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Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes dry, flaky skin. Find out more about the symptoms, treatments and what you can do.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a skin condition which causes patches, or ‘plaques’, of well-defined red, flaky, scaly skin. The most common areas are elbows, knees and scalp, but the rash can appear anywhere on the body.

Psoriasis is a chronic condition, so most people affected will suffer with flare-ups of psoriasis at various points throughout their lives. They may have very mild, or no symptoms, in between these flares. Psoriasis is not contagious.

What are the symptoms of psoriasis?

  • Patches of red or pink skin (sometimes described as ‘salmon pink’)

  • Thickened skin which forms ‘plaques’

  • Flaking, dry skin

  • Silvery scale effect overlying the red/pink skin

In some people the rash can be itchy.

Some forms of psoriasis also involve nail changes. Nails may develop small pits, dents or ridges, or become discoloured.

Psoriasis can also affect the joints, with some patients developing joint swelling, stiffness and pains.

Sometimes, psoriasis rashes can become infected. If this happens you may develop weeping patches of skin, yellow crust or swelling around the rash.

What causes psoriasis?

It’s not known exactly why psoriasis develops, but it’s thought to be down to the immune system causing skin cells to be produced and replaced more rapidly than normal. Psoriasis is more likely to occur if the skin is dry, cracked, broken or damaged.

Common psoriasis triggers include:

  • Stress

  • Excessive alcohol intake

  • Smoking

  • Hormonal changes

  • A throat infection, although only in some cases

How to treat psoriasis

For most cases of psoriasis, topical treatments are the only form of treatment needed.

Emollients (moisturisers) should be applied to affected skin regularly. This is particularly important during a psoriasis flare-up, but you should also keep a good, consistent emollient regime to prevent triggering a flare-up in the first place.

If emollients are not helping, other topical treatments can be prescribed by a GP. These include vitamin D analogue creams, steroid creams, coal tar preparations and calcineurin inhibitor creams.

For more severe psoriasis, a GP would refer you to a dermatologist. Specialist treatments for psoriasis include phototherapy (light therapy), and oral or injected medication that can moderate the immune system.

When to see a GP

A GP will usually be able to diagnose psoriasis in a clinical examination. If there’s doubt about what it might be, a small skin sample can be taken for analysis.

See a GP if:

  • Your psoriasis is not improving despite regular use of emollient creams

  • Your psoriasis becomes infected

  • Your psoriasis is affecting your daily life or mental health

  • You have psoriasis and also develop joint swellings or pains

Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

Lead GP at Livi

Last updated: