How psoriasis spreads

November 17, 2010

Question: Is psoriasis contagious?

Answer: No, psoriasis is not contagious. This is a common misconception because of the visible nature of lesions on exposed skin, which appears very red and inflamed. In reality, psoriasis does not have a tendency to become infected, perhaps because of the rapid turnover of the cells in a psoriatic plaque. However, if the psoriasis plaques are itchy and the patient scratches or picks at the lesions to remove scales, open, cracked or raw skin areas can develop and may get infected.

Question: Since psoriasis is not contagious, how
does it spread?

Answer: Psoriasis is not contagious and it is not spread by skin-to skin contact. We do not understand all of the reasons why psoriasis appears in certain skin sites. Lesions often develop in areas of pressure such as on the elbows and knees, or on the knuckles of the hands. It can, however, appear anywhere on the body including the scalp, palms and soles, skin folds and genital areas. Trigger factors including skin injury—friction or irritation can result in the appearance of psoriasis on a certain skin site. This is called the Koebner phenomenon. Infection can also make it worse. A type of widespread psoriasis appearing as small droplike plaques all over the body may be triggered by a streptococcal sore throat (strep throat).

Elizabeth A. Abel, M.D.

Elizabeth A. Abel, M.D., is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. She is currently practicing in Mountain View California at the California Skin Institute and evaluates patients with all forms of psoriasis. Dr. Abel has served as an Advisory Board Member of the National Psoriasis Foundation, as Assistant Editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology and is the 2010-2011 President of the Pacific Dermatologic Association.

Dr. Abel is a member of the Adjunct Clinical Faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine. She received her medical training at New York University and at the University of Maryland. She has over 80 publications in the peer-reviewed medical literature, and is the author of 22 book chapters and Editor of “Photochemotherapy in Dermatology”.


  • Is there any exposure, contact, like hair brushes or bath towels in which any form of psoriasis can be transmitted to another person?

  • Hi Paula,
    Psoriasis is a hereditary, genetic disorder and is not contagious or infectious in any form. It cannot be spread or contracted by coming into contact with lesions, blood or bodily fluids. For more information about the science of psoriasis, please visit our website: Should you have any additional questions, please feel free to email the Foundation at

  • My 92 year old sister has a terrible looking scalp that looks like the scale on a link online I saw on a person’s elbow. One link said that sometimes taking Herbs can cause this. My sister takes an unbelievable amount of Shaklee Products. I am wondering if that can cause this problem.

    Thank you. Mrs. Ola Heflin

  • Hi Ola,
    Thanks for your comment. Herbs are not known to trigger psoriasis. However, psoriasis triggers are not universal. What may cause one person’s psoriasis to become active, may not affect another. You can also read more about psoriasis triggers on our website: By recognizing and addressing psoriasis triggers, patients can better manage their illness and perhaps require less medical intervention. Triggers may be anything from stress and environmental factors, to changes in diet and medication, or illnesses.

    Scalp psoriasis is very common. In fact, at least half of all people who have psoriasis have it on their scalp. Many treatment options can help control scalp psoriasis and its symptoms. Sometimes scalp psoriasis will clear on its own, or it can remain on the scalp for long periods. For more information, please visit our website:

  • Dr. Abel, Thank you for the medical info AND the websites to continue my reasesrch. Seems that my psoriasis is around my hairline. NOW, I have a dry scaly area between my eyebrows and is spreading down the bridge of my nose. If I use make-up of any kind to hide it, the area becomes much, much worse.
    The above issues started about 1 1/2 years ago. Within the past six months, I have been diagnosed with “Neuropathy” of my legs and the left side of my neck, in front of the ear causing severe pain in my left ear and left eye. When the pain occurs in my neck, ear, and eye, the only thing I can do is go to bed with low heat on the area and try to sleep…Do you think the many doctors and specialists may have missed something?

  • My boyfriend has got psoriasis on his face and scalp and often uses my hairbrush. Lately I’ve started feeling itchiness on my scalp and wondering if I caught anything?

  • Hi Joanne: psoriasis is not contagious, and lesions are not infections. This means that you cannot ‘catch’ it from someone else. Do be sure to talk to a dermatologist to learn more about what might be causing the itchiness you’re experiencing.

  • Hi Rita: if you are unsure about your current diagnosis and treatment plan, you are always welcome to seek a second opinion from another provider. Finding the right doctor and developing a good relationship is critical to achieving positive treatment results. If you need, you can use the Health Care Provider Directory provided by the National Psoriasis Foundation:

  • I have one patch of psoriasis (according to visual doctor diagnosis) on the top of my left foot. Because I also have rheumatoid arthritis, I have great difficulty applying the Triamcinolone Acetonide 0.1% cream (no tool and/or tissue/pad combo works.) What does work, is using my right heel to spread the cream on the left foot but I’m terrified I’m going to end up with a new patch on that heel. Right now it’s contained to a three inch square and I’d like to keep it that way. Am I in danger of creating new a location by applying treatment in this manner? Thank you!

  • Hello Maiasatara: it is unlikely you would develop psoriasis in a new location by applying your treatment this way. However, Triamcinolone is a corticosteroid that can be associated with side effects when used excessively or in the wrong areas of skin. Because of this it’s important to only apply small amounts of the topical to affected areas, and avoid applying to healthy skin (like the skin on your right heel). Talk with your health care provider about finding an assistive device to apply your ointments.

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