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Once you’ve been diagnosed with psoriasis, you’ll need to work closely with your dermatologist to find the best treatment for you. There are also simple things you can do at home to soothe your skin, make it look and feel better and put a stop all that itching. Linda Stein Gold, M.D., dermatologist and director of clinical research at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, offers some solutions.
Q: What are some effective, non-prescription products for treating psoriasis symptoms?
A: There are three types of ingredients that work well. The first are known medically as keratolytic agents, which help shed some of the scale from psoriasis lesions. Ingredients such as salicylic acid found in some shampoos and moisturizers and lactic acid found in moisturizing creams are two effective keratolytic agents.
Coal tar is an ingredient found in some shampoos and moisturizers for psoriasis that has been used for many years because it helps to slow down the rapid growth of skin cells, reduce inflammation and minimize scaling and itching. However, it’s not always easy to use because it can stain clothing and blonde or white hair, and it can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so you have to be careful and use a sunscreen. Finally, rich moisturizing ointments and creams are important for keeping psoriatic skin looking and feeling good. Lactic acid and urea are two really effective ingredients to look for. Avoid alcohol-based moisturizers and opt for more occlusive creams and ointments, which are heavier on the skin and help hydrate it.
Q: What are some over-the-counter products to treat scalp psoriasis?
A: The scalp has a very rich blood flow so ingredients tend to penetrate well on the scalp. Again, look for shampoos containing salicylic acid or, if your hair isn’t very light, coal tar. They can help control the flaking.
Q: Can you offer any bathing guidelines for people with psoriasis?
A: Some people find that oatmeal baths are soothing to the skin. Others try adding products that contain Dead Sea salts to mimic bathing in the Dead Sea, which has been shown to help people with psoriasis, although no one knows exactly how. Regardless of whether you take a bath or shower, the important thing is to use water that is warm but not too hot, and to apply a rich moisturizer afterwards while your skin is still wet to seal in the moisture.
Q: What are the best ways to minimize the itching caused by psoriasis?
A: Look for creams and ointments that say “anti-itch” on the label. Another good trick is to apply non-prescription 1 percent hydrocortisone cream on inflamed areas of skin, then wrap the area in a very warm towel, and wrap that in plastic wrap. Leave it on for a couple of hours while you watch television or read or relax. The warmth really helps the hydrocortisone penetrate. If itching is a problem at night, taking a non-prescription antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl), can lessen the itching and make you a little drowsy so you can sleep more easily.