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Psoriasis (young people)

Alternative and complementary therapies, supplements and home remedies for psoriasis

Alternative therapies (such as herbal medicine) can be used alongside ‘conventional medicine’ (such as steroid creams and phototherapy) or on their own. Some people we talked to had used alternative therapies or hoped to try them in the future. A few people wanted more information from their GPs and dermatologists about alternative therapies. Others, like Damini, saw herbal medicines as “separate” from prescription treatment and didn’t talk about these at medical appointments.
 

At one time, Lola stopped using steroid creams and tried to manage her psoriasis with “a holistic approach”.

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Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 14
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Could you tell me a bit more about the holistic approach that your friend had told you about with psoriasis?

Kind of increase your protein levels, look at Epsom salts so having a bath in them. Using really organic kind of shampoos and moisturisers so you’re not putting any chemicals on your skin. Getting in the sunshine as much as possible. Controlling stress and meditation, I wasn’t very good at that. Kind of taking time for yourself and doing light exercises to get rid of stress really, cos doing exams is not helpful with skin. Look at homeopathic remedies and, and I know acupuncture has been found to help it. Yeah, mainly proteins, fish oils, primrose oil, I know that was helpful I think. I guess it’s trying to make your skin more moisturised, I’m not sure. It worked when it was sunny and in the summer when I was less stressed it got better and it looked really good for a while and then I came back to school and it just went crazy in a way.

It spreaded a lot.

So are those all the things that you’ve tried including like the acupuncture?

I didn’t try acupuncture. I tried reflexology which was to try and get-, it doesn’t say it’s gonna cure your skin disease, I mean you can’t cure psoriasis anyway, but it- it makes your immune system, or your body kind of try to attempt to make your body work better, and that’s kind of trying to get my body to fight the skin disease in a way.

But I didn’t- [sigh] it worked but it- not for long. And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try it, I’m just-, it didn’t work for me at that time.
 

Lucy’s keen to try alternative therapies for psoriasis.

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 11
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I’m really interested in alternative medicine. And interesting that my GP is [laughs]. He’s really interested in sort of acupuncture. I haven’t had that yet [laughs]. But acupuncture and other things. I mean, I just, I don’t like the idea, especially with things like cyclosporin and methotrexate, I don’t like the idea of pumping my body full of medicine. So I often look at diet. I think I, I think I eat quite healthily. And you know, I’ve read things like cutting out dairy helps. Cutting out this helps it. And I haven’t really cut out a specific food group, cos I don’t think that’s healthy for your body, you know, otherwise. But I try to eat healthily. I try to exercise. But then in terms of alternative therapies, I’ve used things like olive oil, coconut oil, things like that. I’ve even been to Lourdes and got in the holy water there, the holy baths. Which is more of a religious thing than an alternative therapy. But I think, sometimes you’re so desperate you’ll try anything. So that was interesting. And I’d really like to go to the Dead Sea and try that, cos that’s meant to be really good for your skin. So I’m very up for alternative therapies as well [laughs].
A few people had tried herbal medicines. Sofia had a medicine from a local Chinese herbal shop to put in the bath. She didn’t like the smell or find it helped, so stopped using it after a while. Damini had herbal drinks twice a day whilst in India. She knew where she could get the herbs from in the UK but no longer takes it.

Taking supplements (e.g. cod liver oil) and being aware of the foods they were eating were seen as an important part of psoriasis management by some young people (see also diet). A few had been given advice about the foods thought to be their triggers from alternative therapy practitioners.
 

