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The dry patches of skin you get with psoriasis can be itchy and uncomfortable, but the right treatment plan can help you.

Your doctor will likely suggest you try creams, lotions, foams, sprays, and ointments. These are topical treatments -- meaning you put them directly on your skin or scalp.

A number of products are available. You can get some over the counter (OTC) at the drugstore, but for others you'll need a prescription. It may take time to find what works best for you.

Here's what you should know about some common topical treatments:

Moisturizers and lotions bought OTC can keep your skin moist and help control flare-ups. In general, thick, greasy lotions that trap the moisture in your skin work best.

Salicylic acid removes scales that appear on patches of psoriasis. It comes in lotions, gels, soaps, and shampoos. It's especially helpful when used with other skin treatments. By removing the flakes of dead skin, it allows other medications to work better.

Coal tar can help slow the growth of skin cells and make your skin look better. It too comes in many different forms. The weaker products are available OTC. The shampoo is used to help treat psoriasis of the scalp.

Coal tar doesn't smell good, and it can your irritate skin and stain your clothes.

Follow the directions carefully. Some studies show that the chemicals in coal tar are cancerous, but this is only true at very high doses. It's safe to use these products if you follow your doctor's instructions.

Steroids (corticosteroids) reduce puffiness (inflammation) and slow the growth of skin cells so they don't build up. They're available in different strengths. Weaker formulas may work for sensitive areas like the face, neck, or skin fold areas like the groin or armpit. You may need stronger ones for tough-to-treat places like your elbows and knees.

You'll probably apply your treatment twice a day. Your doctor may suggest you wrap the area with tape or plastic after you treat it. This is a method called occlusion, and it can help some treatments work better, but may also make side effects stronger.

The side effects include:

  • Thinning of skin
  • Changes in skin color
  • Bruising
  • More visible blood vessels

Make sure you follow your doctor's directions. Overuse can lead to more serious health problems.

Sometimes, steroids work better when used in combination with other medications.

Vitamin D creams, lotions, and solution, like calcipotriene ( Dovonex), slow down the growth of your skin cells. For long-term use, these products may be safer for you than steroids, but they can irritate your skin.

Your doctor will probably suggest you use small amounts twice a day. Be careful not to get it on your healthy skin.

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