Psoriasis causes new skin cells to grow too fast, leaving a chronic buildup of dry, itchy, and sometimes painful skin. Prescription medication can treat the condition, but home management also makes a difference.
One aspect of managing psoriasis at home is considering what soaps and shampoos you use. Some may actually help relieve dryness and itchiness — or at the very least avoid making them worse.
However, not all products are created equal.
Here are a few things to consider when searching for shampoos and soaps that are good for skin with psoriasis.
Choosing the right soaps and shampoos may be just one part of your treatment plan, but it can play an important role in keeping your skin hydrated and easing your psoriasis symptoms.
Selecting shampoos with the right ingredients depends on the type of psoriasis in the scalp, says Dr. Kelly M. Cordoro, a member of the Society of Pediatric Dermatology.
“If it is very thick and stuck to the hair, look for salicylic acid (gently removes thick scales). If a patient also has dandruff, look for sulfur or zinc ingredients to help with the flaking and itching. These ingredients are contained in shampoos available without a prescription,” she explains.
Cordoro also notes that a doctor may prescribe medicated shampoos that contain anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as cortisone, if the psoriasis itches and is very red and inflamed.
The American Academy of Dermatology notes that coal tar shampoo can help ease the symptoms of psoriasis on the scalp. Some over-the-counter products contain low enough amounts of coal tar that they don’t require a prescription.
Experts generally agree that those who have psoriasis should choose gentle, hydrating soaps and steer clear of formulas that can dry out or irritate the skin.
“Anything gentle and moisturizing is best, and it is important to moisturize as soon as possible after bathing,” says Dr. Robin Evans, a dermatologist in Stamford, Connecticut. “Soap with glycerin and other lubricating ingredients would be best, and avoid fragrances and deodorant soaps.”
Other gentle cleansing agents to consider include:
- sodium laureth sulfate
- sodium lauroyl glycinate
- soybean oil
- sunflower seed oil
“All of these would help cleanse psoriatic skin with little risk of overdrying,” says Dr. Daniel Friedmann, a dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology in Austin, Texas.
Check the ingredient label on any shampoo or soap bottle and you’ll find an alphabet soup list of cleansing agents, fragrances, and pigments, including titanium dioxide, cocamidopropyl betaine, and sodium laureth sulfate.
And while these ingredients can all assist with the spa-like enjoyment of cleansing the body, there are some that might not be great for people who have psoriasis.
“There are no ‘harmful’ shampoo ingredients in general for patients with psoriasis, but some ingredients may sting, burn, or irritate the scalp,” Cordoro says. “We often ask patients to avoid shampoos with lots of fragrances and dyes.”
Alcohols and retinoids are also ingredients that can inflame the skin, says Dr. Jessica Kaffenberger, a dermatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
These ingredients can often be listed on a label as:
- lauryl alcohol
- myristyl alcohol
- cetearyl alcohol
- cetyl alcohol
- behenyl alcohol
- retinoic acid
There are plenty of shampoo brands available that can help ease the discomfort of psoriasis, including MG217 Therapeutic Sal Acid Shampoo + Conditioner and MG217 Therapeutic Coal Tar Scalp Treatment, says Kaffenberger.
These formulas are recommended by the National Psoriasis Foundation. They include coal tar and salicylic acid, which are very helpful in dislodging the thick scales from the scalp, she says.
People with psoriasis are also more likely to have heavy dandruff, so anti-dandruff shampoos, such as Head & Shoulders or Selsun Blue, are also helpful, according to Kaffenberger.
She also recommends medicated shampoos, such as:
- ketoconazole shampoo
- ciclopirox shampoo
- steroid shampoos, like clobetasol shampoo
If you have thick scaling spots on your scalp, elbows, knees, or buttocks, you may be dealing with more than stubborn dry skin.
Kaffenberger notes that these symptoms indicate that it’s time to get checked by a doctor.
She explains that untreated psoriasis can lead to systemic inflammation and potentially increase the risk of developing other conditions, such as:
- high blood pressure
- liver disease
Friedmann also notes that the earlier someone begins treatment, the easier it may be to manage the signs and symptoms of the condition.
“Scalp psoriasis may lead to persistent itching and scalp sensitivity, which may interfere with normal activities,” he says.