Psoriasis is a chronic, autoimmune condition that results in the formation of thick, scaly skin patches. A person may experience itchiness, discomfort, and pain. Although cold weather can often worsen the symptoms of psoriasis, various strategies can help people manage the condition during the winter season.

Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition that affects more than 8 million people in the United States. There are many types of psoriasis, and they often have similar triggers, which can include cold weather. A number of factors in the winter season, including less sunlight and reduced humidity, may make psoriasis flares more likely.

In this article, we explore why psoriasis is worse in the winter and discuss how a person can try to control the condition in colder weather.

A person wearing gloves in the winter to reduce symptoms of psoriasis.Share on Pinterest
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Researchers do not fully understand why psoriasis is worse in the winter. However, both environmental and genetic factors may play a role.

Lack of sunlight

For some people, the lack of sunlight during winter may trigger psoriasis. UV light is present in sunlight, and it can penetrate the skin and slow skin cell growth. As UV light, in the form of phototherapy, is an effective treatment for psoriasis, sunlight will likely have a positive effect on some people with psoriasis.

Older research also suggests that sun exposure may have an immunosuppressive effect. As psoriasis is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system is overactive, sunlight may help improve psoriasis symptoms. Conversely, a lack of sunlight in the winter may lead to psoriasis flaring up.

Additionally, a 2021 study found that participants with late onset psoriasis who had occupations with more sunlight exposure reported less severe symptoms during fall or winter than those whose work did not provide as much sunlight exposure.

Low temperature and humidity

During winter, the air is typically cold and dry, and it can trigger a psoriasis flare in some people. As the air is so dry, it can cause the upper layers of skin to lose moisture. Additionally, some people may use heating systems in their homes during winter, which can also result in dry skin.

If a person’s skin becomes dry, they may experience more severe psoriasis flares. Therefore, it is important to keep the skin moisturized.

Stress and illness

Both stress and illness can also contribute toward psoriasis flares. Stress levels can fluctuate throughout the year, and they may be higher for some people during winter. Many infectious illnesses are more common during the colder months. Although the cold weather does not make a person ill, it can increase a person’s risk of contracting a virus, and some infections can trigger certain types of psoriasis, such as guttate psoriasis.

Psoriasis flares can occur anywhere on the body, but patches commonly form on the:

  • scalp
  • elbows
  • knees
  • palms
  • trunk
  • soles of the feet

People can take steps, including those below, to manage their psoriasis during the winter.

Moisturizers

As the humidity is lower in the winter, it is important that people with psoriasis keep their skin moisturized. The American Academy of Dermatology Association (ADA) recommends applying moisturizer every time after washing the hands or having a bath or shower. Doing this helps seal the moisture into the skin, and it can also help reduce itchiness and discoloration.

In the winter, it may be more beneficial to use heavier or thicker creams and ointments to ensure the sealing of moisture into the skin.

Humidifier

Using a humidifier at home can help add moisture to the air, helping combat dry skin by keeping the skin moisturized.

Baths

A person should opt for baths rather than long hot showers, which can cause skin dryness and flares.

The AAD recommends only one bath or shower a day for a person with psoriasis. Other tips include:

  • using warm water rather than hot water
  • limiting baths to 15 minutes and showers to 5 minutes
  • using a fragrance-free and moisture-rich soap or cleanser
  • washing the skin gently with the hand rather than mechanical tools, such as loofahs or washcloths
  • applying a fragrance-free moisturizer within 5 minutes of taking a shower or bath

Clothing

A person should try to stay warm during bouts of cold weather by wearing a hat, winter jacket, gloves, and waterproof boots when outside.

They should also ensure that the clothes they are wearing use soft fabrics, such as 100% cotton. These garments will place less mechanical stress on the skin than rough fabrics, which have the potential to aggravate psoriasis.

Hydration

A person with psoriasis should drink more water during the winter to remain hydrated and combat skin dryness. It is essential to maintain moisture, as impairment of the skin barrier function can occur when the humidity is low.

Stress

A person should also try to avoid or reduce stressful activities, as stress can be a trigger for psoriasis flares. A person can practice relaxation techniques and exercises, such as yoga, to combat stress and help manage their symptoms.

There is currently no cure for psoriasis. However, treatment options are available that can help manage and reduce the impact of psoriasis symptoms.

Topical treatments

The application of topical treatments directly to the skin can help reduce irritation and discoloration. These treatments may also help mediate the immune system and reduce inflammation.

Topical treatments include:

  • Topical steroids: These treatments contain steroids, such as corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory agents that help reduce inflammation, swelling, and discoloration.
  • Topical nonsteroids: Nonsteroidal topicals contain active ingredients other than steroids. These can include vitamin D analogs, vitamin D derivatives, and anthralin. These ingredients may slow skin cell growth.
  • Over-the-counter topicals: These topical treatments do not typically require a prescription, unlike topical steroids. The active ingredients usually include salicylic acid or coal tar. Salicylic acid helps with the softening and removal of scales, and coal tar can slow skin cell growth.

Systemic treatments

Systemic treatments work by exerting their effect across the whole body. They are available as liquids, pills, injections, or infusions. Some systemic treatments for psoriasis include acitretin, cyclosporine, and methotrexate.

Biologics are a type of systemic treatment that only targets specific immune cells or proteins of the immune system. These medications include:

  • tumor necrosis factor-alpha inhibitors
  • interleukin-12, -23, and -17 inhibitors
  • T-cell inhibitors

Phototherapy

Phototherapy involves exposing the skin to artificial UVB, which can mimic the positive effects of sunlight on the skin. UVB can penetrate the skin and slow skin cell growth. In this way, it can help slow the formation of skin patches and reduce irritation and inflammation.

Home remedies

As well as trying to avoid potential triggers, people can try other strategies, such as including certain foods in their diet and getting regular exercise.

Learn more about home remedies for psoriasis.

It is advisable for people to contact a doctor if their psoriasis symptoms continue to flare up during dry, cold weather. If a person has been unable to control their psoriasis during the winter season and notices a worsening of the condition, a doctor can provide advice. In some cases, they may be able to prescribe stronger treatments.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes thick, scaly patches to form on the skin. Certain events, such as the winter months, can trigger a psoriasis flare. The low temperature, reduced humidity, and lack of sunlight can all contribute to the worsening of psoriasis symptoms.

A person can try to manage their psoriasis symptoms in the winter by ensuring that they moisturize the skin regularly, take warm baths, wear appropriate clothing, and use a humidifier. They should contact a doctor if their psoriasis symptoms worsen or do not improve despite these actions.