Russell saw a homoeopathist and was given advice on diet.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 19
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And she sort of advised me to sort of speak to her speak to her homeopathic medicine man, so I went along one time and had a little chat, to see what he said like I said before about trying different creams and stuff I was quite open to any kind of suggestions and willing to hear anything. And I don’t eat badly but I could eat better kind of thing, like I know my housemates last year ate awfully, like really, really badly [laughs]. So in comparison I looked very, very good but in a wider comparison I’m probably more average. so went along to, to him and he said, after I explained sort of roughly what I ate and my diet and whatnot, it was dairy, too much dairy and too much yeast. ‘Cos thinking back on it, it is quite easy to see that I do eat quite a lot of bread and so much stuff has yeast in it without you even realising it. So I tried a bit to reduce my dairy intake so I try and eat less cheese which is heart-breaking as it is, probably did help. I switched to an alternative dairy for milk and still have, kind of, when you go out for a, for a coffee or something like that obviously you have dairy milk and that’s fine and I don't avoid it when I’m out but when I’m at home, I’ll have kind of like coconut milk or on cereal or something like that just an alternative. So I’ve cut back a lot on how much cheese I eat, how much milk I drink and I don’t eat yoghurts so much anymore. And I still eat bread but not nearly as much as I did before, it’s kind of like the occasional piece of toast when there's nothing else in the house so I kind of use it as emergency food or when you get back after a night out and you need something to eat and you can’t be bothered to cook chips or anything like that, so I have like a toasties from the toastie machine. so I do still eat bread but it’s, I still eat all of them, the foods that he said I should cut out, but in vastly less quantities and it really does help. 
 

Damini started using herbal medicine and following a diet when she visited India. She found it difficult to stick to the diet restrictions.

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 4
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Yeah. I went to India to try some herbal remedies from there. But they gave me a list of dietary requirements that I had to follow and I did follow it too, for about six months to a year, but then after, it just got too much and it was, I did notice it was helping, but it just got too much and I couldn’t continue doing that. 

Could you tell me a bit about what those dietary requirements were?

Yeah, they told me not to eat anything spicy, anything with salt in it, certain, certain fruits like bananas mangoes, I can’t remember the others. Certain-, I think wheat, they said no. That’s all I remember so far. 

That’s quite a lot of restrictions then.

So, it was difficult to I just basically lived on pasta [laughs]. 

[Laughs]

But, yeah, it got too much. Yeah, so I stopped that. But it didn’t come back after, straight away. Patches came back, but it didn’t-, I wasn’t where I was at the start.
People often found examples of home remedies online. Hannah read on forums about teas to help psoriasis. Friends and family members sometimes researched this too. Lucy’s mum had heard about using apple cider vinegar and Guinness (beer) for scalp psoriasis, and helped with trying these out. Other examples include applying coconut oil or olive oil to the skin and drinking aloe vera juice.
 

Lisa thinks online forums are helpful for finding out about home remedies.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 11
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Have you ever looked into discussion groups or support groups around psoriasis?

Yeah, I’ve I joined one on Facebook and they’re quite helpful, especially if you don’t actually see a dermatologist and you, you get like a flare up, you can just say, “Okay, what, what works? What home remedies has everyone tried?” And they’re really supportive, and they’ll just be like, “Try this and I tried this,” and things like that. 

Could you give me an example maybe of some of the home remedies that you’ve been suggested or that you’ve tried out?

Yeah, most people suggest coconut oil. And some people suggest putting the sea salts in a bath and soaking with that. And putting oils into the hair like olive oils to help soften the scalp. 
 

Russell tried different honey-based creams. He first used one for another skin condition (molluscum contagiosum) he had when he was younger.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 19
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Could you tell me a bit more about the Manuka honey that you mentioned?

Yeh, as I say we, the first time I ever encountered it was when I had those warts thingy-ma-jig because my mum spoke to someone at work or one of her friends and it was something like that and they said it was good and so we ordered some on the Internet and I used some of it but it did nothing for that but I think we had this, we had a pot of it so we kind of used it and it was good for other dry skin stuff so when, again when this flared up nearly like ten years later, we knew that to be a good kind of a good treatment or it had been in the past. And yeh so I just started using that again and I do feel it’s quite, quite good. I tried another cream as well and I can’t remember what it was it was just , some kind of honey type cream, not Manuka but it was something like that that I weirdly found in the [city] market, the Christmas market, and I tried a little bit of it on, on the stall and found that a couple of days later it was slightly better than it had been but so I ordered like a small pot online and thinking oh I might as well try it because well I’d kind of got to a certain point of it clearing up but it hadn't quite gone and this was in it would have been a year ago so December 2013 so I had been diagnosed in the September, I’d used the steroid cream, all the blisters had gone, there was still marks and it was still quite dry and I wanted to stop using the steroid cream because I didn’t want to use to for too long at a time and I'd been warned off kind of keeping on using it so I decided to stop using it and try and use other moisturisers instead. ‘Cos that way I could always go back to the steroid cream if it got really, really bad so yeh in December it was still there so I thought I’d try the stuff, that was probably when I started trying the Manuka honey again any other kind of moisturisers and this other honey thing I found on the market which was claiming homeopathic but it did absolutely no good whatsoever, unfortunately. 
 

