for just over five 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.”
It is ultimately up to you whether you would like 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 is your choice — not your responsibility — to talk about your psoriasis with others.
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 92,000 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 deal with comments from others? Share your experience and tips with others in the comments below or by posting on MyPsoriasisTeam.