If you have scalp psoriasis, you know the struggle is real. A flare-up can turn your head into a scaly itch fest in a flash.
But even though there’s no cure, scalp psoriasis can totes be managed by meds and other treatments. Here’s the lowdown.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes chronic scaly, red or discolored, or flaky patches (aka plaques) on your skin.
According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, about 2 to 3 percent of the world’s population has psoriasis — that’s about 125 million people! In the United States, a 2013 study estimated that 7.4 million adults live with psoriasis.
Plaques can appear anywhere on your body, but typically show up on your:
Scalp psoriasis is particularly common. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA), about 50 percent of peeps with chronic plaque psoriasis will have a flare-up on their scalp.
P.S. Psoriasis is NOT contagious.
One study showed that researchers don’t know the exact cause of scalp psoriasis. But, it appears to develop when your immune system sends particular signals to your skin cells. This makes your cells multiply too fast, leading to those scaly patches.
According to a research review, other factors that lead to psoriasis include:
- body weight
Some folks also claim that allergies are to blame, but there’s not enough proof to back this up.
Scalp psoriasis symptoms can range from mild to severe. Common side effects include:
- raised red or discolored patches
- itching or burning
- flaking that looks like dandruff
Symptoms usually appear on your:
Psoriasis can indirectly cause hair loss. Giving in to scratch attacks on the reg — or harsh treatments — can make you lose some of your luscious locks. Thankfully, your hair should grow back after your skin clears up.
The AADA suggests trying these techniques to prevent hair loss:
- Avoid blow dryers or other hot tools.
- Use hair products that have menthol.
- Don’t use products that contain irritants.
- Keep your scalp moisturized with a top-notch conditioner.
- Press an ice pack or cool towel on the inflamed parts of your scalp.
While there’s currently no cure for psoriasis, there are a ton of over-the-counter (OTC) treatments, medications, or home remedies that can help. The exact type of treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms.
Look for OTC products that have:
Corticosteroids. They can ease itching and might reduce scaling. Just be sure to watch your usage because overkill can cause skin atrophy, according to a research review.
Salicylic acid. According to a research review, 5 to 10 percent salicylic acid topical cream could reduce scaling. It can also help other products penetrate your skin.
Psoriasis-friendly shampoos contain ingredients that may help ease symptoms, like:
Salicylic acid. This helps slough off excess skin cells.
Clobetasol propionate. According to a research review, studies show shampoos with 0.05 percent clobetasol propionate are effective and safe for initial scalp psoriasis treatment and maintenance. Keep in mind, it shouldn’t be used for more than 4 weeks at a time, according to the FDA.
Coal tar. This used to be a tried-and-true method of psoriasis care. But more current research suggests coal tar might not be safe or effective. Def talk with your doctor first before going with this option.
You can find dope psoriasis shampoos online. Just ask your doc first to make sure your products are legit.
If OTC psoriasis treatments don’t work, your dermatologist might prescribe prescription meds. Popular options include:
- oral retinoids
PSA: Some medication results lessen over time. So, you might have to rotate or combine your treatments for the best long-term results.
Natural or home remedies
These DIY treatments might help reduce symptoms on your scalp and your body:
Aloe vera. Gels and creams made with aloe can be super soothing.
Dead Sea salts. Soak the itchiness away with high-quality Dead Sea salts. Pro tip: Slather on the lotion (or conditioner) afterwards since salt can dry out your skin a bit.
Capsaicin. This ointment can help reduce itching by numbing nerve endings. But TBH, more research is needed to prove its efficacy.
Apple cider vinegar. Apply some organic apple cider vinegar directly to your scalp to reduce itching. To avoid irritation, dilute it in equal parts water and don’t use it on open wounds.
Oregon grape (mahonia aquifolium). This product contains herbal oils, emulsifiers, and a coal-tar solution that might ease symptoms, according to a study. But there’s limited research to prove its efficacy, and it doesn’t have FDA approval.
Turmeric. According to a research review, topical turmeric (aka curcumin) is known to reduce itch, lesion size, and pain. Some folks also dig it as a supplement. It’s “generally considered safe” by the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), but you should still check with your doc before adding a supplement to your diet.
If OTC treatments or meds aren’t cutting it, your doc might suggest an alternative treatment.
Biologic medications target specific molecules within immune cells. They could help regulate excess skin cell production.
- ixekizumab (TALTZ)
- Brodalumab (SILIQ)
- secukinumab (Cosentyx)
FYI: These meds can reduce your immune response which might make you more prone to develop infections. If you have tuberculosis (TB) or another chronic infection, your doc might not suggest a biologic medication.
Light therapy involves exposing psoriasis patches to ultraviolet (UV) light. But it can only be done by a trained practitioner to avoid overexposure or burns. So, don’t DIY!
According to a research review, certain steroids can reduce psoriasis-related itching and inflammation. Your doc might prescribe them as an oral pill, cream, or injection.
Scalp psoriasis can be a literal pain, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Plus, there are lots of ways to keep the itching at bay. Here are some helpful management tips:
- Moisturize. Keep your scalp hydrated to soften scales.
- Be gentle. Avoid harshly washing or brushing your hair. Stick to lukewarm water and calming products.
- Avoid scratching. Obvi this is a tough one, but scratching can lead to temporary hair loss, bleeding, or infections.
It’s also uber important that you seek treatment. Your doc can give you a prescription to get your scalp back on track.