A skin condition shouldn’t keep you from exploring the world. Here’s what to know before you go, what to pack, and how others have dealt with the stigma.
“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 lightweight, 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 wound while sleeping, something he’s less worried about at hotels. “There’s a certain anonymity at hotels,” he says.
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