If you live with psoriasis, there’s a good chance that you also experience its effects on your scalp. And that just sucks, because it’s itchy, scaly, and uncomfortable. Sounding familiar? Then you might be wondering how to remove psoriasis scales from your scalp without making the discomfort any worse.
A quick guide to removing psoriasis scales from your scalp
Scales getting you down? Follow these quick and easy steps:
- Locate those patches of itchy, flaky skin.
- Get the right cream or shampoo.
- Apply that shampoo to your head, and gently massage it in.
- Cover your head with a shower cap, and stand under warm water for 10 minutes to lock in active ingredients.
- Gently comb out your hair, taking your scales and your misery away.
- Enjoy your itch-free noggin.
Turn that frown upside down, because yes: you can absolutely do it! But it’s important to remove scales the right way. Otherwise, you’re increasing your risk of inflammation, pain, and infection. And that is not what we have in our plans for today.
Let’s take a look at how to remove psoriasis scales as safely as possible and bring the joy of less-itchy hair back into your life.
Step 1: Use chemical exfoliants
Yup, we know — “chemical exfoliants” sounds hella scary. What kind of toxic waste are you going to be putting on your poor, scaly skin? And on your head, no less?
No need to fret! When dermatologists talk about using chemical exfoliants on your scales, they’re talking about mild, generally organic substances.
These have active ingredients that soften the skin and make it easier to remove scales.
Take note: these ingredients are about to become your new squad members.
There’s actually a whole list of over-the-counter (OTC) products that docs recommend for psoriasis. But when it comes to scalp psoriasis, we’re mostly talking about two major players: salicylic acid and coal tar.
This stuff (which you’ll soon be adding into your phone as “Sally” with lots of heart emojis because it will be your BFF) is the OG of OTC psoriasis treatment.
A 2017 study found that salicylic acid can be super effective for softening and loosening scales, making them much easier for you to remove. But just like your BFF, you never want too much of it. Salicylic acid is strong stuff, so make sure you read the instructions and use it correctly.
This is a common ingredient in psoriasis medications, so you’ll find it pretty easy to buy.
And according to research from 2017, coal tar was particularly handy for treating scalp psoriasis, with symptoms usually improving after 1 month and peeps staying in remission (i.e., symptom-free) for longer than they did with other topical psoriasis treatments.
It did fall out of favor at one point, thanks to being a little bit smelly and causing side effects like staining, contact dermatitis, and stinging. But it’s back with a new, better-smelling formula — and it’s milder than salicylic acid.
You can also look out for creams or shampoos containing urea. Research that assesses its benefits is slim pickings, but it commonly pops up in keratolytics (the fancy word for topical treatments that soften the skin).
The National Psoriasis Foundation also lists lactic acid as a useful ingredient for scale lifters.
Let’s start by locating those pesky scales. Your removal tactics are going to be slightly different depending on where it is.
Are your scales behind your ear, on your neck, or in a place generally free of hair? You’ll need a spot treatment you can put directly onto your skin.
Scales surrounded by hair mean you’ll need a specialized shampoo instead.
Do I pick a spot treatment or shampoo?
If your scales don’t have pesky hair sprouting out of them or surrounding them, you can bust out the good stuff. You’ll need to find a cream or topical treatment containing those good ol’ active ingredients. These tend to be stronger than psoriasis shampoos.
Hair getting in the way? Then the shampoos are the way forward. Yes, they’re milder and gentler (this is your scalp we’re talking about, after all), but they’ll still do a fine job of softening those scales up.
Check out this list of shampoos recommended by the National Psoriasis Foundation. They know their stuff when it comes to scale-softening suds.
Step 2: Physical removal
Okay, you’ve got all the tools you need — it’s time to descale, and wave goodbye to that itchy head. You’ve got this!
First things first: you need to apply your shampoo and let it start doing its job.
Apply it and rub it in gently (no sense in going hell for leather — you’ll just irritate your skin). Get it under your fingertips, pretend you’re in that fancy salon, and give yourself a light head massage.
Consider a scalp mask
Want to take a break, feel a little bit luxurious, and give yourself an easier time with getting rid of those scales?
You can plop a plastic cap (heck, even a plastic grocery bag will do the trick) over your soapy locks and stand under the shower for 10 minutes.
Keeping the water warm rather than hot will lock in those active ingredients.
It’s worth taking your time and following these steps gently but thoroughly:
- Get a fine-toothed comb.
- Then, carefully and gently comb your hair out. You should find that if you get the comb nice and close to your scalp, it’ll bring all those troublesome scales away with it.
- Bring the comb right to the ends of your hair, give it a wipe on a towel (no point in putting your scales back in your hair), and go in again.
Be meticulous. Be painstaking. Comb every inch of your hair, especially around the scales. You’ll thank yourself for it later.
Then, rinse out the suds.
So, this is the gentle way to get those pesky scales out of your hair and your life, just like your ex. But it’s also good to know what triggers your psoriasis, as you can then avoid it as best you can (also like your ex).
Everyone with psoriasis has a different trigger, and you might already know what yours is. If you’re not sure, here are some likely culprits:
- stress (tends to be the most common, especially as psoriasis itself will make you more stressed!)
- skin injuries
- illnesses like ear infections or tonsillitis
- food allergies
- extremely dry, hot, or cold environments
Nail what’s triggering your psoriasis symptoms, and you’ll have fewer scales to worry about in the first place.
Do. Not. Pick. Your. Scales.
For the love of your skin, avoid picking your psoriasis scales. You’ll make it worse, and possibly throw infection into the bargain.
So just… no.
So you’ve tried shampooing your scales away. But does it feel like they’re not really clearing up? It’s a bummer, for sure, and now you’re wondering what else you can do. Anything?
Good news: there are other avenues you can explore, though you’ll want to discuss them with your doc first.
- Coal tar. It’s not just for shampoo — you can apply it directly to your skin.
- Keratolytics. These are peeling agents (yes, we know that sounds gross) that are commonly available in creams and shampoos.
- Topical corticosteroids. Like keratolytics, it’s available in creams and can stop that itchy feeling.
- Prescription shampoo. Yup, your doc can help you get your hands on the stronger stuff.
- Steroid injections. You can a direct injection into your patches (and yes, it’ll probably sting a bit).
- Oral meds. These generally slow down the formation and development of your patches.
- UV light treatment. This is an effective, pain-free treatment for psoriasis scales.
When to see a doc or healthcare pro
Home treatments can really help — most of the time. What if you start using them, and your psoriasis seems to be getting worse? Is this a “gets worse before it gets better” kind of thing?
If you notice this, stop using whatever you’ve been trying, and chat with a doc or healthcare pro. There’s no one-size-fits-all psoriasis treatment, and this one may not be working for you.
Your healthcare pro can check it over and prescribe something that might be more effective for you.
Scalp psoriasis can be hella uncomfortable and tough on your mental health. Luckily, if you’re careful about it, you can gently remove the scales and make life a little bit easier.
Check out specialist shampoos and creams designed to make those flakes rise off your skin. Gently apply them to your head, targeting where those itchy patches are, and leave them a little time to work their magic.
Comb your hair thoroughly, and voila! Your scales may well be reduced. If it’s still not working, it’s worth having a word with your doctor. They can prescribe some stronger shampoos or creams to try out. And if you notice your scales getting any worse, stop using the treatment, and head back to the doc.
Scales be gone! Soon you’ll be rocking a scale-free scalp and a less itchy life.