What Is the Difference Between Dry Skin and Psoriasis?

Have you ever wondered if that dry patch of skin is a sign of more serious condition? Skin that is flaky, red, and irritated may be a sign of dryness, or it could be a symptom of psoriasis.  Since treatment varies based on the cause of the discomfort and appearance of the skin, it is important to determine if there is an underlying condition.  Generally dry skin is easier to treat and temporary, while psoriasis can be a lifelong medical condition that sometimes requires more intensive treatment.

Whether a lack of humidity or cold air is to blame, dry skin is a common condition that occurs, particularly during the winter months.  It can be exacerbated by the use of harsh products and hot showers as well as heating and air conditioning.  While dry skin can be concerning due to its appearance, it responds well to moisturizing, and often resolves rather quickly once the optimal skin care routine is in place.  Moisturizers and cosmetics that contain them prevent water from escaping as they create a protective seal.  They should be applied after washing the face or bathing so that water becomes trapped in the surface cells.  Beneficial lifestyle changes include making sure that baths and showers are lukewarm and wearing fabrics made from natural fibers that are gentle on the skin.  Cotton and silk are good choices, while wool is a common irritant.

In contrast, psoriasis requires more extensive treatment aimed at reducing inflammation and stopping the skin cell cycle that is responsible for the characteristic scaly patches.  Topical corticosteroids, oral medications, and light therapy are used in various combinations and tailored based on how each patient responds.  Since psoriasis is an auto-immune condition, an ongoing treatment plan is necessary to deal with the thick, white, silvery or red areas that can appear in large or small patches anywhere on the body.

During the normal skin cycle, cells grow and are replaced every 4 weeks, but this process is more rapid in those who have psoriasis.  Instead of the process taking weeks, it can take only a few days for skin cells to come to the surface.  This rapid movement causes them to accumulate and form thick patches on the scalp, hands, feet, elbows, or back.  While the patches can be mild, it is possible for them to come together to cover a large area of skin.

When dryness causes the skin to become red and irritated, there generally is a predictable cause such as weather or the use of the wrong products for a particular skin type.  Often when the cause is resolved, the skin returns to its normal state.  Psoriasis tends to follow a pattern of flares and remission, with possible triggers being medications, stress, injuries, and sometimes weather changes.

Skin dryness and psoriasis can cause embarrassment and discomfort, but they are separate conditions.  If flaky, irritated skin does not show improvement with lifestyle changes and use of moisturizers, it should be assessed by a physician who can determine if an underlying medical condition is the cause.

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