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One of the bummers of psoriasis? It can make your skin extremely sensitive to certain skin products.
“Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition in which the body has increased turnover of skin cells, which results in scaling red patches on areas such as the elbows, the knees, and the scalp,” says Rajani Katta, MD, board-certified dermatologist and author of “Glow: The Dermatologist’s Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet.”
The good news, says Michael Kassardjian, MD, board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles, is that topical treatments used in the shower can greatly improve your symptoms.
If you have psoriasis, these dermatologist-recommended ingredients and products will keep flare-ups at bay and help clear up your skin.
- Corticosteroids: “These have been found helpful when used in prescription strength shampoos,” says Dr. Katta.
- Salicylic acid: “Salicylic acid helps remove the scales and urea helps thin out thick plaques and soften the skin,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, MD, and Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.
- Zinc pyrithione: “Zinc pyrithione is useful in more mild cases to help reduce inflammation and flaking,” says Dr. Zeichner. “It is thought that yeast on the skin may be a driving factor for inflammation, leading to flaking and dandruff.”
More research is needed, but these products could help:
- Tar soap: “Tar helps skin cells mature properly and has been used for decades to treat psoriasis,” says Dr. Kassardjian
- Essential oils: Essential oils have been studied for use in treating inflammatory conditions, including dermatitis, eczema, and lupus. However, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation, these natural remedies are effective when used in conjunction with traditional treatment methods. It notes that tea tree oil has not been scientifically proven to effectively treat psoriasis, but that some people find tea tree oil shampoos relieve their scalp psoriasis.
- Aloe vera: Aloe vera has been minimally studied in the treatment of psoriasis. One study found that applying a .5 percent aloe vera extract 3 times a day for 4 weeks saw 25 out of 30 patients with improved symptoms.
- Omega-3 fish oil: The research on fish oil is mixed. However, one study found that taking at least 3 grams of it per day may show some benefits.
It’s psoriasis care 101, but ditch the soaps and shampoos with fragrance additives, as they can trigger allergic reactions, advises Dr. Katta. Also, keep an eye out for products with methylisothiazolinone — a ridiculously named preservative that is also linked to allergic reactions.
Anything with an alkaline pH should also stay out of your shower, says Dr. Zeichner, because it can disrupt the outer skin layer.
Last but not least, say goodbye to products that require frequent use, which are a one-way ticket to dryness and irritation.
“When you use shampoos, think of them more as short contact therapies,” says Dr. Zeichner. “While they will clean the hair, the goal with psoriasis shampoo is to treat the scalp.” Here are his rules for application:
- Using your fingertips, massage a dollop of shampoo into your scalp.
- Let it work its magic while you sing Happy Birthday — or any other song that lasts about 20–30 seconds.
- Rinse — don’t repeat. Until your next shower, that is.
Now that you know how to shampoo like JVN, pick up any of these doctor-approved options:
- Neutrogena T-Sal Shampoo, $10
“Salicylic acid is particularly useful if you have thick scales on the scalp,” says Dr. Zeichner. “It can be used every day or as needed.”
- Nizoral A-D Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, $11
Ketoconazole shampoo contains an anti-fungal ingredient and may help with some of the scalp inflammation seen in psoriasis.
- Neutrogena T/Gel Extra Strength Therapeutic Shampoo, $11
“This contains a purified version of tar, which may help reduce some of the [flaking] of the scalp,” says Dr. Katta.
- Kamedis Dandruff Therapy Shampoo, $16
Yeast is a big component behind inflammation and scale-like symptoms on the scalp. The zinc in this shampoo takes care of that nasty yeast, says Dr. Zeichner. “This shampoo is useful if you have dandruff or mild forms of psoriasis. It can even be used as a face cleanser in areas like the eyebrows and around the nose where psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis show up.”
For soaps, reach for products that don’t contain common allergens. Some suggestions:
- Aveeno Skin Relief Gentle Scent Body Wash Soothing Oat & Chamomile, $22
“Especially if the skin is dry or itchy, look for hydrating and skin protecting ingredients like colloidal oatmeal, which is found in this soap,” says Dr. Zeichner.
- CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser, $14
This soap has a gentle foaming formula that won’t strip the skin of its natural barrier.
- Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, $12
Dr. Katta recommends this liquid cleanser to anyone with super sensitive skin. One note: It doesn’t foam, so don’t go crazy trying to lather it up.
- Vanicream Z-Bar, $10
There’s no fragrance or formaldehyde preservatives, which is great for people with psoriasis.
- CeraVe Psoriasis Cleanser, $15
“This cleanser contains salicylic acid and helps thin out thick, bothersome psoriasis plaques,” says Dr. Zeichner.
While you should always keep your healthcare provider in the loop, if your joints start hurting you should make an appointment ASAP. About 30 percent of people with psoriasis will also develop psoriatic arthritis, which causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in and around the joints.
There’s also another form of psoriasis called palmoplantar pustular psoriasis, which causes deep blisters or pustules within psoriasis patches and usually requires medical treatment, Dr. Katta explains.
Finally, if your psoriasis is worsening, spreading, or preventing you from social or professional obligations, it’s time to check in with your dermatologist, adds Dr. Katta.
At the end of the day, managing your psoriasis should be easy-peasy with the help of your doctor and a psoriasis-friendly skin care/cleansing routine.