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There’s no cure for psoriasis, but certain over-the-counter (OTC) treatments can ease itchy, scaly, or uncomfortable skin.

OTC products are often sold online or in stores without a doctor’s prescription. They come in different formulations, such as:

  • lotions
  • creams
  • gels
  • oils
  • foams
  • tars
  • bath solutions
  • shampoos

In this article, we take a look at the most commonly used OTC products for psoriasis, and how they work to help relieve symptoms.

Talk with a doctor before trying OTC treatments

It’s always a good idea to talk with a doctor before trying any OTC treatments for psoriasis. Be especially cautious of products sold over the internet that promise miracle cures. Your doctor can help you determine what type of topical medication is safe to use and might work best for your symptoms.

OTC topicals that contain salicylic acid, a peeling agent, are commonly used to treat symptoms of psoriasis. This ingredient has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating psoriasis. It works by prompting the outer layer of the skin to shed, which helps lessen scaling and swelling.

It’s important to use salicylic acid as directed because too much can cause irritation and worsen your condition.

Tar is another ingredient that’s FDA-approved to treat psoriasis. It comes from coal and wood and can slow the growth of skin cells. Many people report smoother skin with less scaling, itching, and inflammation.

Coal tar products can irritate your skin and make it more sensitive to the sun. You should use sunscreen when outdoors. Additionally, some studies have shown that very high amounts of coal tar, such as those used in industrial paving, are linked to cancer. You might want to talk to your doctor about this risk.

Keeping your skin moisturized and hydrated can help with redness and itching. Heavy creams or ointments that lock in water are preferred. They relieve dryness and help your skin heal.

You can even use shortening or coconut oil to keep your skin lubricated.

Some OTC bath products help remove scales and soothe irritated skin. To create your own solution, add any of the following items to your bath:

Try to soak for about 15 minutes.

OTC scale lifters, also known as keratolytics, usually contain ingredients like:

Products with these ingredients help loosen and eliminate scales, which lets medications reach the psoriasis plaques. It might help to take a warm, 15-minute bath before using a scale lifter.

Occlusion refers to covering the skin, so it can absorb topical medications or moisturizers better. You can cover the area with:

  • cellophane
  • plastic wrap
  • waterproof dressings
  • cotton socks
  • a nylon suit

Talk with your doctor about this method before using it. It’s important to know which topical treatments are safe to use beneath a skin covering.

OTC anti-itch products may contain the following ingredients:

These medications can help relieve itchiness caused by psoriasis, but they can also irritate and dry out your skin.

Other OTC treatments that can soothe your skin and relieve itching may include the following:

While the effectiveness of some of these ingredients hasn’t been proven, many people with psoriasis report relief anecdotally.

Some OTC treatments can irritate or dry out your skin. You may want to use a moisturizer along with them to counter this effect.

It also might be helpful to test products on a small area of the skin first to see how you respond to the treatment. Some topical medications can be applied on top of a moisturizer to minimize side effects.

Treatments that contain coal tar can stain clothing or bed linens, so you might want to protect these items with a towel or other barrier.

It’s also important to know that the concentration of ingredients can vary depending on the brand and product. Typically, the higher the concentration, the stronger the medication.

Ingredients to avoid

Some ingredients to avoid when choosing OTC psoriasis products include:

  • fragrances
  • alcohol
  • harsh chemicals

Several OTC products are available to help treat symptoms of psoriasis. While many of these offer relief, it’s best to talk with a doctor before using a new therapy for your condition.

If these treatments don’t work, your doctor can recommend a prescription medication that might do a better job of easing your symptoms.