Topical Treatments for Psoriasis

Topical agents are applied directly to the skin to treat scaly, itchy rashes that characterize psoriasis symptoms. Available in creams, gels, lotions, shampoos, sprays or ointments, these drugs come in both OTC and prescription-only formulations.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved two OTC, or nonprescription, topical agents for psoriasis:

salicylic acid, which helps lift and peel scales

coal tar, which may slow rapid cell growth of scales and ease itching and inflammation

Stronger prescription topicals are usually the first line of psoriasis treatment. They slow the out-of-control cell growth that causes 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.

Practice Smart Self-Care

If you have psoriatic arthritis, self-care is very important to help you control your symptoms, reduce the risk of or ease the severity of flares, and stay healthier overall. Here are some everyday self-care strategies for people with psoriatic arthritis.

Get moving: Regular physical activity, particularly aerobic exercises like walking or biking, can keep affected joints flexible and improve overall health and wellness. Excess weight puts added stress on joints, so shed those extra pounds if you need to.

Eat well: A healthy,balanced diet heavy on fresh foods like fruits and vegetables, and low in sugar, fat and salt, can help people with psoriatic arthritis boost overall health and control their weight. Overeating unhealthy foods may increase feelings of fatigue and sluggishness.

Curtail the cocktails: Limiting alcohol consumption is recommended, as it may interfere with medications or increase side effects of some drugs. While you’re at it, this is also a good time to stop, or cut back on, smoking.

Manage stress: Excess stress can worsen flares and make it harder to manage daily activities.

Moisturize: Regular use of moisturizing lotions or creams containing aloe vera or jojoba will help lubricate affected skin. Take short, warm (not hot) baths using moisturizing or soothing additives or salts to calm the skin. Apply moisturizers following daily showers or baths, or after swimming.

Let in the light: Consistent, measured exposure to ultraviolet light, called phototherapy, has been shown to ease scaly psoriasis rashes. These are typically controlled treatments in a doctor’s office or at home with special ultraviolet light equipment, but short (five- to 10-minute) intervals of natural sunlight can also be beneficial – just take care to avoid sunburn by applying sunblock to unaffected areas.

Wash and wear: Fragrance-free detergents and fabric softeners may be less irritating to skin than their scented counterparts. Opt for clothes made from soft, natural fibers like cotton that won’t irritate scaly, itchy skin.

Overall, there are many treatments now available to fight the internal causes of psoriatic arthritis, and self-care strategies to ease symptoms and make daily life with the disease much easier. Your commitment to your treatment regimen and to living a healthy lifestyle will make psoriatic arthritis manageable, and your life more productive.