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Sometimes, issues that show up on the surface of your skin have deeper roots—especially if you have a chronic health condition. For example, if you have psoriatic arthritis (PsA)—an inflammatory condition that impacts your joints and your skin—you might notice scaly, itchy lesions that actually stem from underlying immune-system inflammation.
And while an inflammatory health condition can be chronic (read: not something that goes away overnight), there are steps you can take at home to keep your skin healthy and keep inflammation at bay.
Here’s what dermatologists, rheumatologists, and other experts recommend. And just remember: If you’ve tried home remedies and things aren’t getting better, if you notice skin symptoms getting worse, or if you simply want a medical opinion, see a dermatologist.
1. Cut Back On the Processed Foods
A nutritious diet is a big part of keeping overall inflammation at bay. In fact, healthy eating plans such as the Mediterranean diet—which is packed with fruits, vegetables, legumes, and olive oil, and is low in processed foods—have been linked with lower inflammatory markers in the body.
Your gut (and, in turn, your whole body) is affected by what you eat, says Siddharth Tambar, M.D., a board-certified rheumatologist in Chicago. “Consuming highly processed foods full of excess sugar and fat with chemicals that the human body is not traditionally accustomed to will lead to more inflammation throughout your system,” he says. “Eating a clean diet with fresh foods will reduce the inflammatory burden your body is facing.”
2. Head Outdoors
Doctors are quick to point out that, in general, skin conditions such as psoriasis improve in the summer. “UVB light from the sun is known to help treat psoriasis,” says Dr. Tambar. But there’s always a fine line between getting enough sun (and the vitamin D it provides) and adequately protecting your skin from harmful UV rays.
Talk with your dermatologist about the best way to balance sun protection and psoriasis, says Anca D. Askanase, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons in New York City. The National Psoriasis Foundation recommends that you wear a physical sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that’s at least SPF 30. But avoid using sunscreen on open or inflamed skin.
Six-hundred international units (IU) is enough to maintain health but experts often recommend 800 to 1,000 IU, especially if you’re deficient, which can be determined via a blood test.
Not somewhere sunny? Try eating foods high in vitamin D like salmon, which has 441 IU, tuna, which has 227 IU, and egg yolks, which have 218 IU.
3. Thoroughly Hydrate
To soothe your skin (and any underlying inflammation), don’t discount the power of plain old H2O. “Water is essential in all cell functioning including healing and lowering inflammation,” explains Julie Chen, M.D., an integrative medicine doctor based in San Jose, CA. “There are many cell processes that help with cell damage recovery and water is essential in those.” For most people that means drinking about 15.5 cups of fluids a day for men and 11.5 for women. Keeping an eye on your urine (it should be pale or a very pale yellow) is another good indicator.
And while overall hydration is important, so is hydrating your skin. Skin has a natural barrier that keeps it healthy, and moisturizing helps maintain that barrier, says Dr. Chen. “If the barrier is dry and broken, it’s easier to let infections in and also for inflammation to do more damage.” When it comes to a moisturizer, look for allergen-free options. Vitamin E is one ingredient that can help with skin healing if you have any scars from skin breaks, Dr. Chen says.
Or consider using an emollient (a thicker ointment or cream)—most can be chilled in the fridge for added anti-inflammatory benefits when applied, explains April Armstrong, M.D., chair of the National Psoriasis Foundation Medical Board, and associate dean for clinical research at Keck School of Medicine at University of Southern California.
If your symptoms are getting in the way of your day to day, see your dermatologist. “Dermatologists can provide you with prescription-strength medications that will go to the root of the inflammation,” says Dr. Armstrong. Topical prescription steroids can also help cracked, flared-up skin heal faster and avoid infections, adds Dr. Chen.
4. Get More Rest
Some research finds that even relatively modest sleep deprivation can delay wound healing. “Sleep allows your body to heal and naturally lowers inflammation,” says Dr. Chen.“It’s so physiologically important that it is an essential part of our every day.”
It’s not always easy, but try to aim for seven to nine hours of sleep a night. One helpful tip: Cut out screen time a few hours before bed. It’s not just the blue light that can keep you up, but also the dopamine rush from watching videos on repeat. So keep your computer, iPad and phone away from your bed—and even out of your bedroom entirely— so you can wind down in a screen-free environment. Your body will thank you in the morning.
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