Living with psoriasis can cause physical and emotional discomfort. Those who have been diagnosed with the skin condition already know that treatment focuses on managing symptoms. Glycerin is one option showing potential for helping treat painful ones. Read on to find out how it works and whether it’s right for you.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that affects the skin cells. Experts aren’t sure what causes it. But they think it may cause the immune system to work against the body. White blood cells called T cells help to protect the body against infections, viruses, and diseases. In people with psoriasis, the T cells are too active. The cells attack harmful substances and organisms, but they also go after healthy cells.

Normally, skin cells go through a growth process, which starts deep below the skin’s top layer. It takes about a month for the cells to come to the surface. This is called turnover. This process can happen in just a few days in people with psoriasis. It causes patches of thick, red, scaly, and itchy buildup. These patches can be painful and usually won’t go away without treatment.

Psoriasis symptoms can come in cycles. Environmental or other factors that affect the severity or cause of flare-ups are called triggers. People can have a variety of triggers, but the most common are:

  • stress
  • infections
  • extreme weather changes (e.g., cold) that cause dry skin
  • cigarette smoking
  • higher than normal alcohol consumption
  • skin injuries, like bad sunburns, cuts, and bug bites
  • certain medications, including blood pressure drugs

There are different types of psoriasis, and each affects the skin differently. But there are some symptoms that all types have in common. These include:

  • dry, scaly, red patches
  • cracked skin that can bleed
  • itching, burning, or other pain

Glycerin, or glycerol, is a substance used in skin creams, lotions, and soaps. It can be made from alcohol or vegetable oil. It’s thought that glycerin helps trap moisture in the skin because glycerin attracts water.

Dr. Tanya Kormeili, board-certified dermatologist and clinical professor at UCLA, explained that glycerin can be helpful for skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. “It can also help wound healing and dry, cracked skin as a result of contact dermatitis and/or injury.”

You can apply glycerin to the skin as a cream, soap, or lotion. Cetaphil is a popular brand of products that contain glycerin.

“Glycerin, or glycerol, helps cells to mature in a normal fashion, as opposed to psoriasis, where there is a signal to the skin to proliferate excessively and cause thick plaques,” said Dr. Kormeili. “In psoriasis, there is a strong inflammatory signal that triggers the cells to hyperproliferate and create big red plaques. Any product that can hydrate and reduce skin inflammation and turnover can help this condition.”

A few studies have found glycerin is helpful in treating skin by restoring moisture. However, there isn’t much clinical evidence specifically for psoriasis. While likely safe, it’s always best to talk with your dermatologist or doctor before trying any treatment options.