Psoriasis is an immune-mediated skin condition that causes a scaly, itchy rash.
Your skin might look red or purple or be covered with plaques that can sting and burn. If a psoriasis rash gets dry and thick enough, it can also shed flakes of skin.
Scalp psoriasis that sheds flakes can look like dandruff, even though it’s not the same condition. Psoriasis shedding can be more severe and occur in other areas besides your scalp.
Flaking skin is one of the most common psoriasis symptoms, and it’s one that you may want to manage.
A psoriasis rash sheds flakes because it grows skin cells at a faster rate than unaffected skin.
It usually takes almost a month for the bottom layer of epidermal cells to reach the top layer of skin. Psoriasis accelerates this process, resulting in extra cells growing, then dying and shedding from the skin’s surface.
The extra cells can cause daily flaking, plus larger scales that can fall off.
Psoriasis affects at least 8 million people in the United States, but it can still feel isolating. You might not know anyone else living with the stigma that accompanies a condition that changes your appearance.
Some people who are unfamiliar with the condition might think that psoriasis is contagious or connected to poor hygiene. Both assumptions are untrue.
You can help to increase awareness about psoriasis, but there are some days when you might not want to talk or think about your symptoms.
The impact of psoriasis is more than just the physical discomforts of painful, peeling, flaking, and itchy skin. It can also affect your state of mind.
You may be able to reduce psoriasis skin flaking by reviewing lifestyle triggers to see which ones you can change:
- exposure to sun
- cold and dry weather
- excess body weight
- lack of sleep
Your doctor may be able to help by referring you to a nutritionist or recommending stress reduction or smoking cessation strategies.
There are ways you may be able to reduce psoriasis flaky skin.
Short-term use of corticosteroids can help symptoms of scalp psoriasis. Clobetasol propionate is one example and is available in prescription shampoo.
Shampooing regularly can also help because it removes flakes before they have a chance to accumulate on your skin.
Shampoo for dandruff may not be as effective for treating psoriasis flaking. This is because the condition causes are different.
Dandruff occurs for reasons including skin that’s too dry or oily, infections, or shampoo sensitivities. Psoriasis occurs because of an overactive immune system.
Other scalp psoriasis products that may help include:
- scale softeners, such as salicylic acid
- coal tar
Your dermatologist can suggest an effective way to administer these treatments, such as applying them at bedtime and covering your head with a shower cap.
Moisturizing your skin can also help. Options to try include:
- coconut oil
- aloe vera
- colloidal oatmeal baths
There are in-office treatments your dermatologist can provide.
Corticosteroid injections can go directly into the site of scalp psoriasis. You can have only a limited number of these injections, but they’re often effective.
Light treatments, such as excimer laser, are effective and painless although they can cause redness and the feeling of a sunburn.
Treatments last about 10 minutes, two or three times per week, and may continue for several weeks.
Reducing inflammation through your diet may calm psoriasis flares and reduce the number of skin flakes you experience.
Foods to eat more of include:
- oily fish like salmon
- vegetables including dark, leafy greens
- low fat dairy
Foods to avoid include:
- high fat red meat
- partially hydrogenated oils
- processed foods
- oil-fried foods
Up to 25% of people living with psoriasis also experience a sensitivity to gluten. Asking your doctor for a celiac disease test can determine whether you could benefit from eliminating gluten from your diet.
Psoriasis causes stress, but the reverse may also be true for some people.
Taking steps to lower your stress may help to reduce the frequency of your psoriasis flares and skin flaking.
Strategies that have been shown to be effective include:
- behavioral therapy
- cognitive therapy
You can also try:
- spending time in nature
- nurturing supportive friendships
- starting a new and enjoyable hobby
If you’re still experiencing excessive skin flaking because of your psoriasis, it might be time to reach out to your healthcare team. There may be strategies or treatments you haven’t tried that might improve your symptoms.
Flaking skin is a common symptom of psoriasis. When psoriasis accelerates the growth of new skin cells, they accumulate faster than they fall off, causing scaling and flaking.
There are treatments you can try to reduce the impact of psoriasis symptoms. Lifestyle changes like improved nutrition and stress reduction can also help.