Psoriasis causes new skin cells to grow too fast, leaving a chronic buildup of dry, itchy, and sometimes painful skin. The condition can be treated with prescription medication, 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.
Not all products are created equal, though. Here are a few questions worth asking before you run out to the store to buy new toiletries.
1. Will this make my psoriasis worse?
The last thing you want is for your soaps and shampoos to make your skin drier or trigger a flare-up. The problem is that drying out your skin is exactly what many soaps do.
It’s just as important to stay away from the skin care products that can harm you as it is to use those that can help. Bar soaps and deodorant soaps can be too harsh and irritating to sensitive skin.
If you use a regular shampoo rather than one that treats scalp psoriasis, it should be gentle and fragrance-free.
Products that contain alcohol, fragrance, retinoids, or alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) make it harder for your skin to retain its natural oils. In turn, this can lead to more dryness and discomfort. Keep an eye out for these ingredients and avoid them.
2. Will this help my psoriasis?
Choosing the right soap 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.
Some soaps are made with ingredients that have been studied for their potential to improve psoriasis symptoms. For example, aloe vera soap is one option to consider. A 2010 study suggested that aloe vera applied topically may be more effective than a standard steroid cream used to treat psoriasis. It’s not clear if the amount of aloe vera found in an aloe vera soap would be enough to have a similar effect, but you may find it a soothing option to try.
Soaps containing colloidal oatmeal are another possibility. A 2012 literature review notes that colloidal oatmeal has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties when used on the skin. However, the review also states that more research is needed in this area.
Another option is to try soaps that have added moisturizing ingredients. For example, olive oil and jojoba oil, which are used in some soaps, may help soothe dry skin.
Soaps that are hypoallergenic, alcohol-free, fragrance-free, or made for sensitive skin are less likely to cause irritation. You may want to experiment with a few different soaps and moisturizers to see what works best for your skin, since not everyone reacts to the same product the same way.
For scalp psoriasis, your doctor may recommend a medicated shampoo. These generally require a prescription. If you have thick patches of psoriasis on your scalp, using an over-the-counter product that contains salicylic acid may help soften them, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). This will allow your medicated shampoo to work better, but be sure to check with a doctor or pharmacist first to ensure it’s safe to use both products.
If you prefer to try non-prescription options, the AAD notes that coal tar soap is an older treatment method that is sometimes still recommended. Some over-the-counter products contain low enough amounts of coal tar that they don’t require a prescription.
A word of warning: Some of these shampoos have a distinct strong smell that some people may find off-putting. You can try shampoos with a more neutral scent, or mask the smell by using a different shampoo or conditioner after you wash off the therapeutic one.
3. How can I create the best conditions for my skin care products to work?
Let’s say that after some trial and error, you’ve found the soaps and shampoos that work best for your skin. That’s a great step toward calming your skin, but you’re not quite done yet.
As you put your new skin and hair care products to work, you can also take steps to improve the chances that those soaps and shampoos will help your skin feel healthy and hydrated.
The AAD suggests keeping baths and showers short and using warm water, not hot, to help relieve dry skin. To dry off, blot your body gently with a towel.
Slather on moisturizer right away, and put it on several times a day. Cold, dry air can make psoriasis symptoms worse, so moisturizing your skin is especially important in the winter.
Scalp psoriasis can worsen if you scrub, scratch, or scrape your scalp when shampooing, brushing, or combing. Hair dye, along with the heat from curling irons and hot rollers, could irritate your scalp. Whatever you do with your hair, try to be gentle.
Apart from any medical treatment your doctor may prescribe, choosing the right skin and hair care products can make a difference in how your skin feels. The products that work best for you should leave your skin more hydrated and soothed. If you’re using a prescription soap or shampoo, be sure to check with your doctor before making a big change to your skin care routine.