La La Anthony is an actress, New York Times best-selling author, fashion designer, TV personality, a wife, and mom — but would you have guessed she’s also a psoriasis patient?
Marked by red, scaly, and itchy patches of skin, psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that manifests on the skin; in Anthony’s case, she noticed flaky, scaly skin in her scalp, behind her ears, and near her eyebrows about 10 years ago. In the early throes of her (very public) career, Anthony’s psoriasis symptoms caused her to change her style, cancel appearances and meetings, as well as miss time with her family and friends. She told Medical Daily that at the time, her skin was so scaly and flaky that she knew it was more than just dry skin or eczema.
“I went to the dermatologist, and that’s when I was told the proper name is psoriasis and started figuring out the right treatment for me,” she said.
Now, Anthony has teamed up with the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) to launch a new awareness campaign, called Picture Positivity. The two are urging other people with psoriasis (and people who know others with psoriasis) to upload images and supportive messages to the website in an effort to get across that it’s possible to keep psoriasis from “getting in the way of your everyday life, your dreams, and your goals.”
“We want to show people that they’re able to achieve whatever they want or do the things they like, like working out, going to work, being with your pet or being with your child — whatever it is,” Anthony continued. “I’m just trying to make people aware and not be afraid of it, not feel like they have to go into hiding because of it, and not be embarrassed about it.”
Anthony has been able to do everything she wants to do in spite of her diagnosis, primarily because she’s learned the “little tricks” that help her to best manage her flare-ups. It’s worst in her scalp, so she’ll pull her hair back into a ponytail or use an eyebrow pencil and other make up to conceal flaky skin. Anthony knows, too, when she’s “stressed, nervous, or overly excited,” her psoriasis “gets really bad.”
“I’m a Google person — I researched what psoriasis was, ways to contain it, and control flare-ups,” she said. “After a while, after years of anything, you get used to it and adapt.”
But what works for Anthony may not necessarily work for someone else. For one, there are five different kinds of psoriasis, NPF’s director of research programs Dr. Michael Siegel told Medical Daily — flare-ups then will vary completely, with some being “very short-lived” and others “very long-lived.” “One really big challenge is that psoriasis is extremely heterogeneous. It’s a family of different things,” Siegel said.
The NPF reports that at least 10 percent of people inherit one or more of the genes that could eventually lead to psoriasis, but only 2 to 3 percent of those people will develop the disease. And according to Siegel, of the people who do develop this disease, about 30 percent then develop psoriatic arthritis, a debilitating joint disease.
However, psoarisis doesn’t just affect people physically — it can greatly (negatively) affect mental health, with women especially reporting that psoriasis negatively impacts their emotional well-being.
“Sometimes we look at Instagram and everyone looks so perfect, because they’re filters, there’s this and there’s that, but nobody is perfect,” Anthony said. “[The campaign is] showing you real people, and real life, and what psoriasis looks like.”
To Siegel, the fact that psoriasis manifests on the skin is why it’s almost “brought down a level.” Many people are quick to write it off as a skin disease, but it’s not; it’s a systemic disease that simply shows up on the skin, he said.
“People with psoriasis need to take the condition for what it is,” he said. “It's about respecting the disease and treating it based on an individual's particular level.”
While Anthony figured out the best clothes and make-up tricks for her flare-ups, other patients may find relief with biologics, a protein-based drug that’s injected or administered intravenously. There are also topical treatments, phototherapy, and general immunosuppressive drugs available to patients, Siegel said, with more drugs in development.
“Some of these therapies give a 99 percent clearance for a significant amount of time, but they can also be very expensive and sometimes inaccessible,” he added. “Like many medical conditions, living a healthy lifestyle, getting regular exercise, and eating a well-balanced diet can have benefits.” The NPF has found that weight loss can greatly improve psoriasis severity.
Flare-ups, by the way, are not contagious — that’s one thing Anthony has since learned about her disease. Siegel said it’s probably the most common myth surrounding psoriasis.
“The idea you have to stay inside until [a flare-up] goes away is obviously not true,” Anthony said. “What is true is that you can continue with your life. Everyone just has to find what works for them.”
This means if you suspect you have psoriasis, you should visit your physician or dermatologist to get properly diagnosed; then, you can work with him or her to figure out the best course of treatment.
“[Picture Positivity] is just positive, and encouraging, and motivational — all the things that I want to be to people out there,” Anthony said. “Come see what we’re doing, upload an image, and be a part of encouraging someone else out there. You just never know how one small thing could encourage somebody else.”