Working up a good sweat during an intense bout of exercise can feel cleansing and invigorating. But if you're living with psoriasis, that post-workout endorphin rush can be overshadowed by an uncomfortable flare-up.
While you'll want to follow the specific recommendations of your doctor, you probably shouldn't cut exercise out of your day-to-day routine. After all, regular workouts can bust stress and keep your weight in check, both of which may help control psoriasis. Indeed, an October 2018 review in Cureus recommends exercise as an adjunct treatment for the skin condition.
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To combat exercise-related psoriasis irritation, stick to a post-workout routine that can help soothe your sensitive skin.
How Exercise Affects Psoriasis
Generally, psoriasis shows up as dry, red patches on the skin that may itch, burn or hurt, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Like many other skin conditions, though, the severity of psoriasis varies from person to person.
It can also show up nearly anywhere on the body, including the torso, arms, legs, elbows, knees and even nails, depending on the type of psoriasis you have.
As a result, the type of exercise you do can be more or less painful for your skin, depending on where your psoriasis is located on your body, Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
For instance, the chlorine in a pool can dry your skin, making it more prone to flare-ups, while running or jogging can cause your skin to rub together, causing chaffing and inflammation, particularly on your inner thighs and underarms, Dr. Zeichner says.
"When you exercise, blood vessels dilate, allowing for greater circulation of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and skin," he says. "This may lead to redness of the skin and, in some cases, can make psoriasis more itchy."
However, that doesn't mean people with psoriasis should skip their favorite swimming or running workouts. Actually, vigorous exercise might actually help reduce the risk of psoriasis, according to an August 2012 study in JAMA Dermatology.The thinking is that people who exercise this way have less overall inflammation.
So, how can you counteract the drying effects of some workouts? The answer lies in a diligent post-workout skincare routine. Follow these three steps after each sweat session to help soothe your psoriasis flare-ups.
Your 3-Step Post-Workout Routine to Manage Psoriasis Flares
Step 1: Take a Warm Shower, and Keep It Brief
Showering too often can cause skin dryness. But if you exercise every day, that's kind of inevitable, right? Luckily, there are a few shower guidelines you can follow to help prevent your psoriasis from feeling painful, itchy or dry.
While you may love a super-hot shower after a grueling workout, keep the water lukewarm, Dr. Zeichner says. Keeping steam in the bathroom will help prevent dryness, too, so keep your bathroom door closed and avoid using a fan, recommends the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Also, limit your shower to five or 10 minutes.
Afterward, avoid rubbing your skin dry with your towel, Dr. Zeichner says. Instead, pat or blot your skin gently with a clean towel to avoid extra friction on your skin, especially in the areas you may have itchy or painful psoriasis patches.
Step 2: Use a Gentle Body Wash
While you're in the shower, avoid harsh cleansers, soaps or body wash products, Dr. Zeichner says. If you have any doctor- or dermatologist-recommended products, you'll definitely want to use those on your psoriasis.
If not, choose cleansers that don't dry your skin. Avoid ingredients like alcohol, alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), retinoids and fragrance, per the AAD. These ingredients can dry out your skin's natural oils, causing more itchiness, redness or a burning feeling.
"Make sure to use a gentle, hydrating cleanser that won't strip the skin or disrupt the outer skin layer," Dr. Zeichner says.
When searching for a cleanser, look for products that have the National Psoriasis Foundation's Seal of Recognition. These cleansers have been tested and are safe to use on psoriasis.
Try These Cleansers Recommended by the National Psoriasis Foundation
- CeraVe Cleanser for Psoriasis Treatment ($27.98, Amazon)
- The Grandpa Soap Co. Pine Tar Bar Soap ($27.49 for 6-pack, Amazon)
- Bioderma Atoderm Cleansing Oil ($19.90, Amazon)
Step 3: Apply a Hydrating Moisturizer ASAP
Once you've stepped out of the shower and dried off, apply a hydrating moisturizer on your psoriasis (and whole body, if you'd like) within five minutes post-shower, Dr. Zeichner says. This will help lock in hydration and prevent dryness.
Avoid moisturizers with fragrance or other harsh ingredients, like those noted above for body wash. Prioritize products your dermatologist or doctor recommends, then supplement with psoriasis-friendly products at your local drug store if you wish.
Look for lotions or creams that help prevent itching and repair skin, recommends the National Psoriasis Foundation. Some brands even make psoriasis-specific moisturizers that are free of harmful or harsh ingredients.
Try These Moisturizers Recommended by the National Psoriasis Foundation
- Aveeno Skin Relief Fragrance-Free Moisturizing Lotion ($8.54, Amazon)
- CeraVe Moisturizing Cream for Psoriasis ($19.99, Amazon)
- Gold Bond Ultimate Psoriasis Relief Cream ($9.33, Amazon)
- Harvard Health Publishing: "A Deeper Look at Psoriasis"
- JAMA Dermatology: "The Association Between Physical Activity and the Risk of Incident Psoriasis"
- AAD: "Dermatologists' Top Tips for Relieving Dry Skin"
- National Psoriasis Foundation: "Must-Have Lotions"
- National Psoriasis Foundation: "Seal of Recognition"
- Cureus: "Effects of Weight Loss on Psoriasis: A Review of Clinical Trials"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.