Skin Care and Psoriasis: What to Look for in a Lotion

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on April 14, 2016Written by Natalie Silver on April 14, 2016

Why skin care matters

You may be one of the millions of Americans with psoriasis. This skin condition requires regular attention, and a skin treatment routine is essential. With trial and error, you can find useful products to help manage your condition. Your symptoms will likely improve with some tender loving care. Keep reading for information on important ingredients your lotion needs and tips.

Understanding psoriasis

Psoriasis is a condition that affects the skin’s surface. It occurs when the immune system turns skin cells over too quickly. More than 7.5 million Americans have psoriasis.

Psoriasis appears in a variety of forms. The most common form of psoriasis is plaque psoriasis. Eighty percent of those with psoriasis have plaque psoriasis. Plaque psoriasis manifests as raised, red patches on the skin. The affected areas may also have silvery scales, or plaques. This type commonly appears on the elbows, knees, and scalp. It also can affect other places on the body, including the:

  • skin folds
  • genitals
  • hands
  • feet
  • nails

Other types of psoriasis include:

  • guttate psoriasis, which presents as small, teardrop-shaped spots
  • inverse psoriasis, which primarily appears in the folds of the skin
  • pustular psoriasis, which is characterized by white blisters of noninfectious pus

These types of psoriasis can be more severe and result in more aggressive flare-ups. Erythrodermic psoriasis is a rare form that requires immediate medical attention. It presents as large sheets instead of small scales and can cover large areas of the body.

People with psoriasis commonly receive a diagnosis when they’re teens or young adults, but anyone can develop the condition. Psoriasis isn’t curable, but there are many ways to manage it.

What are the symptoms?

You may discover you have psoriasis after visiting the doctor for a rash or lesion that won’t go away. Symptoms of psoriasis vary, but you may experience:

  • inflamed patches of skin with silver scales
  • small spots
  • dry, cracked skin
  • itching
  • burning,
  • soreness

Psoriasis symptoms may come and go. The condition tends to flare up at times, and you can go through periods of complete remission, where you experience few or no symptoms.

How is psoriasis triggered?

There are many known triggers of psoriasis, including:

  • stress
  • illness
  • skin injury
  • cold weather
  • alcohol consumption
  • smoking
  • certain medications

How can you manage psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic condition, so learning to manage triggers and outbreaks is essential to your health. There are mild, moderate, and severe cases of psoriasis. Mild cases affect under 3 percent of the body, moderate cases affect 3 to 10 percent of the body, and severe cases affect more than 10 percent. How you manage your psoriasis depends on its severity.

You should see your doctor to determine if you have psoriasis. Together, you can discuss an effective treatment plan if you do have it. You can manage psoriasis with one or more of the following:

  • over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription emollients, such as lotions, creams, or other topical products
  • phototherapy
  • medications

Topical treatments are first-line management for mild cases of psoriasis. These can be used in combination with other psoriasis treatments for moderate and severe cases.

Check out: Using Dermalex to treat psoriasis »

Emollients for psoriasis

Daily care is essential in managing psoriasis. Although prescription topical treatments may be the best method for alleviating severe psoriasis symptoms, OTC emollients can also bring relief to those with psoriasis.

Emollients create a barrier on the skin’s surface. The barrier protects the surface with oils and allows the skin to rehydrate. This helps to reduce skin dryness and irritation.

Lotions, creams, and ointments can help reduce scaling, as well as soften and smooth skin. You can apply a variety of emollients on a daily basis. Not all lotions are good for psoriasis, and some may exacerbate your symptoms.

Important ingredients

Certain ingredients found in emollients are known to help with psoriasis symptoms. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the ingredients salicylic acid and coal tar for treating psoriasis.

Salicylic acid is a keratolytic, or a peeling agent, and it helps the outer layer of the skin to shed. It can lift psoriasis scales and soften the skin. Be careful when using products with salicylic acid. Overuse can result in skin irritation and weakened hair shafts.

Coal tar can slow rapid skin cell growth, improve the skin’s appearance, and reduce itching. People commonly use it on the scalp. Products containing coal tar vary from one brand to another, so use it on a small area of the skin when trying it for the first time. Coal tar can cause irritation, as well as stain clothing and light-colored hair. It also causes your skin to be more sensitive to the sun.

Other ingredients that will help psoriasis symptoms include:

  • aloe vera
  • jojoba
  • zinc pyrithione
  • capsaicin
  • glycerin

Be sure to limit your exposure to topical products that contain steroids. You shouldn’t use steroids throughout the day. Talk to your doctor about the long-term use of products that contain steroids and other active ingredients. Emollients are free of steroids, and you can use them liberally and frequently.

Specific products to explore

Psoriasis responds differently to certain emollients depending on the person. It’s important that you try different products and determine a skin care routine that works best for you. Although high-end emollients are available, cheaper solutions such as certain cooking oils and shortening can help dry and irritated skin.

The National Psoriasis Foundation recognizes several OTC emollient products to treat psoriasis symptoms. These include:

Other lotions that can help psoriasis are found at most pharmacies and grocery stores. The foundation also recommends products by:

  • Eucerin
  • Lubriderm
  • Cetaphil
  • CeraVe
  • Aveeno

Be sure to select hypoallergenic and alcohol-, fragrance-, and dye-free products to lessen the chance of skin irritation.

Psoriasis and your skincare routine

It’s essential to create a daily skin care routine if you have psoriasis. You should take extra care to make sure your skin stays moisturized. This can help lessen the effects of your condition. Talk with your doctor about what products will work best with your symptoms and how you can make lifestyle choices that prevent exposure to your psoriasis triggers.

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