Lucy talks about different home remedies and where she learnt of them.

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 11
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Yeah, where did I find out about olive oil? I think my grandmother’s sister used it years ago. Cos she had it a lot worse than me and she had it all over her body and she used to cover herself, absolutely cover herself with it and then wrap bandages round it, cos hers was very very bad. And I thought I will try it on my scalp and it really, really worked. And then, I use the Internet a lot for alternative therapies. So, coconut oil, there is CariDee English she’s called, she was on America’s Next Top Model and she’s got psoriasis. And she uses coconut oil a lot. So I thought, ‘oh, I’ll try that’. But interestingly, I had a bad reaction to it and so I was putting it on my scalp and my scalp got a lot worse, so I stopped using it [laughs]. But that’s what I mean about different people have different responses to things, so there’s not one thing that works for everybody with psoriasis. Yeah, I think the Internet’s really useful. I’ve got quite a lot of books as well, sort of, I’ve got a book called, The Psoriasis Diet, The Healthy Skin Diet. I do look into stuff like that as well. So all sorts of areas really. Mainly books and the Internet, where I get my information from. And sometimes my GP, cos he told me about the meditation. 
Bath salts and products containing sea salts were talked about by some people. Abbie and Carys had exfoliating products which they found helped reduce skin flaking and itchiness, but could be painful to use and damage the skin. Lots of people mentioned Dead Sea salt products, something which Sofia’s dad had researched about online. As well as trying products made with certain ingredients, some people had visited famous ‘healing water’ sites like the Dead Sea and Lourdes. Others said they had thought about going at some point.
 

Jack was recommended Dead Sea salts by a customer at work, but hasn’t noticed any improvements in his psoriasis.

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 20
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I have also used some Dead Sea salt scrubs and stuff, which I haven’t really noticed much of a difference but they are supposed to be supposed to be useful.

Is that, so is that something you’ve found in the shops or is that something you were prescribed, the sea salt scrubs?

It’s something, yeah, I, yeah I bought online but it’s actually something someone came into my work and just said, “Oh, got psoriasis, haven’t you?” Like, “Yeah, yeah [laughs]. Thanks for noticing,” like. And he just said, “Yeah, you know, I’ve had it before,” and he just used Dead Sea salt, I think he mixed it some E45 and he just said, “Yeah, cleared it right up.” So got home, was like ‘right, I’m gonna, gonna find some of that and see if that, see if it works’.
 

Steven talks about his visit to the Dead Sea.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 14
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Could you say a bit more about when you did go to the Dead Sea and whether it was intended originally for psoriasis or-?

Completely just part of a trip that I was doing. I was out there for three weeks and part of it was Dead Sea. And I was like ‘oh, that could be quite good’. And we were in for about half an hour. Cos you can’t be in too long. It was even less than that. Got the mud involved, it was great fun. You float, you can like, people reading like newspapers, like floating in the sea. And it stung a little bit, actually. Someone said to me, “Have you been to the toilet recently, going to sting”. I was like, ‘okay. I wonder how this is gonna take it’, a little bit. It was quite good at the time, so it wasn’t such a worry. But once you’re in and you’re like used to it and it stops stinging, it was fine. And then got showered off and it was a little bit, there was improvement. It’s kind of one of those things, I think if I’d gone back again the next day or a bit later on and done it again, would I have seen more improvement, I don’t know. But, the Dead Sea stuff, like the Dead Sea salts I’ve put in the bath before and that’s helped a bit, definitely. 

I think it was before the camera was running, you said that you were potentially considering about going back?

I’m thinking it. Mainly because I’ve got friends out there and I thought like I could do a little like, let’s go on holiday and see friends and skin and yay. Nothing has been solidly like thought about, I’ve been thinking about going out there for years again. So it’s just like, it might happen. I don’t know. It’s not dragging me there at the moment. I’ll see how this treatment goes, obviously. I might end up going out there and not going to the Dead Sea or going to the Dead Sea just for going to the Dead Sea for the day and it makes your skin softer. That’s lovely. But it has been something that I’ve thought about, definitely. 
 

