What Triggers Psoriasis?

Monday 5 October 2020
Skin Conditions
5 minute(s) read
Dr..Nick Ho

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Nick Ho, MD

on 3 November 2020

Table of Contents

I. What is Psoriasis?

II. Stress

III. Skin Trauma

IV. Medications

V. Infections

VI. Alcohol

VII. Weather

VIII. Smoking

IX. Treating Psoriasis

a. Medications

b. Light Therapy

What is Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a common skin condition that can make the skin red, itchy, and scaly. It affects around 125 million people around the world, and more than 8 million Americans. [1] Psoriasis can affect any area of the body, but it is most commonly found on the scalp, knees, elbows, and the lower back. [2]

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that occurs when genes tell the body’s immune system to attack the wrong cells. Immune system cells function as if they are fighting an infection or other foreign cells, producing chemicals that cause inflammation. [3] This then causes skin cells to grow rapidly. Rather than gradually shedding off, older skin cells build up and form thick, flaky patches of skin. [4] While skin cells usually replace themselves every 21 – 28 days, it takes approximately two to six days for this replacement in psoriasis patients. [3]

Psoriasis can develop at any time but usually starts when a patient is aged between 15 and 35. It is a chronic condition with no cure. However, psoriasis does occur in episodes that are triggered by certain factors. Keep reading to learn more about the most common psoriasis triggers and how the condition is treated using medications, such as Temovate (clobetasol) and Tazorac (tazarotene).


Stress is a very common trigger for psoriasis. Unfortunately, this can be a vicious circle as stress can trigger the condition, and psoriasis then worsens this stress. Stress increases body inflammation, which can trigger an outbreak. Women, in particular, seem to be more affected by stress-related psoriasis. [4]

A woman chewing on her pencil as she works

Psoriasis patients should do their best to reduce stress where possible. Yoga, deep breathing, and other forms of meditation can be helpful for relieving stress.

Skin Trauma

Any form of skin trauma can trigger a psoriasis outbreak near the area. This includes even minor injuries, such as cuts, scrapes, or bites as well as deliberate trauma like tattoos or piercings. This type of trigger is known as the Koebner phenomenon. Around 25 percent of psoriasis patients have this trigger. Unfortunately, it is unknown how this causes psoriasis episodes. [5]

While it is impossible to avoid all damage to your skin, psoriasis patients should try their best to avoid any trauma. This can include taking additional care when shaving, wearing long sleeves outside, and avoiding tattoos, piercings, and acupuncture.


Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition. Any medication that affects the body’s immune system may trigger a severe psoriasis episode. Common medications may cause an attack, including beta-blockers (which are used for high blood pressure and heart disease), steroid medications, bipolar disorder, and malaria treatments. [6] Even if you do not take any of these medications, you should always ensure that your prescribing doctor and pharmacist are aware of your psoriasis.

It may take several weeks before any medication may cause a flare-up. [7] If you suffer an attack after using any new medications, then speak to your doctor. You should not stop taking any medications without speaking to your doctor.


There are certain infections that may trigger a flare-up of psoriasis. This includes strep throat, tonsilitis, bronchitis, and ear infections. Often, psoriasis may not occur for two to six weeks after the infection. [7] If an infection is treated effectively, then you may not suffer from psoriasis so it is important to seek prompt treatment if you feel you may have an infection.


Alcohol is a trigger for many psoriasis patients. Studies show that consuming alcohol reduces the chance of remission periods. As well as alcohol potentially triggering an episode of psoriasis, it can interfere with medications that are used to treat this condition. Patients should cut down their alcohol consumption or even eliminate it from their diet completely. [4]

A group of people clinking glasses


Weather conditions also commonly trigger an outbreak of psoriasis. Cold and dry weather can trigger the condition if moisture is lost from the skin. If you suffer from this trigger, then a humidifier for your home may reduce this symptom. 

For some patients, psoriasis can be caused by excessive sun exposure. However, many patients may find that doses of sunlight actually improve their symptoms and their doctor may encourage this as part of light therapy. [6]


Studies suggest that around 20 percent of psoriasis cases are related to smoking. Many substances that are found in cigarettes affect the body’s immune system, increasing the risk of this condition. The more a person smokes each day, the higher their risk of developing psoriasis. [4]

A woman smoking

Treating Psoriasis

a. Medications

Corticosteroid medications are the most commonly prescribed treatment for mild to moderate psoriasis. Topical medications, including Temovate (clobetasol), work by slowing down the rate that skin cells grow. This helps to reduce the build-up of cells, causing flaky skin patches. Topical medications are applied directly to the affected area and often come in the forms of creams, gels, and ointments. Along with corticosteroids, your doctor may prescribe a retinoid medication such as Tazorac (tazarotene).

b. Light Therapy

For more severe psoriasis, your doctor may suggest a light therapy treatment, instead of, or alongside using prescription medications. There are many forms of light therapy and your doctor will discuss which option is best for you. Light therapy works by exposing the affected area to controlled amounts of natural or artificial light. Common options include natural sunlight, UVB light, and UVA light. [2]

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.