As you all (might) know, in addition to being a transitioner, blogger, awesome girlfriend (haha), and wellness enthusiast, I am also a psoriasis sufferer. Gosh, that sounds worse than it actually is. But anyway, I make mention of that because there are several challenges that confront those of us who have psoriasis, especially on our scalps. Because of frequent flaking and scaling, scalp-revealing styles are embarrassing. Long-term protective styling is impractical (read: braids, weaves, even bunning in some cases), because scales surface every 2-4 days and require frequent lifting/washing from the scalp. This leads to high manipulation, increased likelihood of breakage. Because the scales itch, there is a greater chance that sufferers will scratch plaque sites — causing potential damage to the skin/scalp, and making the site of the skin break more prone to infection and hair loss. On top of those concerns and many, many, more, psoriasis sufferers must be on their toes treatment-wise. Because it adapts quickly, treatments and solutions have to be rotated regularly to maintain effectiveness.
In a previous article, we discussed the effectiveness of oils, solutions, shampoos, and treatments on scalp psoriasis. While there are dozens of over-the-counter, prescription strength, and natural treatments that can be applied to the scalp, there is a growing body of research that suggests that when it comes to psoriasis (and many other conditions), what we do to, and put in our bodies is just as important as how we treat the scalp issues topically.
Let’s dive head first into some internal factors that can help or hurt those suffering from psoriasis. Sidebar: non-sufferers can benefit too!
Please note that I am not a doctor, or other health professional. I have dealt with psoriasis for nearly 12 years, and the information I present comes from my own journey and experiences. As with anything related to natural hair, you must do what works for you. What helps me may not help you, and vice versa. This is all about sharing information :-)
1. Consuming Fish and Omega 3s: Whether you love grilled salmon, mix flax seeds in your oatmeal, or chuck a capsule, getting Omega 3s in your system is essential. Because psoriasis is an autoimmune condition and manifests itself as skin inflammation, consuming foods and supplements with anti-inflammatory properties can help counter it. Bonus: the essential fatty acid, alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) is believed to support cardiac health. I don’t eat a lot of fish, and the only flax seeds I have are for making gel (hehe). So to get my Omega 3 fix, I like to take Garden of Life Oceans 3 Beyond Omega-3.
2. Get Your A and D: Vitamins, that is…not the ointment. Vitamin A and D are crucial to skin health. Vitamin A is necessary for skin maintenance and repair. It will help prevent acne, dry skin, and support healing (if you’re a scalp scratcher like me). Vitamin D shows promise in helping to regulate auto-immune responses within the body — a direct link to slowing down psoriasis. The good thing about these two is that you don’t need to run out to Vitamin Shoppe to get them. Have some eggs, carrots, tomato, watermelon or mango to get your A Vitamins, and soak up 10-15 minutes of sun to activate the Vitamin D stored in your body. I like to get my Vitamin A fix from my multivitamins. My Vitamin D source is the gorgeous California sunshine (I love tanning in the Spring/Summer…don’t judge me). If you’re in a climate that isn’t conducive to chillin’ in the sun, you can always speak with a dermatologist about UV light treatments. Just be careful not to get sunburn like I did.
3. Apple Cider Vinegar: We naturals looooove us some ACV, don’t we? We use it to clarify our scalps, do rinses to seal cuticles, and much more. Apple Cider Vinegar is effective in pH balancing hair and scalp, and is definitely beneficial for sufferers and non-sufferers alike. However, when looking for alternative treatments for scalp and body psoriasis, ingesting ACV internally comes in to play. Just as pH balancing is important for healthy hair, it goes the same for a healthy body. As you can tell from the surge in marketing and availability of uber-expensive Alkalized Water (don’t buy it!!!), to crazy alkaline diets, it is widely believed that our bodies perform best when pH balanced. In fact, a number of theories suggest that the root of many ailments, diseases, and auto-immune conditions is an acidic pH imbalance. To bring your body back to balance, consume 1 tablespoon of ACV mixed with 8oz of water 1-3 times a day, every day for two weeks. It may take up to two weeks or a month to show some improvement. Bonus: If you want to get really scientific, test your pH before (with urine or saliva), then test it again in two weeks!
