The Best Skin Care Routine for Psoriasis, According to Top Dermatologists
If you are one of the nearly 7.4 million people in the United States who lives with the itching and inflammation of psoriasis, you know all too well that what you do—and don't do—to your skin can make a big difference in your symptoms.
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This is easier said than done as psoriasis itches… a lot. In fact, up 90 percent of people with psoriasis itch, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF). Some describe the itch as “burning, biting sensation… or being bitten by fire ants.” Rubbing or scratching at the skin exacerbates psoriasis,” says Jerry Bagel, MD, director for the Psoriasis Treatment Center of Central New Jersey. If you can’t itch, what can you do? Take a cold shower or apply ice packs to calm the itch. Some OTC anti-itch creams including calamine, hydrocortisone, camphor, diphenhydramine hydrochloride (HCl), benzocaine, and menthol can help as can some Rx remedies. “Store lotions in the refrigerator as the feeling of coolness soothes itchy skin,” Dr. Bagel says. Psoriasis is one of the many reasons that your scalp itches.
Cool it on the hot baths and showers
Hot water can make skin irritation and dryness worse which exacerbates psoriasis, Dr. Bagel says. “Try to limit showers to ten minutes or less.” Make sure to avoid these other common shower mistakes that can ruin your skin.
Don’t skimp on lotion
It’s essential that those with psoriasis regularly use over-the-counter emollient lotions, says Bruce Strober, MD, chair of dermatology at UConn Health and professor of dermatology at UConn School of Medicine, with offices in Farmington and Canton, Connecticut. Good brands are Cetaphil, CeraVe, Eucerin, Aveeno, and Neutrogena. “It doesn’t matter which one you choose, as long as you like it and use it,” he says. His RX? “Moisturize in the morning and night, and especially after showering, focusing on areas of the body highly prone to psoriasis outbreaks.” Follow dermatologists’ eight rules for using moisturizer and you will never go wrong.
Winterize your skin
Winter can be rough on psoriasis, Dr. Strober says. Because of the dry indoor air that winter inevitably brings, be sure to use a humidifier religiously. In addition, it’s doubly important to use emollients during the colder months of the year. Follow these other winter skin care tips from dermatologists.
Raised, reddish skin covered with silvery-white scales are one of the hallmarks of plaque psoriasis, which is the most common form of the disease. “Do not pick or scratch at them and try to scrape them off,” warns Harold Farber, MD, in Philadelphia. “Don’t use a loofah in the shower as rubbing too hard may cause the scales to bleed and become infected.” In some cases, your dermatologist can remove some of the thicker areas in the office—do not try this at home. Here are some home remedies that may provide relief for certain psoriasis symptoms.
Choose gentle cleansers
Mild cleansers with no harsh ingredients or added perfumes for sensitive skin are best for people with psoriasis, Dr. Farber says. “Anything too harsh can further irritate or dry out your already inflamed skin.” Some top picks may include Cetaphil Restoraderm Calming Body Wash, Eucerin Skin Calming Body Wash, and Cerave Foaming Facial Cleanser. “The trunk, extremities, and scalp are most likely to be affected,” he says.”The face is usually last to get hit by psoriasis.” Whatever you do, don’t make these mistakes when washing your face.
Yes, exposure to certain types of the sun’s ultraviolet rays in controlled fashions can lessen psoriasis symptoms, but this does not mean skipping sunscreen. “Sunscreen is important as exposure to the sun’s rays can increase the risk of skin cancer and premature aging,” Dr. Farber says. “Applying a generous amount of broad-spectrum sunscreen daily is also critical for reducing skin cancer risk and preventing other damage.” Talk to your dermatologist about in-office treatments that tap into some of the healing power of the sun’s rays. These are the nine best sunscreens for every type of activity.
Use your medications as directed
There is no cure for psoriasis yet, but adhering to your treatment regimen can make it so that the plaques are barely noticeable. “Use topical moisturizer twice a day as well as the medications that your dermatologist prescribes as directed,” Dr. Farber says. These may include topical steroids to reduce inflammation, retinoids to slow the rate at which skin cells develop, salicylic acid products that take the top layer off of plaques, tar therapy, light therapy, and sometimes drugs such as biologics that work by cooling inflammation throughout the body. Check in with your doctor regularly to make sure you are doing all that you can to keep your psoriasis in check. Avoiding these seven foods that make psoriasis worse may also help.
- National Psoriasis Foundation: "MANAGING ITCH"
- Jerry Bagel, MD, director for the Psoriasis Treatment Center of Central New Jersey
- Bruce Strober, MD, chair of dermatology at UConn Health and professor of dermatology at UConn School of Medicine
- Harold Farber, MD, in Philadelphia