“What is psoriasis?” might seem like a pretty straightforward question—it’s a skin condition that causes raised bumpy patches, right? Not quite, actually. Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes issues with the skin. And it’s so much more than the physical symptoms you probably associate with it. For one, there are several different types of psoriasis and each person’s experience with the condition is unique. Moreover, psoriasis’s impact is more than skin-deep, with the potential to cause everything from painful psoriatic arthritis to serious self-image issues.
Before we dive in, let’s cover the basics: Psoriasis causes the skin to regenerate more quickly than normal. Typically, your skin cells go through a cycle known as cell turnover, starting deep in your skin and slowly rising to the surface. Usually, this takes about a month, but according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, it can take only a few days when you have psoriasis, causing the skin cells to rise too fast and pile up on the surface of your skin. Because of this, people who have psoriasis—about 7.5 million people in the U.S., per the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD)—can have flare-ups that cause the characteristic itchy, scaly skin patches to show up on their skin.