4. Work It Out: Yes, yes, yes. Exercise. Sometimes, I feel like physical activity is a cure-all…and it just might be. Not only is exercise great for your hair (hello, blood circulation and growth), it is great for reducing risk factors for hypertension, diabetes, cancer, bad credit, and more. For psoriasis sufferers, exercise and physical activity are proven stress-busters, and can also help reduce inflammation in the body. You will see a little later why that is important. But really, do you need another reason to get up and move?
1. Dairy and Fatty Red Meats: Sorry folks, this means cutting back on your beloved double cheesy burger and chocolate shake. According to several studies and sources, dairy and fatty red meats contain a sugar molecule (Neu5Gc, for those that care) that humans cannot synthesize. As a result, our cells absorb it, and the body produces antibodies against it. After a few years of ingesting dairy and fatty red meat, the antibody production may trigger a mild but continuous inflammatory immune response. What is psoriasis again? Exactly. I’m not suggesting that you swear off steaks and mac & cheese forever, but significant reduction in consumption may help. I personally stopped eating beef and drinking cow milk once I started buying my own groceries. Not for any reasons related to psoriasis or health, I just always felt they both tasted funny. But as the years have passed, I noticed that my scalp and skin psoriasis is increasingly less severe.
2. Stress: This one is a personal toughie. Our bodies stress responses are triggered by so many things — the self-consciousness that comes along with psoriasis, terrible traffic, work deadlines, screaming children, arguing with your significant other, financial woes, and the list goes on. It is practically impossible to live a stress free life. If you’ve somehow found the path to stress-free living, take your ticket and prepare for immediate ascent into heaven. Meanwhile back on Earth, the rest of us are tasked to reducing our daily stressors, and finding effective coping mechanisms. When our bodies are stressed, cortisol production raises, and alters our immune system. No coincidence here that stress can cause our bodies to retain/gain weight, and make us more susceptible to colds and other illness! Not to mention, stress can trigger hair loss…but that’s another post. Regardless of the reason for our stress, we psoriasis sufferers have to learn to get a handle on it before it harms our hair and bodies. Seeking support groups, exercise, simplifying commitments, yoga, and learning stress-management skills are all ways to help keep this beast from rearing its ugly head too often.
3. Blame it on the A-a-a-a-a-alcohol: My apologies once again. The life of a psoriasis sufferer seems so un-fun now, huh? It’s really not so bad. The truth about alcohol (in addition to killing brain cells, causing kidney and liver damage) is that it dehydrates you. It dries your skin out. This is of paramount concern to a psoriasis sufferer because dry skin is the enemy. Not only can it create a breeding ground for more scales and plaques on the scalp/skin, it dries out the already existing ones, making them more prone to cracking, damage, and infection. I gave up regular drinking a few years ago, to help support my personal health goals. I still have a glass of wine or a pomegranate margarita on occasion (once every 5-6 months or so), but the every weekend clubbing or drinking with friends at gatherings or restaurants is gone. My body, scalp, skin, and wallet all thank me for it.
4. Cigarette Smoking: Go ahead and make psoriasis condition number 845,475,981 linked to cigarette smoking. On top of cancers, lung issues, heart, and circulation problems, cigarettes have been proven to have a definite link to psoriasis severity. For those that smoke a pack or more of cigarettes per day, the risk of increased psoriasis severity doubles. For those that smoke 10 cigarettes per day or less, the risk is 30%. But for women, those that smoke or have only recently quit have a 72% likelihood of increased psoriasis severity versus nonsmokers. No time like the present to kick that habit….
What other internal checks do you use to help keep your scalp happy and healthy?