Approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat psoriasis, â€œsal acid,â€ as it's commonly called, is available in a variety of products, including shampoos, ointments, lotions, creams, soaps, and pastes. Salicylic acid helps to soften scales and exfoliate or lift them off your skin. Sal acid can be helpful as long as you use it according to directions. Too much salicylic acid, or salicylic acid left on the skin (or scalp) for too long, can cause irritation or stinging. If your shampoo has salicylic acid, focus it on your scalp rather than your hair, because it can weaken shafts, leading to breakage and hair loss (hair should return to normal once you stop using it).
Most shampoos contain sulfates to create a rich, foamy lather â€” without the froth, it seems, people donâ€™t think their shampoo is working. However, sulfates can irritate the scalp. If you have a sensitive scalp and psoriasis, look for sulfate-free shampoos. Sulfates may be listed under ingredients as sodium laureth (or lauryl) sulfate or ammonium lauryl sulfate.
Coal tar is another ingredient approved by the FDA to treat psoriasis, including scalp psoriasis. However, you might want to test coal tar on a small area of your skin to be sure it doesnâ€™t cause irritation or redness. Because coal tar can make your skin more sensitive to the sunâ€™s ultraviolet rays, be sure to apply sunscreen to treated areas if youâ€™re going to be outside for any length of time. â€œCoal tar can be messy, so some people donâ€™t like to use it,â€ says Stefan Weiss, MD, of the Weiss Skin Institute in Boca Raton, Fla. Refined coal tars such as liquor carbonis detergens (LCD) have less odor and cause less staining, but they're also less effective and can be harder to find.
Tea Tree Oil
â€œAt one time, tea tree oil was seen as the panacea for psoriasis,â€ Dr. Weiss says of the oil thatâ€™s extracted from the leaves of a tree native to Australia. â€œNow, not so much.â€ Some people report that tea tree oil helps relieve symptoms of their scalp psoriasis, and others find theyâ€™re allergic to it.
The trace element zinc is found in many topical psoriasis treatments and some shampoos. A study from the Skin Disease and Cutaneous Leishmaniasis Research Center in Mashhad, Iran, found that a topical emollient containing zinc pyrithione proved to be an effective treatment for localized psoriasis.
Extracted from the nuts of the argan tree of southwestern Morocco, argan oil is rich in antioxidants and has been popularized as a food, a health treatment, and a beauty ingredient. However, according to a recent review in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, thereâ€™s a lack of clinical studies to definitively support its effectiveness.
Shea butter is full of moisture, which can make it an effective ingredient in skin care products. When you have psoriasis, itâ€™s important to keep your skin moisturized, Weiss says. Skin creams made with shea butter tend to be thicker, he says, and when it comes to moisturizer, the thicker, the better. Heavy moisturizers for psoriasis help lock in the skinâ€™s natural moisture.
Several ingredients have been approved by the FDA for treating itch: calamine, hydrocortisone (a weak steroid), camphor, diphenhydramine hydrochloride (HCl), benzocaine, and menthol. Try them with caution, however, because some of them can increase skin irritation and dryness.
Fragrance or Alcohol
If you have sensitive skin, look for fragrance-free skin care products and shampoos. Scents added to make products smell good or just to neutralize their odor can be irritating (â€œunscentedâ€ might not be fragrance-free). Also, Weiss advises avoiding products that contain alcohol, because it is drying.
Some people are more sensitive to some ingredients than others. If youâ€™re not sure how youâ€™ll react to a product, test it on a small area of skin before using it. And if youâ€™re stumped, ask your health care provider for suggestions that will soothe skin as they ease off plaques.
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