Develop a firm handshake, keep your personal life out of the office, and other common tips for succeeding at work aren’t always easy to follow when you have psoriasis. But there are ways to soar professionally and not let your psoriasis hold you back. Psoriasis does not have to define your life. Tena Brown, a private consultant and patient advocate from Oklahoma City, has had psoriasis for 39 years. She offers patient education and empowerment workshops, and travels the country teaching dermatologists, nurses and doctors in residency programs what it’s like to live—and work—with psoriasis.
Here are her eight tips for success:
1. Own your condition. Some people will stare and wonder. Others may come right out and ask what’s wrong with your skin. “A very empowered, confident attitude toward your condition makes people respond in a much more positive way than if you act embarrassed, ashamed or apologize for it,” says Brown. “Be nonchalant. If someone is staring at an outbreak on your skin, or asks you what it is, simply say, ‘Oh, I have psoriasis; it comes and goes.’”
2. Educate your coworkers. There are many good ways to get the word out about what psoriasis is and is not. Write a short article about psoriasis for the company newsletter. Have a dermatologist, dermatology nurse or other speaker come in for a lunchtime program. Keep pamphlets about psoriasis in your desk and hand them to people who have questions or answer coworkers directly. “Most people want to know what it is and whether it’s contagious,” says Brown. “Allay their concerns quickly by saying: ‘I have psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that affects my skin and is not contagious.’ Use your disease to educate people about psoriasis.”
3. Realize you help others when you help yourself. Seven-and-a-half million Americans have psoriasis. Even if no one else in your workplace has the condition, they probably know somebody who does and by teaching them about it, you’ll not only help them understand your own struggles, but those of other people in their lives, too.
4. Dress to impress. Have psoriasis on your scalp? Wear light-colored clothing that conceals flakes better than black or navy. Experiencing a breakout on your arms? Opt for three-quarter length or long sleeves. Avoid tight clothes that rub skin and promote flaking. To minimize itching, look for soft, loose-fitting fabrics like 100 percent cotton, silk or soft rayon, but avoid wool and coarse linen.
5. Be flake-free. Moisturize before heading out the door in the morning. Brown’s favorite moisturizer is CeraVe.
6. Caution! Psoriasis ahead. Maintaining your sense of humor, especially when you’re flaring, can help you cope and put those around you at ease. “One of my common lines is, ‘Psoriasis is part of my charm,’” says Brown. “That’s because psoriasis has taught me who I ‘really’ am. It’s taught me that I am more than my ‘packaging,’ that my value comes from who I am on the inside. Keep the mood light and you will take the emotional charge off of psoriasis. Focus on the positive.”
7. Give a better handshake. Worried about shaking someone’s hands when your own are flaring? Consider gripping their sleeve-covered wrists or forearms or giving them a pat on the shoulder instead. Or, simply tell the truth. By saying, ‘‘My hands are broken out right now" or "I’ve just applied moisturizer to my hands and so I’m not going to shake yours, but I am truly so happy to meet you,” you will appear considerate and friendly, not standoffish.
8. Know your rights. People with psoriasis are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. “If you think you’re being discriminated against at work because of your psoriasis, you can do something about it legally,” says Brown. For more information, see the National Psoriasis Foundation’s Web page on the subject.