Psoriasis is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that affects 2 percent of the general population. Sooner or later, though, it will affect almost everyone with psoriatic arthritis, a form of inflammatory arthritis that occurs in anywhere from 6 to 42 percent of people with psoriasis, according to the Annals of Rheumatic Disease.
Psoriasis usually causes scaly, red, patchy areas on the skin, often with itchy plaques. Psoriasis flares can be irritating, even disfiguring, so controlling symptoms will improve your quality of life. Here's a brief overview of psoriasis care and things you can do at home to ease your symptoms.
Topical agents are applied directly to the skin where psoriasis outbreaks occur. They come in many forms, including creams, ointments, gels or lotions. They are used to help you shed the scaly skin of psoriasis, or to reduce inflammation or itching associated with the disease.
Two widely available over-the-counter (OTC) topical agents approved by the Food and Drug Administration for psoriasis treatment are salicylic acid, which helps lift and peel scales, and coal tar, which may slow rapid cell growth of scales and ease itching and inflammation. Both are widely available in drugstores.
Your doctor can also prescribe stronger topical creams or ointments to treat psoriasis symptoms and help slow the excessive cell growth that leads to itchy scaling and ease inflammation. Some contain steroids, others don’t. Common prescription topicals include calcitriol (Vectical), a naturally occurring form of vitamin D3; calcipotriene (Dovonex), a synthetic form of vitamin D3; calcipotriene combined with the steroid betamethasone diproprionate (Taclonex), tazarotene (Tazorec), a vitamin-A derivative, and anthralin (Zithranol-RR), a synthetic form of chrysarobin, a substance derived from the South American araroba tree.
Also available are numerous topical steroid creams, ointments, sprays, shampoos and gels, all in various strengths.
Keeping skin moisturized is helpful in treating psoriasis. Regular use of lotions or creams containing aloe vera, jojoba, capsaicin or zinc pyrithione may help lubricate affected skin. Taking short, warm (not hot) baths using oilated oatmeal, bath oil, Dead Sea or Epsom salts, followed by moisturizer application, may also soothe skin. Make a habit of applying moisturizers following daily showers or baths, or after swimming.
Peel With Occlusion
Occlusion is a method for removing scales on the skin, where a moisturizer or topical medication is applied to the skin and wrapped with plastic, nylon dressing or cotton. The moisturizer softens dry areas. Occlusion should not be done with steroidal creams. Consult your doctor before using such products or methods.
Use the Power of Light
Consistent, measured exposure to ultraviolet light – under a doctor’s supervision – has been shown to ease psoriasis symptoms. Called phototherapy, this treatment doesn’t involve sunbathing (which could lead to burns and skin cancer), but controlled treatments in a doctor’s office or at home with special ultraviolet light equipment. Your doctor may also recommend regular, short (five- to 10-minute) intervals of exposure to the sun. Be sure to apply sunscreen to skin not affected by psoriasis.
Dress With Care
Choose clothing that is loose-fitting to avoid scratching scaly areas of skin. Items made of natural, soft fibers like cotton may be less irritating to skin and cooler in warm months. Wash clothes with fragrance-free detergent and fabric softeners to reduce risk of skin reactions.