Seven Topical Treatments for Psoriasis


Psoriasis is a skin disease that forms a buildup of dead cells that appear as silver scales. The condition is relatively common, but it is disfiguring, uncomfortable, and sometimes painful. Psoriasis is a chronic condition that alternates between disease flare-ups and periods of remission.

Topical Treatments

Most treatments aim to interrupt the growth cycle that causes rapid skin buildup. They help reduce inflammation, remove crusty scales, and soothe the skin. While oral medicines and light therapy are necessary in some instances, most cases respond well to topical treatments.

Doctors usually prescribe topical medications as the first treatment option. Used alone, they are most effective for mild and moderate psoriasis. Severe cases usually require combination treatments.

Topical Corticosteroids

There are many different types of psoriasis medications. Topical corticosteroids are the most common type. These anti-inflammatory medications suppress the immune system to slow skin cell turnover. Available in a range of strengths, they effectively reduce swelling and relieve itching.

Doctors prescribe corticosteroid ointments for small areas of skin. They prescribe medicated shampoos and solutions for scalp psoriasis. Low-potency medications are recommended for sensitive areas of the skin.

Synthetic Vitamin D

Vitamin D analogues, artificial forms of the vitamin, slow the growth of skin cells. Doctors prescribe synthetic vitamin D as a topical cream for mild or moderate psoriasis. This treatment is often used in conjunction with other psoriasis topical medications or light therapy.

Topical Retinoids

Topical retinoids are derived from vitamin A. While they are commonly used to treat acne and sun damage, some topical retinoids are formulated especially for psoriasis treatment. They work by normalizing DNA activity in the skin, which helps reduce itching and swelling.

Anthralin Cream

Anthralin is another topical treatment for psoriasis. Like topical retinoids, anthralin cream normalizes DNA activity in the skin cells. It also removes the crusty scale associated with psoriasis, soothing and smoothing the skin. Because it has a tendency to stain anything it touches, anthralin is usually prescribed for short-term treatment.

Calcineurin Inhibitors

While calcineurin inhibitors were formulated to treat dermatitis, studies have shown them to be effective for psoriasis too. This type of treatment works to disrupt T cell activity to reduce skin swelling and itching. With doctor approval and input, calcineurin inhibitors can be helpful for treating thin, sensitive areas of the skin.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a non-prescription topical treatment. It is useful for a number of skin conditions, including psoriasis. Salicylic acid reduces scaling by sloughing off dead skin cells. It is available as a topical solution, scalp solution or medicated shampoo ingredient.

Coal Tar

Last on the list of topical treatments is coal tar, by-product of coal and petroleum. The thick, black product is the oldest treatment for psoriasis. Coal tar is messy and has an unpleasant odor, but it reduces skin inflammation, itching and scaling. It is available in over-the-counter creams, oils, and shampoos.


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