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Unless you’re Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, nobody likes a dry, flakey scalp. If scalp psoriasis is the culprit, it can take some trial and error to get your flare-ups under control.
The good news: There are lots of treatments you can try at home to help clear up your skin. And, in fact, around 40 percent of people with psoriasis are reported to use alternative therapies to treat their skin. We’ve got 15 of them right here.
It’s easy to think that patches of dry, itchy skin on the scalp are caused by some kind of lack of hygiene. But cleanliness has nothing to do with scalp psoriasis.
Psoriasis is actually a chronic inflammatory disorder caused when the immune system doesn’t work quite right. Doctors aren’t sure why, but some people have an immune system that churns out too many skin cells. Since the body can’t get rid of these excess cells fast enough, they pile on top of each other, forming flakey, silvery scales.
Psoriasis can pop up anywhere on the body, but when it shows up on your head, dry skin patches can appear under the hair, on the back of the neck, and behind the ears.
It’s easy to confuse psoriasis with dandruff, and sometimes dermatologists aren’t so sure themselves. When it looks like a blend between psoriasis and dandruff, they call it sebopsoriasis — a cute couples name for “seborrheic dermatitis,” aka dandruff, and “psoriasis.”
However, some clues that your scalp irritation might be psoriasis include more defined or patterned pink scale-like plaques. (These plaques can also show up on other parts of the body.)
Dandruff looks more like generalized greasy flaking with pink patches. Over-the-counter (OTC) shampoos can typically knock out dandruff, but scalp psoriasis is a little harder to treat.
Though there’s no clear cause, stress and inflammation may trigger or worsen a psoriasis flare-up. Alcohol, and smoking are also suspected culprits, as are new medications like oral beta blockers (this can be a big ‘un).
Everyone is triggered differently, so if you have psoriasis, it’s helpful to monitor what sets off your flares.
While you should def keep your healthcare provider in the loop, these natural, at-home treatments may help soothe those psoriasis patches.
1. Pop some shamps’
At the regular drugstore, you’ll find OTC shampoos to help keep flakes away. Be sure to avoid dandruff shampoos as they’ll be less effective. Instead look for specific psoriasis shampoos, especially ones that include coal tar or salicylic acid.
These shampoos should give you relief from itching and some removal of flakes. You may need to keep doing this on a regular basis to control your psoriasis. Just make sure to keep the bottle handy for the next time psoriasis decides to visit your scalp.
2. Stop, drop, and de-inflame
Psoriasis is often caused by a bout of inflammation in the body. By avoiding foods that fuel inflammation and tinkering with your diet, you could help keep psoriasis at bay or shorten the span of a flare-up.
They key word here being “could.” A lot of research has been done regarding psoriasis and diet and the results are, unfortunately, underwhelming.
However, there are a couple promising exceptions. The jury is still out, but some research suggests going gluten-free might help. Fish oil is another potentially helpful option (more on that below).
Additionally, though the science is so-so, limiting red meat, dairy, and processed foods could help improve symptoms.
There’s not much to support anti-inflammatory eating, but a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats has benefits beyond improving your psoriasis since people with psoriasis are at a higher risk of diabetes, liver issues, and heart problems.
Last but not least, weight loss may also improve symptoms if you’re a person with overweight.
3. Reach for aloe vera
If you’ve ever had a sunburn, you probably understand the deep, skin healing properties of aloe vera. If you use a cream with .5 percent aloe vera, it can moisturize the skin and reduce redness, itchiness, and flaking. Even better, aloe vera is super gentle, so you can apply it up to 3 times per day to lessen irritation and keep skin hydrated.
4. An apple (cider vinegar) a day…
Apple cider vinegar, you media darling! You can use it to aid digestion, flavor your salad dressing, clean your kitchen, and potentially boost skin health.
Be warned — much as we love it, ACV isn’t exactly dermatologists’ favorite at-home option. It needs more research and has actually been found in some cases to make skin conditions like eczema (and in some cases, psoriasis) flare and make skin irritation worse. So use at your own risk.
For people who have experienced success with ACV, it’s been suggested as a treatment for itching (which means it won’t do anything about those plaques or flakes).
As with all topical treatments for scalp psoriasis, check with your derm to make sure it’s the right choice for you and apply gently. Use a 1:1 ratio of vinegar to water and delicately dab onto the scalp. Let it sit for a few minutes and rinse with warm water. Don’t pick or scratch! It’ll only make the breakout worse.
5. Get baking (soda)
Another kitchen miracle ingredient, baking soda can provide quick relief for an itchy scalp. Draw yourself a bath and stir in 1/4 cup of baking soda (you can experiment with how much baking soda to add, but don’t exceed 2 cups). Relax for up to 40 minutes, rinse, and gently pat dry.
If chilling with your head submerged in the tub doesn’t sound great, you can also create a little scalp bath in your sink. Pull up a chair, lean back, and soak. Just remember to start with less baking soda to compensate for the smaller “tub” of water.
FYI: don’t use this as a scrub! Baking soda is a powerful scrubber and it will irritate your scalp if you really rub it in. If you don’t go overboard when using, it can relieve a lot of discomfort.
6. Go (coco)nuts
Get more for your money by using coconut oil as a psoriasis soother and a hair mask. Massage about a teaspoon of coconut oil on your scalp then put on a shower cap. If you can keep the coconut oil on overnight, that’s amazing. If not, shoot for at least an hour. Although there isn’t support for its use in psoriasis, the oil might nourish the scalp.
7. Make some oatmeal
Science has yet to figure out why oatmeal is so soothing, but an oatmeal bath may help irritated skin (plain of course — we don’t need any dried apple bits floating around).
