Some people with psoriasis experience worsened flare-ups (also called flares) in the winter. As one MyPsoriasisTeam member wrote, “I was never able to sleep at night and suffered horribly (especially in winter months). We lived in Chicago, Illinois, and the winters were brutal for me.”
If you find that your psoriasis symptoms — such as itching, flaking, or discoloration — worsen in the colder months, you’re not alone. Luckily, there are some things you can do to feel better and help ease flares in the winter. Here’s what you need to know to understand your psoriasis better and live well with it — no matter how low the temperatures outside.
Researchers have studied the effects of winter weather on psoriasis — with varying results. Some scientists have determined that psoriasis can worsen during the winter months, but only for some people with the skin condition.
One systematic review of studies found that about half of people with psoriasis didn’t experience symptom changes related to the weather. Among those who did, some found that their symptoms worsened in the colder months. One study in particular found winter to be a common trigger of psoriasis symptoms. That said, others with psoriasis actually experience worse symptoms in the summer. Additionally, some people find that daily changes in weather affect their psoriasis.
Ultimately, although your psoriasis symptoms may get worse in the winter, it is possible that winter weather may not be among your triggers.
There are several reasons why your psoriasis symptoms may worsen during the winter.
In some cases, exposure to natural sunlight has a positive effect on psoriasis symptoms. Natural sunlight is made up of ultraviolet B light (UVB) and ultraviolet A light (UVA). Both can be used in phototherapy to treat psoriasis.
During the winter, not getting enough sun can trigger a psoriasis flare. According to one study on how seasonal changes affect psoriasis, people who were exposed to more sunlight while working were less likely to experience flares when winter arrived.
Notably, however, the sun can act as a psoriasis trigger for some people. They may actually find that their psoriasis improves in the winter. Once again, each case of psoriasis is different, and you need to know your body and talk to your dermatology provider to find out what is right for you. Keeping a journal of your psoriasis may aid in detecting trends and triggers of your psoriasis.
When you’re outside during the winter months, the cold, dry air can trigger psoriasis flare-ups. When inside, heating keeps you warm, but it also dries out the indoor air — and your skin.
The exact connection between dry air and psoriasis is unknown, but it remains a trigger for a number of people with the condition. “It’s been very hard,” wrote one member. “My skin reacts to the dry climate.”
Since dry skin is a major symptom of psoriasis (and causes much of the itchiness associated with it), additional dryness might worsen symptoms even more during the colder months. Dry air outdoors and the dry heated air indoors can also affect your skin barrier functions, which are already altered in psoriasis. The skin barrier’s functions include keeping out microbes, chemicals, toxins, and allergens and retaining moisture.
Stress is a significant trigger for psoriasis flares. In fact, being stressed out may even cause specific immune system reactions that then cause psoriasis flares.
As one member explained, “I am finding that the itching is so bad right now, probably because I’m stressed.” Another added, “Good stress is still stress, and your body will react accordingly.”
Unfortunately, winter can be a source of stress in a number of ways. Illnesses like the flu tend to be more common in the winter, and certain illnesses (including streptococcal infections, or strep) can cause psoriasis flares. This may occur because the sickness triggers an immune system response or because it causes stress, which then triggers the immune system. Given that psoriasis results from an altered immune system, any illness or stress that affects your immune system can trigger a psoriasis flare.
When you need to clear snow, drive in storms, and deal with harsher temperatures and weather, you may experience more stress than usual. The holidays are also a common source of stress, even if you enjoy them. Traveling, facing financial obligations, having out-of-town visitors, visiting others, and other stressors may trigger the immune system, prompting your psoriasis to flare.
In these cases, it may seem like colder weather is causing psoriasis, but it’s actually the stress that happens to coincide with those colder temperatures. Other times, the cold weather itself can cause stress.
There are a number of things that you can do to manage your psoriasis during the winter.
Using topical moisturizer is important for people with psoriasis, as it seals moisture into dry skin and prevents flaking and cracking by restoring the barrier function of the skin. You should moisturize once a day (and more often during cold or dry weather). Pick a moisturizing skin care product that is dye-free and fragrance-free. Fragrances may smell nice, but they can irritate the skin and trigger flares.