Lucy’s been in the spring waters at Lourdes. She found it very calming and says her skin improved afterwards.

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 11
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Could you tell me a bit more about the trip to Lourdes?

Yeah. The first time I went was when I was in Year 11, so I’d had psoriasis since Year Seven then. And I’d gone on a pilgrimage with the school and I was looking after the sick and the elderly in hospital. And I think, I mean, I went thinking ‘ah’, like you know, ‘I’ll go and miracles have happened here and I will be cured of my psoriasis’. But then, I went and actually I felt really, really lucky, because we were working with these really poorly people and I just felt really, really lucky that I, you know, that I wasn’t as poorly as them. But there were these holy baths where you immerse your entire body in there. The queues for them were so long. And the water is meant to be healing. And you go in completely naked. So I was so nervous about that, so, so nervous. But it’s only you and the nuns in there who do it. And it was, it was a very like a spiritual experience. And I felt calmer. So in some ways it helps, cos it helped with my stress. I didn’t really believe that I’d be cured. But I think it helped me in other ways. It massively helped me in other ways. Just, you know, making me realise how lucky I was, putting things into perspective and, and giving me a real sense of, of calm. It’s a lovely, lovely calm place. And whether you find, like whether people find that calm place through religion or through other means, through relationships or through experiences, I think it’s so important to do things like that, to get you to that place of calm, cos that really, really helped me. And my skin did get better afterwards, because of that, I think. So I really enjoyed that trip. And I’ve been another two times since, just like for a day, cos I go on holiday in France so then we’ve been close by so then we’ve gone for the day, which has been nice. So it is a nice place to visit, whether you’re religious or not, really [laughs].
Meditation and mindfulness were talked about as ways to manage psoriasis. Calming activities can help coping with stress, a key psoriasis trigger for many.
 

Lucy thinks calming activities can be helpful. Examples for her include attending Mass and mediation.

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 11
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I was brought up Catholic. And I’m not devout. But I do, I do find sort of, I do find calm in the religion and in sometimes, I mean, I don’t go to Mass every week and things like that. But I don’t think you need to go to Mass to be a good person. But sometimes when I am in Mass, I feel so calm [laugh]. And it’s lovely and it’s so relaxing. And, and I think it is a good way to just to calm yourself and to relax. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be in a church or a temple or a synagogue or a mosque. It can be meditation at home. And I’ve tried that as well and I mean my GP recommended that, he recommended meditation. And it’s difficult. It’s difficult getting into it. But, he said, “Try to imagine your skin free of psoriasis for 30 to 40 minutes.” That’s a long time and I’ve found it hard. So I can’t really do it for that length of time, cos I go off on a tangent and think of other things. But like our lives are so busy, aren’t they, and just like, I do find it really helpful to just like take time every day, even if it’s ten minutes or 15 minutes to just be by myself and to just like just think and just, it sounds, it sounds almost a bit cheesy, doesn’t it, or like. But just to be completely silent. Just to imagine, yeah, imagine maybe my body free of psoriasis. Sometimes I don’t even imagine that, sometimes I just, I’m just really calm and think about my day and like clear my head. And I think it does really help. It helps with stress a lot. And I think there’s a lot to be said for, you know, talking to your partner and your family and your friends. But sometimes even that, you feel like a broken record [laughs]. So sometimes it’s nice to just to be nice and calm and, and take that time and, you know, practice like meditation, whichever way you want whether it’s through religion or otherwise. When I was a teacher, I worked in a Catholic school and some of the services we had there I found really nice and really calming and nice. And I think sometimes, although a lot of the young people wouldn’t admit it [laughs] I think it sort of helped them in ways as well. But I’d never be the type of person who would say, you know, “You need religion to calm your mind”. But in my experience, aspects of it have helped.
Some said it can be hard to know what to believe about alternative psoriasis treatments. Abbie would like “more natural ways” to manage psoriasis, but struggles to get reliable information: “it's just a pain to just traipse through different websites, different comments from people to try and see and to actually try and experiment”. Hannah’s cautious about what she tries but is open to ideas, explaining “I don’t think everything’s a scam”. Lola would like to have acupuncture for her psoriasis in the future, even though she’s unsure how it works.

