Why do so many people have psoriasis flares after holidays?
The longer you live with psoriasis, the more you start to recognize that you have to be mindful of different psoriasis triggers throughout the seasons. As the months pass, new triggers pop up and previous ones fade away. Some are more prominent in the winter—and others during the summer.
Psoriasis Triggers in Different Seasons
Fall and Winter
During the colder months, a few things happen that can make psoriasis worse. First, the air becomes less humid. For some people with psoriasis, the cold and dry air can irritate the skin and lead to a flare. Moisturizing regularly with thick creams or ointments can help overcome this.
Next, the hours of daylight become shorter and people spend less time outside. As a result, people get less sun. UVB rays (a type of ultraviolet radiation from sunlight) have an anti-inflammatory effect in small amounts, which can help people with psoriasis have fewer symptoms in the summer. The lack of UV exposure in the winter can then lead to a flare.
The next two psoriasis triggers may happen during all the seasons, but they take a unique form during the fall and winter months: stress and alcohol. Many people experience more stress during the holiday season. Some struggle with finances during the holidays; some struggle with family conflict; some struggle with bustling holiday travel. Then, there’s the stress of end-of-year projects at work, final exams for college students, and so on.
Alcohol can be a major trigger during the winter months, particularly during the holidays. Alcohol can increase inflammation, which may set the stage for a flare. Dermatologist Lindsey Bordone, MD, notes that she often sees a lot of patients after New Year’s who need help managing a flare after all the holiday drinking.
Spring and Summer
For many people, psoriasis improves as the weather warms up. There’s more sunlight and the air is more humid. However, these warmer seasons aren’t free of psoriasis triggers.
Alcohol remains a common trigger in the summer. Just like people tend to do a lot of drinking during the winter holidays, the summer brings a handful of drinking opportunities as well. Pool parties, summer cookouts, and July 4th picnics all tend to involve heavy drinking.
Although summer sun can be helpful for psoriasis, it can be harmful in large amounts. Sunburn irritates the skin and can increase the risk of a flare. (Of course, sunburn also increases the risk of skin cancer.) Experts recommend wearing sunscreen, limiting sunbathing to 15 minutes, and wearing skin-protective clothing (like wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved shirts).
Speaking of sunscreen and being out in the sun, you also need to be careful with swimming. In general, swimming can be helpful for psoriasis. However, some people may experience dry skin after spending a long time in a chlorinated pool. After swimming, it’s a good idea to rinse off and moisturize right away to prevent flares.
Finally, summer is the season for insect bites. Bug bites can cause inflammation (hence the red, swollen spots they leave on the skin). Some people may notice a flare about 10 to 14 days after spending an evening with uninvited mosquitos. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants when you know mosquitos will be an issue.
Talk to Your Doctor for More Help
Whether you’re having flares 365 days a year or just during certain seasons, talk to your doctor about your psoriasis triggers. They may have tips for managing your psoriasis, such as trying phototherapy with UVB light during the winter months. You might also notice that you’re less sensitive to triggers once you find the right treatment for you.
Lindsey Bordone, MD, is a dermatologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
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- Life with psoriasis. Portland, OR: National Psoriasis Foundation. (Accessed on June 25, 2021)
- Prevent mosquito bites. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019. (Accessed on June 25, 2021)