Halp!! How to Remove Psoriasis Scales from Scalp

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Turn that frown upside down, because yes: you can absolutely do it! But it’s important to remove scales the right way. Otherwise, you’re increasing your risk of inflammation, pain, and infection. And that is not what we have in our plans for today.

Let’s take a look at how to remove psoriasis scales as safely as possible and bring the joy of less-itchy hair back into your life.

Ingredients to look out for

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Take note: these ingredients are about to become your new squad members.

There’s actually a whole list of over-the-counter (OTC) products that docs recommend for psoriasis. But when it comes to scalp psoriasis, we’re mostly talking about two major players: salicylic acid and coal tar.

Salicylic acid

This stuff (which you’ll soon be adding into your phone as “Sally” with lots of heart emojis because it will be your BFF) is the OG of OTC psoriasis treatment.

A 2017 study found that salicylic acid can be super effective for softening and loosening scales, making them much easier for you to remove. But just like your BFF, you never want too much of it. Salicylic acid is strong stuff, so make sure you read the instructions and use it correctly.

Coal tar
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This is a common ingredient in psoriasis medications, so you’ll find it pretty easy to buy.

And according to research from 2017, coal tar was particularly handy for treating scalp psoriasis, with symptoms usually improving after 1 month and peeps staying in remission (i.e., symptom-free) for longer than they did with other topical psoriasis treatments.

It did fall out of favor at one point, thanks to being a little bit smelly and causing side effects like staining, contact dermatitis, and stinging. But it’s back with a new, better-smelling formula — and it’s milder than salicylic acid.

Other options

You can also look out for creams or shampoos containing urea. Research that assesses its benefits is slim pickings, but it commonly pops up in keratolytics (the fancy word for topical treatments that soften the skin).

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The National Psoriasis Foundation also lists lactic acid as a useful ingredient for scale lifters.

Find the scales

Let’s start by locating those pesky scales. Your removal tactics are going to be slightly different depending on where it is.

Are your scales behind your ear, on your neck, or in a place generally free of hair? You’ll need a spot treatment you can put directly onto your skin.

Scales surrounded by hair mean you’ll need a specialized shampoo instead.

Apply your shampoo

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First things first: you need to apply your shampoo and let it start doing its job.

Apply it and rub it in gently (no sense in going hell for leather — you’ll just irritate your skin). Get it under your fingertips, pretend you’re in that fancy salon, and give yourself a light head massage.

Mmm.

Consider a scalp mask

Want to take a break, feel a little bit luxurious, and give yourself an easier time with getting rid of those scales?

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You can plop a plastic cap (heck, even a plastic grocery bag will do the trick) over your soapy locks and stand under the shower for 10 minutes.

Keeping the water warm rather than hot will lock in those active ingredients.

The final step: Gently remove the scales with a comb

It’s worth taking your time and following these steps gently but thoroughly:

  1. Get a fine-toothed comb.
  2. Then, carefully and gently comb your hair out. You should find that if you get the comb nice and close to your scalp, it’ll bring all those troublesome scales away with it.
  3. Bring the comb right to the ends of your hair, give it a wipe on a towel (no point in putting your scales back in your hair), and go in again.

Be meticulous. Be painstaking. Comb every inch of your hair, especially around the scales. You’ll thank yourself for it later.

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Then, rinse out the suds.

What to avoid

So, this is the gentle way to get those pesky scales out of your hair and your life, just like your ex. But it’s also good to know what triggers your psoriasis, as you can then avoid it as best you can (also like your ex).

Everyone with psoriasis has a different trigger, and you might already know what yours is. If you’re not sure, here are some likely culprits:

  • stress (tends to be the most common, especially as psoriasis itself will make you more stressed!)
  • skin injuries
  • illnesses like ear infections or tonsillitis
  • food
  • allergies
  • alcohol
  • allergies
  • extremely dry, hot, or cold environments

Nail what’s triggering your psoriasis symptoms, and you’ll have fewer scales to worry about in the first place.

Medical treatments for scalp psoriasis

So you’ve tried shampooing your scales away. But does it feel like they’re not really clearing up? It’s a bummer, for sure, and now you’re wondering what else you can do. Anything?

Good news: there are other avenues you can explore, though you’ll want to discuss them with your doc first.

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