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What Causes Psoriasis and is it Contagious?

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder marked by inflammation of the skin. People with psoriasis develop thick patches of white and red scales on the skin, known as lesions. These lesions may appear anywhere on the body wherever there is inflammation, but they tend to affect the knees, scalp, and elbows the most. Many people often wonder whether Psoriasis is contagious and if it is possible to transmit this skin condition to others by touching the lesions. Here’s everything you need to know about the causes of psoriasis and if it is contagious.

Overview of Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the skin. It causes the rapid growth and buildup of skin cells, which leads to scaling on the surface of the skin. (1,2) Inflammation around these scales is very common, and some people may also find reddishness around these scales. (3,4) These psoriatic scales are usually silver-white and tend to develop in red, thick patches. During a flare-up, these patches or lesions may also crack and bleed. The skin lesions in psoriasis are formed due to the rapid skin production process. While the typical life cycle of a skin cell is around a month, in people who have psoriasis, this process might take place in just a couple of days. Due to this, the older skin cells don’t have the time to fall off, but the rapid production of new skin cells leads to a buildup of skin cells. (5,6)

It is expected that nearly 7.5 million people in the United States are affected by psoriasis, and globally, this number is likely to be much higher. (7)

Many people keep on wondering whether psoriasis is contagious and if it is possible to transmit this skin condition to others if they touch the skin lesions. All this depends on the potential causes of psoriasis. Let’s find out.

What Causes Psoriasis and is it Contagious?

What Causes Psoriasis?

The exact cause of psoriasis is not precisely clear. Many medical experts have different theories as to why certain people develop psoriasis and why others don’t. According to estimates of the National Psoriasis Foundation, around ten percent of people end up inheriting genes that increase the risk of getting psoriasis. (8) Out of this ten percent, only two to three percent of people go on to actually develop psoriasis.

Researchers have identified around 25 gene variants that are known to increase the likelihood of developing psoriasis. These 25 genetic variants are believed to bring about the changes in the manner in which the body’s T cells function. T cells are cells present in your immune system that help fight off any foreign invaders, including bacteria and viruses. (9,10)

In people with psoriasis, T cells start attacking the healthy skin cells in the body by mistake, and the immune system responses can lead to a wide range of reactions. These include: (11)

  • An increase in the count of white blood cells that boosts the skin to start producing new cells at a higher speed than they usually do.
  • An enlargement of the blood vessels in the skin.
  • A dramatic increase in the production of skin cells, T cells, and other cells present in the immune system.
  • A buildup of new skin cells on the surface of the skin.
  • Development of thick, scaly, red, patches commonly associated with psoriasis.
  • People who have a compromised or weakened immune system, including people with HIV or those who are prone to get repeated infections, are known to have a higher risk of developing psoriasis.

These effects tend to occur as a response to some form of a trigger, which is different for everyone. Let’s take a look at what these triggers are.

What are the Triggers of a Psoriasis Flare?

There are many lifestyles and environmental factors that serve as possible psoriasis flares. It is important to note that not everyone who has psoriasis has the same triggers. Some of the common triggers of psoriasis may include: (12)

  • Infections
  • Stress
  • Sun exposure
  • Skin trauma including burns, bug bites, and cuts
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Exposure to extreme temperatures
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Certain medications such as blood pressure medications, iodides, and lithium

Smoking is something you need to pay attention to as it isn’t just a trigger, but smoking is also known to be involved in the development of psoriasis. It is also known to increase the severity of the disorder. Research has found that smoking might be responsible for causing at least one in five cases of psoriasis and also doubles the risk of getting psoriasis. (13)

Some people also claim that certain foods and allergies may also trigger a flare-up of psoriasis, but there is no evidence to show this, and claims remain mostly anecdotal.

Is Psoriasis Contagious?

No, psoriasis is never contagious. There are several skin conditions like impetigo, scabies, and MRSA, but psoriasis is not an infectious disorder that is caused by some form of contagious bacteria. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder, which is different from other skin infections that are contagious. (14,15,16)

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), you need to have certain identified genes in order to develop psoriasis. (17)

However, just because you have the gene does not mean that you will go on to develop psoriasis. Having these genes only means that certain environmental and lifestyle triggers may activate psoriasis. Thus, you are at a higher risk of developing psoriasis.