There’s no support for its use in psoriasis but you can give it a try. Draw yourself a lukewarm bath and add a cup of ground colloidal oatmeal to the water. Soak for about 5 to 8 minutes (be sure your scalp is submerged, obv) and you may notice reduced itching and less redness.
8. Get minty fresh
The natural menthol in peppermint oil cools inflamed skin and usually reduces redness and itching. Mix 2 to 3 drops of peppermint oil with coconut, almond, or your carrier oil of choice. Then, massage the mixture into the scalp (gently!).
If you don’t have time for an oil treatment, you can mix 5 to 7 drops of peppermint oil with a cup of water, then spritz the mix on your itchiest areas. Relief should be quick and you get the added bonus of smelling like a candy cane.
9. Pass the salt
This is another *maybe* treatment. Studies support bathing in water from the Dead Sea for treating psoriasis. But since it’s kind of expensive to make the trip, people have DIY’d this treatment via at-home Epsom salt baths.
Take note: It’s unclear if and how this salt water swap works, so it may or may not be helpful as an at-home treatment.
To try the homemade version, take a whole body soak in warm water and Epsom salts for 15 minutes. After you’re done, dry carefully and apply a moisturizing agent (like coconut oil) to make sure that your scalp psoriasis flare doesn’t dry out after your bath.
10. Make time for afternoon tea (tree oil)
Tea tree oil isn’t messing around. This strong antimicrobial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory oil can treat scalp psoriasis when paired with a carrier oil (like coconut).
Don’t go nuts with this one. Start with just a drop or two and see how your skin reacts. Also, if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, have linear IgA disease, or are taking the antibiotic vancomycin, then this oil is not for you.
11. Soak up some sun
Often for severe scalp psoriasis, doctors will prescribe phototherapy. Basically, they shine artificial UVB light on your scalp and those rays help slow the growth of skin cells.
To get a low dose of phototherapy, go sit in the sun (but only after talking to your dermatologist first about how to do so safely)! Natural sunlight also contains UVB rays and may help treat psoriasis.
Whenever you’re out in the sun, be sure to wear sunscreen since prolonged sun exposure isn’t great for the rest of your skin — also, sunburn can be especially dangerous for people with psoriasis.
If you’re on a medication for psoriasis, you may be more prone to sunburn. And to be clear, sunlight isn’t as effective as artificial phototherapy, so ask your healthcare provider before you give sunbathing a try.
12. Try some tar
The idea of putting tar soap in your hair might sound like some kind of Huck Finn-esque punishment, but coal tar is actually very effective in treating scalp psoriasis.
Coal tar contains carbazole, an ingredient that’s been shown to stop cells from getting inflamed. This is great for scalp psoriasis, since it comes in the form of a shampoo.
As you might guess, coal tar is a strong ingredient, so it should only be used during flare ups, 3 times per week at most. If you’re not flaring, put the coal tar away, it’ll only irritate your skin.
Bottomline: Tar shampoo may not be for everyone, but it’s a classic treatment for psoriasis and could definitely be worth trying. To give it a shot, try this doctor-recommended option.
13. Unwind with lavender and calendula
Not many antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agents are known for helping you relax, but that’s the magic of lavender essential oil. You can also add calendula oil to the mix (it contains anti-inflammatory properties as well as being antibacterial, and healing/soothing to skin), along with a carrier oil, and apply directly to the scalp.
Just remember to only add a few drops of essential oil to each tablespoon of carrier oil you use, and do a patch test first to make sure you don’t have a sensitivity to those particular oils.
Some potential carrier oils:
- grape seed oil
- avocado oil
- jojoba oil
Sadly the science here is still a little lacking, so make sure to do your homework and chat with a derm before oiling up.
Another option that doesn’t involve topical application: Since stress makes psoriasis flares worse, you can sit in a quiet room with dim lighting, some lavender oil in the diffuser, and just chilllll. This may not affect your psoriasis in the short term, but it could help the flare go away faster. And, bonus points for caring for your mental health.
14. Go Omega
This is one oil you don’t have to put on your head. Omega-3 fatty acids are touted as being anti-inflammatory and fish oil supplements are a great way to get a lot of these lovely fatty acids. Though the jury is still out on fish oil supplements, a 2018 systematic review suggested it may be helpful.
15. Turn up with turmeric
Another noted anti-inflammatory and skin soother, a daily turmeric supplement can help treat psoriasis (just be diligent in your research, as some supplements have been found to have lead contaminants — bleck).
If you’d rather not take a turmeric pill, you can add the spice directly to your food. Whether you enjoy a turmeric latte or a delicious curry, there are lots of turmeric recipes to try to help your skin.
Not all scalp psoriasis cases will respond to at-home treatments, and it’s just best practice to always keep your healthcare provider in the loop. If you have severe plaque buildup or flares that won’t go away, make the call and meet with your doc.
Also, if you ever get joint pain during a flare up, make an appointment ASAP. Many people with psoriasis also have psoriatic arthritis, which causes swelling and joint pain. It’s also a condition that can cause serious problems when left untreated.
When it comes to scalp psoriasis, a doctor will typically prescribe a topical treatment. The most common topicals contain corticosteroids, which reduce inflammation.
If topicals aren’t enough, they may be combined with phototherapy, oral medications, and sometimes biologic therapy. For severe flare-ups, you might also be prescribed pills to suppress your immune system.
Typically, home treatments should be used in conjunction with prescribed [proven] treatments which can relieve the irritation of psoriasis and leave you with a happy scalp. Don’t forget to always chat with your healthcare provider about any and all alternative therapies you’re using.
Together, you can get your scalp on the mend in no time.