Heavy creams, ointments, and oils are best for maximum moisturizing, although lotions can be easier for frequent application (such as after washing your hands). Try using oil before bedtime, so it doesn’t stain your daytime clothes. You can also use moisturizing cleansers instead of drying soaps.
MyPsoriasisTeam members have offered many recommendations for the best moisturizers. “I love goat milk lotions,” one member said. “These seem to absorb well, and my skin is looking a lot better in the last year.”
Other members have recommended coconut or rosehip oils. One member shared a tip for a soothing moisturizing experience: “You can keep your lotion in the fridge and apply it cold. Lovely!”
Read more about how to pick a moisturizer for psoriasis.
You may also want to drink plenty of fluids and avoid bathing in hot water (which can dry out the skin even further) to help the moisturizing process.
Phototherapy (also called light therapy) may be a particularly helpful treatment option during the darker winter months. During phototherapy, a UVB light source is passed over the body, or a UVB laser is used to treat specific areas. Some types of phototherapy use UVA light plus psoralen, an oral drug (also sold as methoxsalen).
A dermatologist can prescribe phototherapy treatment in a clinic or can provide you with an at-home unit. At-home units are useful for follow-up treatment or for people who don’t have UVB light treatment centers nearby. Phototherapy is especially useful for treating plaque psoriasis, nail psoriasis, and scalp psoriasis.
MyPsoriasisTeam members have reported varying results from phototherapy. One said, “I tried it and got a great tan, but it did NOTHING for my psoriasis.” Another member had a more successful experience: “The hospital said I was one of the worst cases they had seen. I had UVB three times a week. I had 17 sessions in total. I haven’t had UVB for over six years now, and I only get small patches that flare up when I get stressed. I highly recommend it.”
Some members also report using tanning beds as a do-it-yourself form of phototherapy: “It does help,” one member shared. “Mine clears up a lot in the summer, then I try to use sun beds about once a month through the winter.”
However, it is important to note that doctors do not recommend using tanning beds as a psoriasis treatment. Tanning beds can have the same harmful effects as too much natural sun exposure, such as skin damage and a higher risk of skin cancers like melanoma. Additionally, tanning beds mostly produce UVA light rather than UVB light (which is more helpful for psoriasis), so you likely won’t get the same healing effects with a tanning bed as with prescription treatment.
Additionally, newer biologics are quite effective at clearing the skin, reducing the need for people with psoriasis to expose themselves to the potentially harmful UV rays.
You can’t change the weather, but you can add moisture to the air in your home by using a humidifier. The National Psoriasis Foundation has given its Seal of Recognition to the Dyson Purifier Humidify+Cool Formaldehyde and the Dyson Purifier Humidify+Cool Autoreact.
As the Mayo Clinic recommends, you can use distilled or demineralized water in a regular humidifier to keep it in good condition. If you use tap water, minerals will build up in your humidifier, creating areas where bacteria can grow. For best performance, clean your humidifier with a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution every three days and change the water and filters frequently.
The key to managing stress is figuring out what works for you. You might destress by doing yoga, meditating, joining a psoriasis support group, or spending time with friends.
Once you know what helps you, practice it regularly. Build it into your schedule the same way you would an important meeting or a visit from your favorite out-of-town friend.
If you know that stressful events are coming, do your best to prepare for them. Plan for rest and things that relax you along the way, and find ways to avoid the things that stress you out the most.
If you don’t like cooking holiday meals, for instance, you can order in or plan to go out. If traveling is stressful, stay home this year, invite others to come to you, or travel during off-peak hours, so it’s not as hectic.
Are you or a loved one living with psoriasis? Consider joining MyPsoriasisTeam today. When you join the online social network for people who live with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, you can share your journey and meet others along the way who can offer advice, tips, and answers to your common questions.
Do you deal with worsening psoriasis symptoms when it gets cold outside? Have you found a way to deal with your psoriasis in the winter that prevents symptoms from getting worse? Share your thoughts or tips in the comments below or by posting on MyPsoriasisTeam.