Psoriasis treatment has come a long way. New medicines such as biopharmaceuticals have helped more people to have clearer skin.
But everyone with psoriasis is different. What works for one person will not always help another. A certain medicine may clear your skin for some time, then stop working. Some of them may have side effects that you find bothersome.
Women with psoriasis say it can take time and experimentation to find what’s best for you. This could mean medications, lifestyle changes, or home remedies. It can also mean adopting a new mindset — to stress less, reach out for support, and practice self-acceptance.
Biology one by one
Tammy Ceretti was diagnosed in 1996, when many doctors were still treating psoriasis as a skin condition rather than an autoimmune disease. At the time, topical medications – medicines you put on the skin – were the main treatment.
The first thing I tried was a corticosteroid oil applied to the scalp.
“You had to put it on, wear a shower cap all night, and wash it off in the morning,” Ceriti says. “It was messy. It ruined my nightgowns and sheets. And it didn’t really work for me. It removed the scales, but pulled my hair with it.”
I’ve also tried other corticosteroids and all kinds of fat lotions.
Then I started taking disease-modifying drugs. I’ve tried many biologics, drugs that block the part of the immune system that’s causing those scaly plaques.
Her one worked well – for a while. “I was completely calm,” she says. “But when it stopped working, it really stopped working.” Two years ago, her doctor suggested she switch to her current medication.
“It started in about 10 days, and it has been working since then. I went from 80% covered to 15% covered [in psoriasis]. “She was able to grow her hair above her shoulders for the first time in her life.
Seretti is also used as a topical, cream and scalp lotion. She uses an ultraviolet B (UVB) light stick at home.
Plus, you get relief from soaking in an Epsom salts bath. “It flatters all the scales and puts me at ease,” she says.
“In terms of my psoriasis, I’m doing an amazing job. I couldn’t be happier,” Ceriti says. “I don’t think twice anymore about wearing slippers, sleeveless, or shorts.”
She also says she doesn’t have to cancel social plans anymore because she’s too uncomfortable to get dressed. “This freedom is incredible.”
Medicines and stress relief
A small patch of itchy skin on the back of her head was Melissa Withham Voss’ first symptom. What she thought was stress turned out to be psoriasis, which her doctor diagnosed in early 1996.
I’ve tried many medications over the years, including steroids, methotrexate, and even gold-containing compound injections. Finally, she and her doctor found a biomaterial to work with. “After 21 years of not being 100% clear, this was the first thing that cleared me.”
But biology can eventually stop working. This is what happened to Withem-Voss after about 3 years on one drug. She is now in her fourth week of taking a different biologic medication. “So far, it helps,” she says.
As a chef, he experimented with the Withem-Voss diet, too. She finds that cutting out the bread and sugar helps her skin. “I haven’t found that any one diet has ever solved the problem,” she says. “But I feel better.”
She also meditates for half an hour before bed every night to calm the stress that’s causing her psoriasis to flare up. “It keeps me calm,” she says. “It makes me relaxed.”
Over time, she learned to live with her condition. “I was hiding,” she says. “I was covering myself.” “I’ve come to accept it about 90%.”
When Jessica Loreon noticed tiny spots on her legs and stomach in 2011, she thought they were bed bug bites. She was an actress who lived in New York City, so bugs weren’t far off. But when the spots didn’t go away, her doctor diagnosed her with psoriasis.
“I was covered from head to toe,” she says. “From the top of my scalp all the way to my feet.” I tried a steroid ointment before taking a biologic medication. “After about 6 months, I was remarkably filtering,” she says.
Eventually she was also diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. Her doctor put her on the anti-rheumatic drug methotrexate, which helped with both cases.
But in the back of her mind, Loreon was worried. She wanted to start a family, and methotrexate is not safe for a growing child. Her rheumatologist told her she could go on a safe biologic medication for pregnancy, but “I was scared,” she said. “You hear these commercials with all these side effects.”
Lorion began experimenting with food. After doing some research, “I made the decision to go on an elimination diet, to make my body as strong and healthy from the inside out as possible,” she says.
For the first 30 days, I followed a strict regimen. Contains no gluten, dairy, caffeine, processed foods, sugar, grains, or most oils. Then I slowly started reintroducing foods. Today, she still avoids gluten, dairy, artificial sweeteners, and processed foods.
She says the diet helped her eliminate most of her medication. “At this point, I’m on the lowest dose,” she says. “I only have a few [of psoriasis] On my elbows and heels, but it’s under control.”
She started with a podcast, called Mamas in Training, to share her journey with an autoimmune disease and help other moms stand up for themselves.
“It’s my way of helping others and helping myself stay in a positive mindset,” she says.
Medication – a powerful support system
Being outdoors, Vicki Wilkerson mistakenly thought her first patch of psoriasis was poison ivy. That was 18 years ago. At the time, topical substances such as coal tar were her main treatment option.
“In my opinion, coal tar is the absolute worst,” she says. “The smell, the fat — it just ruined your clothes. It was horrible.”
The psoriasis eventually spread to so much of her body that her doctor put her on methotrexate. But she says the side effects have been “horrific.” “I would be so nauseous. I couldn’t even try to lift a glass of water. I was so exhausted.”
Then I tried biology after the biological. One cleaned her hands but not the rest of her hand. Another work for a year and a half, then stopped. The third helped her with her psoriasis, but she developed stomach issues while there.
She says her skin is almost completely clear in her latest bio. “In the 18 years that I’ve had psoriasis, I’ve never been clear before. To finally be in something that works is amazing,” she says.
You also watch what you eat and listen to music to relax. She credits her powerful support system with helping her through the toughest times. Her biggest sources of support are her husband, children, and people she has met through the National Psoriasis Foundation.
“I turn to them when things are bad or I’m on a flare because they understand what I’m going through,” she says.