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How to Prep for Cold Weather When You Have Psoriasis

By Claire Gillespie
Reviewed by Allison Truong, M.D.
October 20, 2023

Fall ushers in cooler weather for much of the United States, and if you have psoriasis, this can mean more than leafless trees and higher heating bills. Although there’s no scientific evidence to explain why cold weather can trigger psoriasis flares, the National Psoriasis Association (NPF) says many people experience a worsening of their symptoms when the temperature dips.

One study, published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, found that just over half of participants had aggravation of their psoriasis condition in the fall and/or winter. “Cold weather combined with low humidity can accelerate moisture loss in our skin,” explains Tanya Nino, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group in Orange County, California.

Plus, we often crank up the indoor heat during the winter months, which can strip the skin of its natural oils. “These conditions can cause psoriasis to be more itchy and uncomfortable due to flaking, cracking, and dry skin,” Nino says.

A rise in infection rates during cold and flu season may also trigger psoriasis flares, adds Susan Bard, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Vive Dermatology, in New York City. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says psoriasis can flare two to six weeks after an infection, such as strep throat, an ear infection, or bronchitis.

6 Ways to Get Ready for Cooler Weather When You Have Psoriasis

Even though psoriasis flares can be triggered by fall and winter weather, you may be able to reduce their frequency and/or severity by adopting one or more of the following six strategies as the temperature starts to dip.

1. Make a Skin-Protecting Shower Plan

Although it may be tempting to jump into a hot shower after you’ve been out in the cold, this could exacerbate a psoriasis flare. “Frequent showering can dry out the skin, particularly with hot water, because it strips the oils from our skin,” explains Nino. She recommends sticking to one—lukewarm, not hot—shower per day.

While you’re showering, you should reach for a gentle, moisture-rich soap or cleanser formulated for sensitive skin, recommends the AAD. Now is a good time to shop for some to get you through the winter months.

2. Stock Up on the Right Moisturizing Products

Body lotions might be enough to keep your skin hydrated during warmer months, but it’s a good idea to purchase heavier creams and ointments as the temperature drops. These restore hydration and create a thicker barrier between the outside environment and your skin to stop it from drying out.

Bard recommends applying emollient creams—like Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream, CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, Aveeno Eczema Therapy Itch Relief Balm, Vanicream Moisturizing Cream, or Vaseline Healing Jelly—once or twice a day, depending on how dry your skin is.

If you have a prescription-strength topical medication, it’s often recommended to apply it on clean skin just before putting on a moisturizing cream.

3. Revamp Your Wardrobe

It’s so tempting to pile on thick wool garments before you venture out into the cold, but rough fabric can be irritating to skin, Bard says. Instead, a good choice is cotton, because it’s a soft, natural, breathable fabric. Nylon and rayon are other breathable options, but only if synthetic fabrics don’t irritate your skin.

After you’ve layered up, don’t forget to put on a winter jacket, hat, and gloves to protect your skin from chilly weather. Pay particular attention to the parts of your body that are prone to psoriasis flares. For example, if you often get outbreaks on the backs of your hands during the winter, it’s wise to wear gloves made of natural, soft fabric, like cotton.

4. Start Running a Humidifier

When the air in your home feels dry, Nino recommends using a humidifier to prevent moisture loss in your skin. There are a few different options:

  • An evaporative humidifier uses an internal fan to push the air through a damp filter; this evaporates some of the water to add moisture to the air.
  • A steam humidifier (sometimes called a steam vaporizer or warm-mist humidifier) boils water and then cools it down before releasing it into the air.
  • An ultrasonic humidifier vibrates at ultrasonic frequencies to convert water into tiny droplets and release a cool mist.

The ideal humidity level in your home is between 30 percent and 50 percent, according to the Mayo Clinic, so it’s a good idea to look for a model with a built-in hygrometer that keeps humidity at a healthy level.

5. Adjust Your Exercise Routine for the Weather

According to data from the NPF, about 30 percent of people with psoriasis also have psoriatic arthritis. This chronic inflammatory disease causes joint pain and swelling, and some people experience worse symptoms during cold weather.

To help keep your joints supple and warm, keep up your exercise regimen throughout the winter. If you tend to partake in outdoor activities that are better suited to warm weather, make plans to change up your routine as the temperature falls. For example, you may choose to join a gym or use a treadmill at home instead of running outdoors when it’s icy and slippery.

6. See Your Doctor

Checking in with your dermatologist and/or rheumatologist is always a good idea if your skin or joint symptoms flare and you’re not able to find relief. You may find that a new treatment plan or a tweak to your current one is what you need to get you—and your skin—through the cold winter months.

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