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Topical Treatments for Psoriasis

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

Your doctor will likely suggest creams, lotions, foams, sprays, solutions, and ointments. These are called "topicals," meaning you put them directly on your skin or scalp.

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In most cases, your primary care doctor or dermatologist will be able to diagnose psoriasis by examining your skin. However, since psoriasis can look like eczema and other skin diseases, diagnosing it can sometimes be difficult. If your doctor isn't sure whether you have psoriasis, he or she may order a biopsy. Your doctor will remove a small sample of your skin and have it looked at under a microscope. If you have symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, such as swollen and painful joints, your doctor...

Read the Tests to Diagnose Psoriasis article > >

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.

Choosing a Topical

Moisturizers and lotions that you buy without a prescription can keep your skin moist and help control flare-ups. In general, thick, greasy lotions that trap 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. Removing flakes of dead skin 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 helps treat scalp psoriasis.

Coal tar doesn't smell good, and it can irritate your 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 come 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. It can help some treatments work better, but it may also make side effects stronger.

The side effects include:

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

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