Around 7.5 million Americans suffer from psoriasis, a chronic inflammatory disease of the immune system that causes the skin cells to grow at an accelerated rate. It usually occurs on the scalp, knees, elbows, hands and feet, but can appear anywhere on the body.
Far more than just a physical condition, psoriasis can cause feelings of self-consciousness, impact every aspect of a person's life and influence everyday decisions people who don't have psoriasis don't have to think twice about, such as the clothes they wear. Certain styles and fabrics may aggravate the affected skin, while others are much more comfortable.
Dr. Tien Nguyen, a dermatologist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, recommends soft, breathable fabrics for people with psoriasis and advises against wearing itchy clothing. "Anything that causes sweat or irritation of psoriatic plaques can worsen the condition," she warns.
As a general rule, natural is good and synthetic is bad when it comes to psoriasis. Common synthetic fabrics include polyester, nylon and elastane. Check the garment labels before you buy.
Here are three fabrics that should be staples in your wardrobe if you have psoriasis.
The higher the cotton content in a fabric, the more comfortable it will be next to the skin — and comfort is key for people with psoriasis. As a soft, breathable fabric, cotton should be the top choice for someone with psoriasis (or very dry or sensitive skin).
Dr. Delphine Lee, a dermatologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, highlights an Italian clinical trial comparing the effect on plantar psoriasis of socks containing a synthetic fiber with standard cotton socks. The trial showed no difference between the two fabrics, yet patient global satisfaction was statistically lower for the socks containing synthetic fiber.
Modal, a type of rayon, is a manufactured fiber, but is not synthetic — it’s made from wood pulp, a naturally occurring raw material. Modal is an ideal fabric for people with psoriasis because it is lightweight, smooth, soft and extremely breathable. It is similar in texture to cotton, but less likely to shrink, fade or pill. Look for undergarments and workout clothes made of modal, as they wick moisture away from the skin and dry faster in heavy sweating conditions. Often, people with psoriasis, particularly inverse psoriasis — lesions under the armpits, on the groin, under the breasts and in other natural folds of the body — find sweating a trigger because it stimulates itching and scratching of the skin and worsens psoriasis symptoms.
Breathability is an important factor, but it's not the only consideration. For example, linen is a very breathable fabric, but it can be uncomfortable against patches of psoriasis because of the uneven, slightly raised surface. Silk, on the other hand, is cool and soothing, even during flare-ups, because it has great moisture-wicking properties, helps to regulate body temperature, is hypoallergenic and doesn't create static, so it won't cling to the skin.
As well as breathable fabrics, opt for loose, comfortable styles. "People with psoriasis may find physical friction from tight clothing irritating," says Lee. "It is also important to be aware of fabrics that are irritating on an individual basis, for example, some people find wool to be very itchy. It is best to avoid fabrics that cause any irritating symptoms, particularly during flare-ups."
Finally, when washing clothes, use dye-free, unscented laundry detergent.
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