Scalp psoriasis is a common disorder that can cause a buildup of extra cells on the skin’s surface. This may result in swollen, reddish-silver plaques or patches on the scalp, face, and neck. These skin patches are often dry, itchy, and painful.
The plaques on the scalp usually appear pink or red on light and medium skin tones — however, they look purple, gray, or dark brown on dark skin tones. Discoloration along the hairline may be more noticeable on dark skin tones because of the contrast with the light colored scaliness on the scalp.
Scalp psoriasis and several other types of psoriasis make up a class of autoimmune diseases that are very common in the United States. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, as many as 8 million Americans have psoriasis.
One way to help improve the appearance of scalp psoriasis is to use topical medications. However, specialized scalp psoriasis shampoos, which are relatively easy to use, are also a good option for minimizing symptoms.
Many varieties of scalp psoriasis shampoo are available over the counter.
If you have severe scalp psoriasis, you may be able to get a stronger, prescription-strength shampoo from a dermatologist.
These shampoos contain special ingredients that work quickly to reduce the itching, scaling, swelling, and discoloration caused by scalp psoriasis. Some shampoos contain one main ingredient, while others may include several. Each main ingredient can help reduce specific scalp psoriasis symptoms.
Scalp psoriasis can be treated with medicated shampoos, although, when seeking treatment, it’s important to speak with your doctor about your hair care regimen as most prescription shampoos are associated with increased hair dryness.
Curly or oily hair is naturally drier than other types, so these types are more prone to breakage from shampooing your hair daily.
Instead, ask your doctor if they can suggest an oil-based solution that can be left on the scalp or a moisturizing foam treatment, which may be a similar consistency to products you already use.
Washing curly or oily hair with a medicated shampoo, as well as a once-to twice-daily application of a topical corticosteroid mixed with a vehicle such as an oil-based suspension, lotion, or emollient foam could help avoid breakage or damage.
Coconut oil and coal tar, for example, are good at moisturizing and reducing itchiness. Salicylic acid can soften hard scales, while clobetasol propionate is good for severe scalp psoriasis.
Coal tar is a dark, thick liquid that can reduce the itchiness of scalp psoriasis. It may help to use coal tar shampoo as often as once a day and as little as once a week.
The frequency depends on the severity of your psoriasis and the strength of the shampoo. A doctor can suggest how often you should use it.
Coal tar is a powerful ingredient. You should not use coal tar on infants. Avoid direct sunlight after applying coal tar, and avoid using a sunlamp for 72 hours to prevent possible skin damage.
Do not apply coal tar shampoo to parts of the skin that appear infected, blistered, raw, or oozing. Keep coal tar shampoo away from your eyes.
Coconut oil is not a proven treatment for scalp psoriasis. However, it can help reduce the symptoms of itchiness, dryness, and inflammation caused by this condition. Coconut oil contains healthy fats that can restore moisture to the skin and improve its appearance.
Sulfur is an ingredient that can help slough off the scales associated with scalp psoriasis. This can make it easier for other chemicals and moisture to access the skin and helps reduce symptoms.
When using scalp psoriasis shampoo to remove scales from your scalp, be gentle. Do not rub, scrub, or scratch your scalp, as this can worsen your symptoms.
Clobetasol propionate can be found in prescription-strength scalp psoriasis shampoos. This ingredient is a topical steroid that can reduce all the symptoms of scalp psoriasis, including redness or discoloration, dryness, and swelling. It can also help you more easily remove some of the scaling from your scalp, face, or neck.
Sometimes the scaly buildup of scalp psoriasis can become quite thick. This can make it hard for your scalp psoriasis treatment to be absorbed into your skin and reduces its effectiveness.
Shampoos containing ketoconazole are most often used to treat dandruff, another condition that can cause skin flaking on the scalp. It also appears effective in reducing the inflammation caused by scalp psoriasis, and may also prevent infection.
Blue lagoon algae
Shampoos containing algae may reduce the redness or discoloration, swelling, and irritation caused by scalp psoriasis.
Zinc pyrithione is an ingredient commonly found in dandruff shampoos. While it’s considered very effective at treating dandruff, there’s also evidence that it may effectively treat scalp psoriasis.
Zinc pyrithione can help normalize the way skin cells grow and work, and moisturize the scalp. This can reduce flaking and scale buildup.
To use scalp psoriasis shampoo, squeeze out a quarter-sized amount into your hand. Gently rub it into your wet scalp and then leave it to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before rinsing it out.
Be sure not to scrub, scratch, or scrape your scalp as you apply or rinse the shampoo.
While these are good general directions for using scalp psoriasis shampoos, always be sure to follow the use directions on the bottle for best results.
If you’re using a prescription shampoo, consult a doctor about how often you should use it.
Most scalp psoriasis shampoos are safe for everyday use. But daily use may irritate your skin and make it more sensitive to sunlight, increasing your risk of sunburn. If you find your scalp is getting irritated, reduce your use of these shampoos to 2 days a week.
Some people find that coal tar shampoo leaves the hair and scalp with an unpleasant odor. If you do not like the smell, use your regular shampoo after applying the coal tar, and then use a conditioner.
Shampoos are usually quite effective at treating mild to moderate cases of scalp psoriasis. But for more severe cases, other treatments may be necessary.
A dermatologist, or skin doctor, can help you determine which treatment plan is best for you.
A dermatologist may recommend one or more medications for you to use. Commonly prescribed medications include:
- Calcipotriene can help soften the thick patches of skin on the scalp.
- Coal tar can greatly reduce itching and inflammation and moisturize the scalp.
- Corticosteroids are the most common treatment for scalp psoriasis. They work by reducing redness and discoloration, swelling, itching, and scaling. There are some risks associated with long-term use, so usually, corticosteroids are part of a short-term treatment plan. Corticosteroids are available in creams, in gels, and injections.
- Light treatment can effectively reduce symptoms. It requires you to visit a dermatologist for treatment two to three times per week, or to purchase a home device (which is typically covered by medical insurance).
- Oral medications that boost your immune function and reduce abnormal skin growth include Apremilast (Otezla), retinoids, methotrexate, cyclosporine, and biologics.
- Gels and creams containing salicylic acid can help soften thick patches of skin on the scalp. This can allow other medications to get into the skin and treat your other symptoms.
- Tazarotene is often used along with corticosteroids to clear up the symptoms of scalp psoriasis.
Scalp psoriasis natural remedies
While ingredients in psoriasis shampoo can include any of the following ingredients, they can be used alone as a treatment. These are some natural remedies that can reduce the itching, scaling, swelling, and redness or discoloration from scalp psoriasis. Natural treatments are usually safe and effective for most healthy people.
Some common natural treatments for scalp psoriasis include:
- aloe vera
- apple cider vinegar
- Dead Sea salts
- oatmeal bath
- tea tree oil
- Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape)
Talk with a doctor before combining natural treatments with any medical treatments. Combining herbs and some medications may cause unwanted side effects, such as a worsening of your scalp psoriasis.
Psoriasis shampoos can contain a range of active ingredients that can reduce the swelling, discoloration, and scaling associated with the condition.
Besides improving your skin’s appearance, seeking treatment for your scalp psoriasis can greatly reduce your risk of developing possibly serious complications.
Talk with a dermatologist to help determine which scalp psoriasis shampoo or other treatment options are best for you.