The name of the game? There’s no need for shame.
Having any chronic disease can add overwhelming challenges to your life. After all, there may be frequent doctor visits, regular treatment, itching or discomfort, and other lifestyle changes. If you have psoriasis, you may struggle with an additional layer of burden: The stigma that comes with a visible skin condition.
Spoiler Alert: Psoriasis Isn’t Contagious, So What’s With the Stigma?
Studies have shown that psoriasis can be highly stigmatizing (at nearly the same level as herpes!). This may be due to the common and harmful myth that the condition is infectious or contagious. People might avoid someone with psoriasis, as though they're “dirty” or “contaminated." It can feel lonely, shameful, and difficult to maintain relationships of all kinds.
Many patients with psoriasis have experienced some sort of bullying or discrimination. This may happen at work, social events, or in other public places—like a public swimming pool, in an airplane, or a hair salon. Studies have shown that almost 40 percent of people didn’t even want to shake hands with someone with psoriasis (pre-COVID-19) due to fear of “catching it.”
Dispelling Myths That Add to Stigma
Popular (and at times inflammatory) celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Leanne Rhymes, and Cara Delevigne—women who're known for their looks and baring skin—have recently opened up on social media about having psoriasis. They’ve helped educate their millions of followers, bust certain myths, make others feel less alone.
You can apply this to your own life (and you don’t need social media to do it). Educating people around you about psoriasis, and matter-of-factly telling them that it’s not contagious, may help reduce stigma.
Have conversations with close friends to reduce your embarrassment or awkwardness and allow them to show you compassion and empathy. They can help you nip it in the bud if they witness any bullying or hear myths from their own social circles. This not only helps you—it may also help make it easier for others who suffer.
How to Avoid Letting Psoriasis Affect Your Self-Esteem
Psoriasis can really affect your self-confidence because it's something on your skin that everybody can see. It can affect the way that you view yourself and the way that you think that others are viewing you. Even if you know (and they know) that it’s nothing to be ashamed of, everyone wants to look and feel their best.
- Visible plaques may cause self-consciousness
- The discomfort of plaques could draw more attention (and generally affect your mood)
- Some people think the plaques are contagious and they may treat you like you’re “contaminated”
- The plaques may be in awkward places, such as the genitals
- It may feel like nobody (especially peers) understands them
But remember: People are pretty self-absorbed. Your peers are probably thinking less about you than you think. As the saying goes, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind." Try repeating positive affirmations to yourself as a reminder that you are not your skin condition, and it’s A-OK to be a “flaw-some” human.
Here are some more hacks to reduce the effect of psoriasis on your self-esteem:
- If you’re worried about a dark flake or white flakes that show up on their clothing, try wearing similarly colored clothing so it’s less noticeable.
- If you’re self-conscious of your plaques, choose clothing that covers them altogether. For example, wear long-sleeved garments, tights, and layers. Use light and breathable fabrics if it’s warmer outside.
- Certain fabrics are gentler on the skin than others. Stick with 100 percent cotton, bamboo, or silk, and avoid synthetic fabrics. They could have chemicals that exacerbate your symptoms.
- Stick to your treatment regimen. It can be tedious to get used to at first, but when you find the right psoriasis treatment for you, you should be able to achieve clearer skin. Consistency is key and can help build your confidence.
If you're having trouble coping with the stigma of psoriasis, it's important to talk to your family and friends. Maintain an open dialogue with them about what you’re feeling and experiencing. Your feelings are valid and you are not alone. Plus, there are support groups available through the National Psoriasis Foundation (which even has a podcast called Psound Bytes!), and you can also talk to your doctor about treatment or therapy.
Heather Summe, MD, is a dermatologist in New York City. Dr. Summe is the Chief of the Division of Dermatology at Lenox Hill Hospital. She is also an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.
- Life with Psoriasis. Alexandria, VA: National Psoriasis Foundation, 2020. (Accessed on May 25, 2021)
- Donigan J, MD. Pascoe V, MD. Kimball A, MD, MPH. Psoriasis and herpes simplex virus are highly stigmatizing compared with other common dermatologic conditions: A survey-based study. JAAD. 2015 September; Volume(73):525-526.