Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that affects the skin, scalp, nails, and sometimes the joints (psoriatic arthritis). It’s a chronic condition that causes an overgrowth of skin cells to build up very quickly on the surface of healthy skin. These excess cells form flat, silvery patches and dry, red splotches that can be painful and bleed. The condition is lifelong and the severity and sizes and locations of the patches vary.

Doctors have identified some common triggers for psoriasis flares, including:

  • sunburn
  • viral infection
  • stress
  • too much alcohol (more than one drink per day for women, and two for men)

There also seems to be a genetic link. People who have family members with psoriasis are more likely to have the condition. A smoking habit or obesity may cause the condition to worsen.

There is no cure for psoriasis and people with the condition may experience depression or find they must limit their daily activities. But there are effective treatments available that will help relieve symptoms.

Prescription treatments include medicines that change the body’s immune response or reduce inflammation. Some drugs also slow skin cell growth. Medicines applied to the skin can help slough off excess skin or speed healing. Ultraviolet light therapy under a doctor’s supervision is helpful to some patients.

Tea tree oil is derived from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, also known as the narrow-leaved tea tree. These trees are native to Australia. Tea tree oil is commonly available worldwide as an essential oil and as an active ingredient in over-the-counter products like lotions and shampoos. Scientific research supports its use in treating acne. It also has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used for everything from treating the common cold to preventing head lice. One traditional use of tea tree oil is to treat fungal infections, especially on the nails and feet.

Its reputation for clearing up nail infections and reducing inflammation may be why some people consider using tea tree oil for their psoriasis. There are plenty of skin and hair products for sale that contain tea tree oil. However, there aren’t any published studies to support its use for psoriasis. If you want to try it, be mindful. Undiluted essential oils can burn people’s skin and burn their eyes and mucous membranes. Dilute tea tree oil with a carrier oil, like almond oil, if you plan to use it on your skin.

There is no evidence that tea tree oil will cure psoriasis. If you proceed carefully and find it helps reduce your symptoms and doesn’t cause other problems, like an allergic reaction, then use it. If it doesn’t work, don’t lose hope. Your best weapons against psoriasis flares are keeping your stress levels low, staying at a healthy weight, and cutting out tobacco.