The Blog

Facebook, Economics and GlaxoSmithKline - Why 2013 is Not a Good Time to Have Psoriasis

August was Psoriasis Month and if ever a medical condition needed an awareness month, it's psoriasis - especially now, in 2013 - when sufferers are having a harder time than ever before.

There's never an optimum time to be covered in itchy, flaky, beacons of auto-immune over activity, but a combination of totally unrelated factors - social, business and economical - have conspired to make psoriasis more than just an incurable, painful and confidence sapping skin condition.

For starters, there's currently a global shortage of Polytar, the medicated shampoo on which many rely to relieve symptoms of scalp psoriasis. The makers, GSK, have assured customers that the product will be available from Spring 2014, but that's potentially another 8 months of misery for sufferers.

Stress, one of the main aggravating factors of psoriasis, is incredibly high too, just in general. Watch my Wallet, the consumer affairs website that I write for, conducted a survey with the help of the Debt Advisory Centre, which collated the UK's biggest sources of stress. The study revealed that 25% of the population are worried about running out of money, with Northern Ireland having the most financial stresses in that regard.

I wonder how many of that 25% have noticed a worsening in their skin. A dentist I spoke to recently told he was treating more people than ever before for enamel loss caused by night time teeth grinding - another common sign of stress - so I reckon at least a few.

The link between psoarisis and stress is well-documented. Model Cara Delevingne recently revealed that stress causes her psoriasis to flare up to the point that she's considering abondoning the catwalk all together. There is also a strong link between psoriasis and depression, with 10% of sufferers admitting to contemplating suicide because of the condition.

As someone with relatively mild psoriasis, I can only imagine what life must be like for those with chronic, severe coverage. Even though mine is easy-going and only visible when I'm mincing about on the beach - a time when I'm more concerned with hiding my less-than-toned stomach than the skin on my back, legs and arms - it is quite easy to become self conscious. My main worry is always that other people think it's self-inflicted through diet or poor lifestyle, or that it's contagious (it's not, nor is it curable).

Women seem to have it worse though. I certainly don't feel like I'm doing the world a disservice by covering up, but I know lots of women who simply can't wear what they want because of their skin. Makeup is out of the question for a lot of women too and they can't pull the old designer stubble trick to cover up any unsightly facial outbreaks.

It might sound like a classic first world problem, but imagine sitting in a hot office and not being able to wear short sleeves, dark colours or anything remotely cooling for fear that people will see your skin. Winter offers no respite either, as central heating and lack of sunshine-derived vitamin D tend to aggravate psoriasis. And then there are people who have it on their face, who have no option but to display their condition to the world whatever the weather.

Watch my Wallet receives a number of emails every week from people who've stumbled across our Polytar updates and they're heartbreaking to read - parents who can't play with their kids because of the pain, teenagers who are terrified of going to school because their flaky skin shows up on their dark uniforms, women in their early thirties who haven't been out with friends for six months because they're confidence is through the floor - this is the side of psoriasis that non-sufferers might miss.

Then there's Facebook. We live in age where you can't go to the pub without some absolute dustbin of a human taking a snap and posting it up, without permission. It's beyond annoying even when you're feeling relatively OK with yourself, but it's just plain rubbish when you're left wondering how many of your online friends will notice that your forearms look like you've crushed a packet of frazzles onto them.

But you just look vain if you ask them to take it down. Yes, you can untag yourself, but it's still there, waiting to be discovered by a friend of a friend who might silently judge you for what your lifestyle has done to your skin.

We're generally a polite bunch in the UK. I've caught people eyeing up the raw skin on my arms and normally, they've got the good manners to look away if I catch their eye. But I genuinely wish more people knew what psoriasis actually was. It's not "just a bit of dry skin," it's not self-inflicted, nor it is contagious.

But it is painful and often leads to arthritis, it is socially debilitating and the treatments - which include light therapy that leaves you with sunstroke, methotrexate, originally prescribed to treat cancer and intravenous immunosuppressants - these are certainly no picnic either. Of course, there are far, far worse conditions to have and many of those have a similar PR problem to psoriasis, such as crohn's disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, generalised anxiety disorder and many more, but life would be easier for everyone if more people knew what psoriasis was all about.