The Best OTC Products for Psoriasis Relief

What You Should and Shouldn't Use When You Have Psoriasis

Woman examining skincare product in drugstore
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Compared to other people, those with psoriasis need to take special care when it comes to selecting personal care products. The ingredients in some soaps, shampoos, deodorants, perfumes, and colognes can really irritate sensitive skin. In other cases, these products may serve as remedies.

Psoriasis is a skin disorder in which skin cells proliferate too rapidly. This results in lesions or plaques—thickened patches of red, scaly skin—that appear anywhere on the body, including the scalp, elbows, knees, the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. Psoriasis is thought to be an autoimmune disease. Many use special soaps and shampoos to counteract two troubling symptoms: scaling and itching.

Daily bathing and shampooing are essential in order to stay on top of new scaling and to moisturize the skin underneath. Moisturizing helps lessen itching. But scratching or leaving an itch untreated can actually aggravate psoriasis. Aloe, lanolin, oatmeal, glycerin and shea or cocoa butter are particularly effective moisturizing ingredients that are found in many medicated soaps and shampoos.

Treating Psoriasis With Over-the-Counter Products

Most psoriatics get tangible relief from medicated, over-the-counter (OTC) soaps and shampoos. However, about a third, generally those who have moderate to severe cases of psoriasis, respond better to prescription products such as corticosteroids.

Medicated soaps and shampoos usually contain either salicylic acid, which diminishes scaling, or coal tar, which slows the growth of skin cells. Other ingredients found in OTC shampoos that can help control mild scalp psoriasis include pyrithione zinc and selenium sulfide.

There is a multitude of OTC products that are readily available in drugstores, including Head & Shoulders, Neutrogena T/Gel and Denorex shampoosTegrin and Polytar soaps. However, these kinds of products aren't one-size-fits-all, and they might not necessarily work for you. Be sure to see your doctor if they don't help because there are other stronger options you can try.

If you try an OTC product, be sure to follow package directions. For coal tar-containing shampoos especially, try following up applications with a pleasantly scented conditioner to counteract the pungent, medicated odor.

Products and Ingredients to Avoid

It should be noted that waterless, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which have become increasingly popular in the last several years, are not advised for those with psoriasis on their hands. Not only will the alcohol make lesions sting, but it also dries the skin, which can exacerbate existing psoriasis or possibly contribute to a new flare-up.

However, for people without active psoriasis on their hands, hand sanitizers containing aloe may actually be less irritating to the skin than soap and water. This is an especially important consideration in people with psoriasis who frequently need to wash their hands, such as parents and healthcare practitioners.

Anyone with psoriasis should also be wary of added fragrances and perfumes. Unscented soaps and shampoos are less likely to sting or irritate inflamed skin. What about perfumes and colognes? Those who don't have lesions where they would apply perfume or cologne often have no problem with them. However, the alcohol in perfumes and colognes can cause affected skin to sting terribly, so use caution when applying.