Natural Remedies for Psoriasis

Topical, Oral, and Self-Care Treatments That May Help

Woman with psoriasis on her elbows
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People often turn to natural remedies to treat psoriasis symptoms or reduce the recurrence of flares. The appeal of complementary or alternative therapies may differ from person to person, but often stems from the fact that psoriasis can be a difficult disease to treat—even with newer and more effective biologic drugs. In addition, the cost and side effects of newer-generation medications make many take pause.

Although there is little clinical evidence to support their use, that hasn't stopped consumers from embracing natural remedies for psoriasis, particularly if pharmaceutical drugs fail to provide relief. 

If considering a complementary or alternative therapy, be sure to speak with your doctor to ensure it is safe for you to use and won't interact with any medications you are taking for your psoriasis or any other conditions.

Topical Treatments

People with psoriasis typically rely on topical drugs that treat the disease locally. These include topical corticosteroids that block inflammation (e.g., hydrocortisone) and topical retinoids that slow the hyperproduction of skin cells (e.g., Retin-A (tretinoin).

In addition to these pharmaceutical medications, there are natural alternatives that may help treat psoriasis in different ways.

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera has been used for centuries to treat sunburn, burns, and eczema. It has a cooling effect that can soothe inflammation and ease itching Proponents also claim that aloe vera can speed the healing process and reduce the severity of psoriasis.

The evidence of this remains largely unsubstantiated. Although a 2010 study from Thailand concluded topical aloe vera was more effective than 0.1% triamcinolone acetonide (a topical corticosteroid) in treating psoriasis, other studies have shown just the opposite. The same applies to aloe vera's effect on burns and skin repair; no such benefits have ever been shown. This doesn't mean, however, that aloe vera has no effect.

Aloe vera is a potent emollient that helps lock moisture into the skin. This is beneficial to people with psoriasis in that it reduces dryness and prevents irritants from infiltrating cracks and triggering pruritus (itching). It also has a mild anti-inflammatory effect that can't help but alleviate local discomfort.

Topical Capsaicin

Capsaicin (the chemical that gives chili peppers their heat) is widely available in topical patches and ointments to treat muscle pain and neuralgia (nerve pain). There is some evidence that it can reduce some of the pain and discomfort that accompanies psoriasis.

Capsaicin is thought to stimulate the release of substance P, a chemical that transmits pain signals from sensory nerves to the brain. Applying capsaicin to the skin appears to deplete the local stores of substance P, making less available to deliver nerves signals. To date, few studies have looked into this effect in relation to psoriasis.

A 2016 review from Korea did suggest that capsaicin can help reduce psoriatic itchiness by preventing the stimulation of nerve endings known as nociceptors. While this may reduce itch, there is no evidence that it can reduce the duration or severity of the psoriatic outbreak.

Never apply capsaicin to broken skin as this can cause extreme burning sensations and promote, rather than reduce, inflammation.

Oral Supplements

Oral pharmaceutical drugs commonly used to treat psoriasis include retinoids like Soriatane (acitretin), disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) like methotrexate, and biologic drugs like Humira (adalimumab).

Natural medicines have also been used in traditional medicine to treat psoriasis. Unlike their pharmaceutical counterparts, they have few side effects. But, they also don't target the autoimmune response in the same direct way and are invariably less effective.

With that said, proponents strongly believe that natural supplements like turmeric and omega-3 fatty acid can reduce the frequency (if not the severity) of psoriatic flares.

Turmeric

Turmeric contains a substance known as curcumin that has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. A number of test tube studies have shown that curcumin can alter the function of tumor necrosis factor (TNF), an inflammatory compound that helps trigger the hyperproduction of skin cells in people with psoriasis. It is unknown whether the same occurs when turmeric is ingested.

If you decide to use turmeric in supplement form, you should take no more than 1.5 to 3 grams daily. If consumed in excess, turmeric may cause nausea, vomiting, and arrhythmia (abnormal heart rate).

Omega-3 Fatty Acid

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat with potent anti-inflammatory effects. Found in high quantities in oily fish, nuts, flaxseed, and fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in supplement form.

While there is no doubt that these omega-3 fatty acids are good for the heart, it has yet to be shown that they can temper inflammation enough to reduce or prevent psoriatic flares.

A 2011 study from Spain suggested that a co-formulated supplement rich in omega-3 fatty acids was more effective in treating psoriasis than tacalcitol, a vitamin D derivative commonly used to treat psoriasis.

Despite the positive findings, the conclusions were limited by the small size of the study (30 participants) and the plethora of other ingredients in the supplement (including zinc, tea tree oil, olive leaf oil, and thyme oil). The same results have not been seen in similar studies.

Mind-Body Therapies

Stress is one of the most common triggers for psoriatic flares. According to a 2014 review of studies from Europe, no less than 50% of people with psoriasis report stress as a major contributor to psoriatic flares.

Rather than turn to antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs, many people with psoriasis embrace mind-body therapies to better manage their stress. Common modalities include:

While it can be reasonably assumed that such stress-reduction techniques are beneficial, there have yet to be any studies that correlate the direct benefit in people with psoriasis.

Self-Care

In addition to the above, there are self-care strategies that may also help ease psoriasis symptoms. Among some of the more useful tips:

  • Avoid hot showers: Overheating the skin that may trigger flares. Cooler water can help soothe inflamed skin.
  • Limit baths: An occasional bath may be useful in loosening scales, especially when additives such as colloidal oatmeal or Epsom salts are used. But, avoid scrubbing and limit the bath to no more than 15 minutes.
  • Moisturize daily: You should do this especially after bathing or showering, both of which can dry the skin.
  • Loose weight: Adipose (fat-storing) tissue produce inflammatory compounds called cytokines. The greater the adiposity, the greater the resulting inflammation. By losing weight with a low-fat diet and routine exercise, you can reduce the inflammatory burden that often triggers psoriasis (especially inverse psoriasis).
  • Avoid smoking and alcohol: Both can increase the severity and persistence of psoriatic symptoms. If unable to stop, ask your doctor about cessation treatment options.

A Word From Verywell

Self-treating any medical condition or avoiding the standard course of treatment may have serious consequences. If you are interested in pursuing complementary or alternatives therapies, it is important to understand the benefits, risks, and limitations of such treatments. The fact that a substance is "natural" doesn't mean that it is safe. Always appraise your rheumatologist about any medications you are taking or plan to take. In this way, they will be better able to prevent interactions and side effects before they occur.

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