Psoriasis is not contagious in any of its forms. It is not a bacterial infection, but an autoimmune disorder. However, people with psoriasis are often stigmatized in society, and many people think that the condition is contagious. If you have psoriasis, then you should take a moment to educate anyone who believes that your condition is contagious. Doing so will promote an environment of understanding and acceptance and also reduce the stigma attached to psoriasis. To get rid of the stigma surrounding psoriasis, it is important to educate yourself and others about the various causes of psoriasis, its symptoms, and the environmental and lifestyle triggers associated with psoriasis.


  1. Henseler, T. and Christophers, E., 1985. Psoriasis of early and late onset: characterization of two types of psoriasis vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 13(3), pp.450-456.
  2. Lowes, M.A., Kikuchi, T., Fuentes-Duculan, J., Cardinale, I., Zaba, L.C., Haider, A.S., Bowman, E.P. and Krueger, J.G., 2008. Psoriasis vulgaris lesions contain discrete populations of Th1 and Th17 T cells. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 128(5), pp.1207-1211.
  3. Schlaak, J.F., Buslau, M., Jochum, W., Hermann, E., Girndt, M., Gallati, H., zum Büschenfelde, K.H.M. and Fleischer, B., 1994. T cells involved in psoriasis vulgaris belong to the Th1 subset. Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 102(2), pp.145-149.
  4. Griffiths, C.E.M., Christophers, E., Barker, J.N.W.N., Chalmers, R.J.G., Chimenti, S., Krueger, G.G., Leonardi, C., Menter, A., Ortonne, J.P. and Fry, L., 2007. A classification of psoriasis vulgaris according to phenotype. British Journal of Dermatology, 156(2), pp.258-262.
  5. Lew, W., Bowcock, A.M. and Krueger, J.G., 2004. Psoriasis vulgaris: cutaneous lymphoid tissue supports T-cell activation and ‘Type 1’inflammatory gene expression. Trends in immunology, 25(6), pp.295-305.
  6. Rocha‐Pereira, P., Santos‐Silva, A., Rebelo, I., Figueiredo, A., Quintanilha, A. and Teixeira, F., 2004. The inflammatory response in mild and in severe psoriasis. British Journal of Dermatology, 150(5), pp.917-928.
  7. Aad.org. 2020. Psoriasis Resource Center. [online] Available at: <https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/scaly-skin/psoriasis#causes> [Accessed 15 August 2020].
  8. Psoriasis.org. 2020. National Psoriasis Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://www.psoriasis.org/about-psoriasis/causes> [Accessed 15 August 2020].
  9. Prinz, J.C., 2003. The role of T cells in psoriasis. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 17(3), pp.257-270.
  10. Ghoreschi, K., Weigert, C. and Röcken, M., 2007. Immunopathogenesis and role of T cells in psoriasis. Clinics in dermatology, 25(6), pp.574-580.
  11. Goodman, W.A., Levine, A.D., Massari, J.V., Sugiyama, H., McCormick, T.S. and Cooper, K.D., 2009. IL-6 signaling in psoriasis prevents immune suppression by regulatory T cells. The Journal of Immunology, 183(5), pp.3170-3176.
  12. Lee, E.B., Wu, K.K., Lee, M.P., Bhutani, T. and Wu, J.J., 2018. Psoriasis risk factors and triggers. Cutis, 102(5S), pp.18-20.
  13. Psoriasis.org. 2020. National Psoriasis Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://www.psoriasis.org/advance/how-cigarettes-and-alcohol-affect-psoriasis> [Accessed 15 August 2020].
  14. Arakawa, A., Siewert, K., Stöhr, J., Besgen, P., Kim, S.M., Rühl, G., Nickel, J., Vollmer, S., Thomas, P., Krebs, S. and Pinkert, S., 2015.
  15. Melanocyte antigen triggers autoimmunity in human psoriasis. Journal of Experimental Medicine, 212(13), pp.2203-2212.
  16. Hrehorów, E., Salomon, J., Matusiak, U., Reich, A. and Szepietowski, J.C., 2012. Patients with psoriasis feel stigmatized. Acta dermato-venereologica, 92(1), pp.67-72.
  17. Pandey, S., 2010. Psoriasis a chronic, non-contagious autoimmune disease: a conventional treatment. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Review and Research, 1(2), pp.61-67.
  18. Aad.org. 2020. Psoriasis Resource Center. [online] Available at: <https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/psoriasis> [Accessed 15 August 2020].

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 1, 2021

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