Alternative therapies and home remedies were seen by most young people as unlikely to cause harm, but some had negative experiences. Lucy had a bad reaction to coconut oil when she put it on her scalp psoriasis. The cost of trying lots of different home remedies could add up too.
 
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Adam came across scams online promising long-lasting ‘cures’ for psoriasis.

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
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I’ve paid money to fraudsters online for like dietary advice, exercise, health advice. So, which didn’t, well, it was just an absolute scam. And I knew it was a, as I was doing it I knew it was a scam. I was just so desperate, kind of like that. So I’ve tried to change my diet. That’s about it really. What else have I seen online? Ah things like “buy this kind of smoothie making guide. And if you put like all of this and this and this and this, then just live off olive oil, you’ll be fine” or something like that. Like really there’s stupid things that I’ve seen, that people kind of are desperate, like people really are. Like I was desperate. Do you know what I mean? I was so close to falling for a lot of them.

But I paid for this booklet that had like a guide. I think I paid like 20 dollars and it was just a PDF that was sent to me. And, and it was just basically like, “Follow these steps and you won’t have psoriasis.” This guy who apparently had psoriasis posted on the forum his like cure for psoriasis and it was a dietary cure. And, and it was basically like, “If you eat just this for the next like 40-odd days or something like that, then your skin will go from here.” And this guy had very severe plaque psoriasis to here. And he had an after picture. I don’t know if you’ve, if you’ve come across any of them. And I was like, “Oh, my God.” And I started emailing this guy. And I don’t know whether, like I feel he may have been genuine, like that happened to him. And I don’t, cos it didn’t come across at all like a scam. Like to me, he was emailing me back like decently. Like, without kind of being like, “What’s your credit card details?” or anything like that.
There were mixed views on whether alternative therapies helped psoriasis. Some who had tried alternative therapies or approaches didn’t see a difference in their skin. Others found they had reduced symptoms or helped limit triggers. Damini says baths salts make her skin less itchy. Lucy finds rubbing olive oil on her scalp soothing and meditation helps with stress. Russell found it useful seeing a homoeopath and learning more about diet, but didn’t think a conventional doctor would approve: “whether it’s a placebo effect or whether it’s a real effect, it seems to work”.
 

Hannah looked into alternative deodorants when she had psoriasis on her armpits.

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 16
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Deodorant affected me really badly, so I had psoriasis on my underarms so I was, and like all the stuff, that are kind of aluminium based deodorants like just wreaked havoc and made the situation so much worse. I mean if I wore deodorant, a normal deodorant, the next day I would visible see that my psoriasis was about ten times worse under my underarms and red and kind of hurting. So I eventually had to give up all together with normal deodorants and try to use some natural ones which I feel like probably aren't industrials strengths, so don't really work in the same way. But I found coconut oil really, really effective with, like as a deodorant and it's kind of stopped me sweating as much, it stopped like any smell. And it's really, really worked for me. That, sometimes coconut oil mixed with baking powder, which is something that I read online, so these, there are all of these kind of natural things online that people talk about and some things won't work for you and then some things really will and you'll, you'll wonder how you survived without them. So now like I use coconut oil all the time on my underarms and it's really helped. And then like I'll use sometimes natural deodorants as well that I’ve found like there's salt based one's that use like salt to-, kind of like a rock of salt and you rub that and you have to like kind of wet your underarms first. There are other ones that have like tea tree in them and other things to kind of like sooth, but also like to completely give it a better smell. But obviously nothing that's like antiperspirant because the idea of an antiperspirant in itself is like not a good thing to kind of stop yourself from perspiring that can of, that-, anything that has that in it can affect your skin badly I think if it's sensitive or if you have psoriasis.
Some people liked the idea of more ‘natural’ psoriasis treatment, but thought there were also times when conventional medicines (like steroid creams) were needed. For them, a complementary approach was best because it included both alternative and conventional treatments together. Damini thinks herbal medicines are slower to work and so prescribed medicines are needed as “quick fixes”.
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