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Traveling with Psoriasis

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 6/6/2019 Lauren DeCarlo
a tree next to a body of water © Getty

“I don’t know whether people looked at me differently, but I looked at me differently,” says Mario DeBlasio, 53, of northeastern Pennsylvania, who was diagnosed with psoriasis 30 years ago. Traveling was not only a priority for DeBlasio, it was his business: He owned a travel agency for two decades, which meant regular trips to Europe and frequent cruises. Managing his psoriasis, a chronic skin condition caused by an overactive immune system, while away from home was a necessity. Stress can be a trigger—and while traveling can be stressful on its own, DeBlasio says the stress of how others perceived him and his illness was also immense.

“Psoriasis is something that most people find unattractive, and the stress of being in public only makes it worse,” he says. Packing light-weight, loose-fitting clothing helps. For years, DeBlasio was too self-conscious to wear shorts even when he traveled to warmer climates. He would dress in pants or jeans—“always dark-colored, because if I had an open wound, I didn’t want to get a blood stain on my pants,” he says. “I didn’t want to subject people to my skin, but I also didn’t get any of the benefits of being in the sun.”

Generally speaking, vacations to colder climates can lead to sensitivity and itching for those with skin conditions, while sunshine can calm activity. In fact Dr. Whitney Tan of Manhattan’s Tribeca Park Dermatology says that some of her patients are treated in her office with certain wavelengths of UVB light, which mimics the effect of sunshine and suppresses portions of the skin’s immune system. “It helps to break down and clear up the skin cells that have thickened in psoriasis.” Then again, she warns, sunburn can be a triggering factor, so always pack and use sunscreen. She also recommends bringing skin care products that you’re familiar with to manage flare ups on the road. “Bring moisturizers and sunscreens that you know work well with your skin,” says Tan. “If you’re in a location for a while, a humidifier in colder weather can help to prevent flares.”

If you’re staying in a home share, DeBlasio recommends packing your own set of sheets. He and his wife make frequent visits to their friends’ home in Mexico where he feels more comfortable exposing his skin. “If we’d go down to Mexico in January or February, the transformation of my skin is miraculous,” he says, noting that his psoriasis starts at the top of his ankles and extends just past his knees. He has another patch on his abdomen and torso. “My skin would be red, but the plaques would be gone—however my body would just shed for about five days.” Using his own sheets makes him feel less self-conscious and therefore less stressed about the shedding—and less fearful of getting blood on the sheets should he happen to scratch an open wood while sleeping, something he’s less worried about at hotels. “There’s a certain anonymity at hotels,” he says.

a group of people standing on top of a sandy beach: Vacationing in warmer climates can provide relief for skin conditions. © Getty Vacationing in warmer climates can provide relief for skin conditions.

Make sure to bring travel-sized products in your carry-on so you can stay moisturized throughout the flight. Tan also advises bringing anti-bacterial wipes to wipe down airplane seats to prevent the spread of germs and infection. An illness on the road, particularly strep throat, can be a trigger for psoriasis. If you forget to pack your moisturizers, don’t panic: head to a nearby drugstore for over-the-counter products such as petrolatum or a bland, fragrance-free moisturizing cream. Tan says travelers to certain parts of Africa, Asia, and beyond should be aware of the side effects of prescribed antimalarial pills: they’re also a known trigger of psoriasis.

Like DeBlasio, Jessica Nelson, 41, of St. Louis, says that one of the biggest challenges of traveling with psoriasis is interacting with other travelers. “People think psoriasis is contagious, but it’s not. It’s an auto-immune disease.” She’s had psoriasis for 18 years. It began on the nape of her neck, in a patch that was roughly the size of a quarter. It’s grown to cover 90 percent of her scalp. “Having it on my head is better, I think, because it’s hidden,” Nelson says. She also tends to prefer vacations to warm-weather destinations, like Florida. “Oceans and pools feel so good,” she says. “It’s therapeutic.”

Swimming in chlorinated pools can have differing effects on psoriasis, says Tan. “While excess time in a pool can lead to further drying of the skin, the water exposure can also improve psoriasis by helping soften thicker psoriatic plaques,” she says. “Avoid hot tubs, as the high temperature can irritate the skin, causing itching, then scratching. And follow all public water exposure with a shower and liberal moisturizer to prevent flares.”

Jodie Papa, 36, of upstate New York, has had psoriasis head-to-toe and says flare-ups on her scalp can be a nuisance—especially when she’s away from home. “When it comes to psoriasis, moisture is the worse,” she says. “So when I’m traveling, I try not to pull my hair back while it’s wet and I don’t wash it as much. If I do, I’ll always blow dry my hair.”

Five years ago, DeBlasio made a life-changing decision. “I wasn’t going to let my psoriasis own me,” he says. “Once I understood that my self-worth came from inside me and not other people, my psoriasis got better and set me free,” he said. Now he’s spending more time in the south and Mexico—”and I’m packing four bathing suits every time I go. That’s all I pack,” he says. “My wife will force me to bring five or six outfits, but I get up in the morning, put on a bathing suit, head downtown to walk the Malecón in Puerto Vallarta and psoriasis doesn’t even enter my mind. Changing my perception of myself has opened a whole new world for me.”

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