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Psoriasis is a condition that tends to come and go, relapses of the disease often caused by identifiable triggers. But the single most important thing anyone who has psoriasis can do to prevent breakouts is the most frequently overlooked.

Some people suffer flare-ups of psoriasis when they are under psychological stress. Other people who have psoriasis experience breakouts when they drink too much, when they smoke cigarettes, when they smoke cigarettes, when they drink too much, or when they eat bread or products containing gluten.

Still other people who have psoriasis have to deal with itchy, scaly, red or silver plaques when their skin dries out, when they get a skin infection, or when they have flare-ups of yeast infections. The most important day to day cause of ongoing psoriasis problems, however, is micro-injury to the skin.

The Psoriasis Trigger You Never See

How can invisible injury to the skin set off an itchy, unsightly outbreak of psoriasis? The answer lies in specialized skin cells known as keratinocytes.

The keratinocytes begin as stem cells that migrate from elsewhere in the body into the basal layer of the skin. In this deepest part of the skin, keratinocytes behave like ordinary cells from two or three cycles of cell division. Then genes in the keratinocytes are activated that produce differentiation factors, chemical signals for the skin cell in the basal layer to change itself from a keratinocyte into a corneocyte, migrating to the uppermost layer of the skin, where it dies in 30 to 60 days. 

In the skin of people who have psoriasis, the keratinocytes are overactive.

Instead of multiplying two or three times, they multiple four to six times. They make so many copies of themselves that they cannot complete the process of making the connective protein keratin, so their "offspring" fail to stick together. Th result is dry, flaky, itchy, scaly skin.

In psoriasis, the keratinocytes are always overactive, but at some times they are more overactive than at others. When even a single skin cell is injured, it pours out chemicals that attract a class of white blood cells known as neutrophils. These white blood cell produce chemicals that dissolve some of the keratin surrounding the skin cell sending out the distress signal. They also release chemicals that cause redness and irritation.

The keratinocytes also produce chemicals that increase the skin cell's rate of reproduction from four to six times normal to as much as four hundred to six hundred times normal. Not only does the skin begin to disintegrate, but dying skin cells accumulate into red or silvery plaques that disfigure the skin and cause itching.

The important thing to understand about this kind of injury to the skin is that exposure to a tiny amount of an irritating chemical or abrasion that can't even be seen in a magnifying mirror is enough to trigger the process of excessive skin growth and inflammation. There are at least 10 common skin irritants that everyone who has psoriasis should know about.

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  • Borkowski AW, Gallo RL. The coordinated response of the physical and antimicrobial peptide barriers of the skin. J Invest Dermatol. 2011 Feb. 131(2):285-7. doi: 10.1038/jid.2010.360
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