Kim Kardashian has been quite candid about her psoriasis over the years, but if you didn't know about her struggles with the skin condition before, there's a good chance you became aware of it a couple of weeks ago when she defended her now-infamous in-office tanning bed by saying she uses it when her psoriasis is “really bad.” But, like so many people reluctantly familiar with psoriasis's red, scaly, itchy flare-ups, Kardashian tries to treat her symptoms in more than one way — and she shared another one of her methods on Instagram.
On January 30, Kardashian posted a few videos to her Instagram stories revealing an area on her shin that's very visibly redder than the surrounding skin. “How crazy is my psoriasis right now, guys? It's all up my leg. I dunno what's happening, but I gotta figure this out,” she says, staying in good spirits by joking that it's heart-shaped for Valentine's Day. She writes over the video that it's painful and that she's unsure what may be triggering the flare-up.
The next morning, she provides an update: a video of her lower leg swathed in plastic wrap. “How annoying is the noise — imagine sleeping like this on different parts of your body," she writes, making it immediately apparent that she's never had her skin wrapped up after a tattoo session. But what's also apparent is how much of a difference the plastic wrap seemingly made overnight.
To get “a little bit of relief,” Kardashian says as she unwraps her leg that she applies a cream (though what type of cream we're not sure) to the irritated area, shrouds it in plastic wrap, sleeps in it, then rubs the excess cream in after. “This is one time, and you saw how crazy and dark the spot was, and look at how much better it is — that's overnight. One time Saran-wrapping it. Is that not insane?” she rhapsodizes. “And my little heart-shaped psoriasis is still there, but one night of intense cream, just Saran-wrapped, changes everything. I mean, it's obviously still there, but the intense itching goes away.”
So what is it about Kim Kardashian's plastic wrap psoriasis-relieving method that is so seemingly effective? We talked to dermatologists to determine if this at-home approach is as safe and efficacious as it appears.
Before letting your expectations levitate a little too high, it's important to understand what you're dealing with when you're faced with a psoriasis flare-up. The barrier is impaired in skin that's affected by psoriasis, which can lead to dryness and itch. But that's just scratching the surface, so to speak. “Psoriasis is not just dry skin that can be treated with moisturizers. It's much more complicated than that,” says Hadley King, MD. “Psoriasis is a systemic, immune-mediated disorder, characterized by inflammatory skin and joint manifestations." She adds that skin cells don't mature properly and they keep proliferating, which is one of the reasons why the skin can become scaly and grow into thick plaques like Kardashian's.
Does Kim K's plastic wrap technique really work?
Kardashian is actually onto something by wrapping up her skin like leftovers. Using plastic wrap over a cream or other topical treatment on an area of skin is a form of occlusion therapy (the very method that makes sheet masks so effective).
“Occlusion therapy has been used for years in dermatology and involves covering a treated area of skin with a non-permeable plastic film to enhance the absorption of topical medications,” says De Anne Collier, MD, who explains that the wrap creates a barrier that traps moisture and heat, enhancing absorption. “In the case of psoriasis, this can increase the effectiveness of certain creams or ointments, as the absorption rate and the amount of active ingredients absorbed could be greatly increased.” Many times, this softens psoriasis scales and improves the red psoriasis patches at a faster rate.
“An added bonus is avoiding the potential mess of product rubbing off as one goes about their day or while sleeping,” adds Blair Murphy-Rose, MD. “I sometimes recommend this technique to patients who have children or pets to avoid transferring product onto them.”
But it's important to not expect psoriasis-solving miracles from doing this with your favorite body moisturizer. “Kim is not far off from what we recommend to patients in the appropriate context," says Mona Gohara, MD. "The difference is we usually are recommending a medication, not a lotion.”
How much does the moisturizer itself matter?
Kardashian doesn't name what exactly the “intense cream” under her plastic wrap is, so it's hard to say just how effective it is a few minutes beyond unwrapping.
“Moisturizers that contain humectants, emollients, and occlusives are important because they hydrate the skin, support the skin barrier, and help to lock in moisture,” says Dr. King. “This will help the skin look and feel better, but it's definitely not completely treating the psoriasis.”
Although Dr. Gohara says that over-the-counter creams that feature alpha hydroxy acids, urea, and petroleum jelly can be invoked in psoriasis treatments, Dr. King says it's possible that the cream Kardashian is using is a prescription corticosteroid cream. In addition to moisturizing the skin, this kind of doctor-prescribed topical treatment would provide anti-inflammatory properties, which are intensified by the increased penetration from wrapping the area in plastic wrap.
Before deciding to try this technique with a prescription cream, be sure to check in with your prescriber first. While it can intensify the therapeutic effects, “This technique can greatly magnify the absorption of topical medications which can lead to adverse reactions,” Dr. Collier says. “It should only be used under the direct supervision of a dermatologist.”
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Originally Appeared on Allure