Santa Monica walks to cure psoriasis

In high school, she was teased for her dandruff and breakouts. Today, Mabelynn Capeluj is Miss California USA 2013 and the ambassador for the Walk to Cure Psoriasis in Los Angeles.

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, psoriasis is a noncontagious, autoimmune disease that appears on the skin. It is a genetic disorder that speeds up the growth cycle of skin cells, causing raised, red, scaly patches. External factors, such as stress, injury to skin, some medications used to treat heart problems or psychiatric disorders can trigger the outbreak.

Psoriasis is the most common autoimmune disease in the United States. A little over seven million Americans are affected, according to the NPF.

On Saturday, the NPF hosted the annual Walk to Cure Psoriasis for the sixth time at the Santa Monica Pier, where Capeluj spoke as its ambassador for the first time to share her story.

"In high school, I had dandruff all over, and no fingernails," said Capeluj. "I was breaking out all over my face and scalp. They made fun of me. No treatment was working for me until I was out in the sun and enjoying myself. You have to just accept it and accept yourself and be comfortable in your own skin."

The Walk to Cure Psoriasis was a free event, and drew over 300 people of all different ages who either have psoriasis or know someone with the disease, said Richard Seiden, the immediate past chair of the NPF.

The event was designed to bring people with the disease together, show support and to raise awareness and fundraise for research, Seiden said.

According to the NPF, the research into the genetics of psoriasis began in the 1970s. Funds are used to finance further research since there is currently no cure for the disease.

Researchers have found that psoriasis increases the risk for other chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, depression, cardiovascular disease, immune-related conditions, and psoriatic arthritis, which causes pain, stiffness and swelling around the joints.

According to the NPF, symptoms can be treated with medical drugs, different medications, or with phototherapy, which involves a regular exposure of the skin to ultraviolet light.

However, depending on the medical insurance plan, treatment can be very expensive. Medication can exceed a monthly cost of $2,500 and can lose its effect when the body builds a tolerance to it, said Elliott Derzaph, chair of the walk.

Derzaph himself has had psoriasis for 35 years. He said he appreciates the socializing effect of the event.

"I have made so many friends," Derzaph said. "We support each other and communicate, and know each others' stories. It became an outlet for sharing knowledge and a support group. It has taken me many, many years to adapt to having psoriasis. I used to hide it all the time, but I finally realized that it doesn’t work that way. I am here to live.”

Seiden said that the event helps people with psoriasis acknowledge that they have the disease.

"It makes it psychologically worse to hide it," he said. "Some people become inter-focused. We try to help them accept it, but at the same [time] control it, so that they can live with themselves and try to make the best of the situation.”

Capeluj also showed her support and encouragement.

“The walk helps the people to know that they are not alone with psoriasis," she said. "As Miss California, I want to show people not to let it stop them from doing what they want to do."

"A lot of people try to hide it and are really embarrassed," said Capeluj. "Through the pageantry, I have to be onstage in a swimsuit in front of millions of people, and if I can do that while having psoriasis, I feel that everyone can overcome it.”