Actress Ciena Rae Nelson took to Instagram last week to post a powerful message about psoriasis with a pair of side-by-side photos: On the left, her face during a flare-up, the red, scaly patches just visible beneath her makeup. On the right, the same photo, but edited to enhance the color and details—and portray what the skin disease actually feels like.
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Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease affecting an estimated 7.5 million people in the U.S. It causes skin cells to grow at a faster rate, leading to itchy lesions that can sometimes be painful. The condition is often diagnosed in early adulthood (between ages 20 and 35) and nearly one-third of those who suffer from it have a family history of the disease. There isn't a cure, but avoiding or minimizing possible triggers—such as stress, alcohol, and exposing your skin to cold, dry air—can help keep flare-ups under control.
As if the skin symptoms weren't bad enough, nearly 30% of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis, a painful condition in which their joints become stiff and inflamed during flare-ups. Nelson mentions this additional struggle in her Instagram caption, noting that it's an "#invisibleillness."
Her recent post isn’t the first time the actress has spoken out about her disease. In March, she posted a selfie with red, inflamed lesions all over her face and chest. The caption begins, “This is me 2 years ago just before I went to the hospital for severe dehydration and a fever. Skin conditions are not cosmetic issues. They cause physical pain and suffering and oftentimes a feeling of being trapped in your own body, on top of the social anxiety many people face because of them.”
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Nelson goes on to explain that the adjective "itchy" doesn't quite cut it as a description of the discomfort: "I personally struggle with sleep deprivation due to constant, widespread itchiness that feels more like I'm being stung or bitten then I am 'itchy.'"
As Nelson's posts portray, psoriasis doesn't just mean having dry patches of skin. It can be debilitating, for a variety of reasons.
Her advice? “Hydrate. Get enough sleep. Eat healthy foods. Nourish your biggest organ, and all the rest while you’re at it.”
For more information about psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, visit the National Psoriasis Foundation site.