According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it is estimated that 7.5 million Americans suffer from psoriasis. This painful, chronic condition results in red, scaly patches that may be itchy or painful.
Psoriasis is a skin disease caused by a buildup of skin cells that leads to dry, scaly, itchy patches. The irritating patches typically occur on the knees, elbows, scalp, torso, palms, and feet.
This persistent disease tends to run in families and is often related to an abnormality in the immune system. Flare-ups are thought to be triggered by emotional trauma, significant life changes, and other external stressors.
Treatment Options for Psoriasis
Although psoriasis is incurable, certain treatments can help manage symptoms and reduce flare-ups. Even in severe cases, treatment can provide a significant reduction in symptoms in the majority of instances.
1. Topical Creams or Ointments
Topical treatments – often the first line of defense against psoriasis – consist of ointments or creams that are applied directly to the affected areas. These treatments provide a reduction in symptoms minus the symptom-wide effects that can occur as a result of oral medications. A few of the available topical treatments for psoriasis are covered below.
- Salicylic acid: Certain doctors suggest salicylic acid as a treatment. This acid helps exfoliate skin to encourage the shedding of scales and promote smoothness. Using too much salicylic acid can cause potential side effects such as skin irritation and weakened hair shafts that can lead to hair loss.
- Steroid-based creams: Steroid creams are a common method for treating psoriasis. These creams help reduce inflammation, soothe itching, and block the overproduction of skin cells that lead to lesions. Stronger creams, although more effective, can produce side effects such as burning, dryness, thinner skin, and irritation.
- Ointments containing calcipotriene: Calcipotriene, a relative of Vitamin D, has been proven to help symptoms. It is particularly effective when used in conjunction with topical steroid creams.
- Prescription retinoids: Retinoids contain a synthetic form of Vitamin A that can help improve symptoms by encouraging exfoliation. They do not work as quickly as topical steroids and can also result in dryness and skin irritation.
- Shampoos and ointments formulated with coal-tar: Products containing coal-tar can help limit the growth of skin cells and thereby reduce the occurrence of flare-ups.
2. Light Therapy
For especially stubborn cases of psoriasis, doctors may recommend light therapy such as prescription UVB treatments using a light box. One of the most powerful options is PUVA – a combination of the drug psoralen and UVA light. Although this is an effective form of therapy, it is used infrequently due to its ability to raise the risk of skin cancer.
3. Oral Drugs
As a last line of treatment, some doctors will use prescription oral drugs to address more severe cases of psoriasis.
- Methotrexate and cyclosporine: Methotrexate and cyclosporine are medications that are proven to have a dramatic positive effect on lesions. Since these drugs can cause side effects, it is recommended to have regular blood tests completed during treatment.
- Biologic drugs: This newer class of drugs – produced from human and animal proteins – helps manage symptoms by limiting the body’s immune response. Although these drugs are effective, they are also expensive. Examples of biologic drugs include Humira, Amjevita, Enbrel, Erelzi, Talz, Cosentyx, and Stelara.
- Oral retinoids: Oral retinoids exhibit properties similar to Vitamin A and can offer a mild reduction in symptoms for people suffering from severe cases of psoriasis.
Natural Treatment Options
If medications are causing unwanted side effects or failing to successfully address symptoms, natural remedies may be an option to consider. Natural remedies utilize herbs, vitamins, sunlight, and ocean water to help manage lesions. A few of the more popular natural remedies for psoriasis include:
- Fish oil supplements: When consumed orally, fish oil supplements may be beneficial in managing psoriasis. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties and essential fatty acids, fish oil can help promote moisturized skin and a reduction in symptoms.
- Pure aloe vera: Early research indicates the potential for gel from the aloe vera plant to improve psoriasis symptoms.
- Dead sea salts: Filling your bath with dead sea salts, colloidal oatmeal, or Epsom salts and soaking for 15 to 20 minutes can help dissolve scales and soothe itching.
- Cayenne peppers: Cayenne peppers have been a popular natural medicinal treatment for several thousand years. Peppers contain capsaicin – the compound responsible for their heat – a common ingredient in topical anesthetic creams and ointments. Some studies have shown a reduction in itching when capsaicin cream is applied.
- Sunlight: Some psoriasis sufferers aim to get frequent sun exposure – being careful not to burn – in hopes of reducing symptoms. Exposure to sunlight triggers your body to produce Vitamin D which may improve symptoms by decreasing inflammation. Additionally, UV rays from the sun can help clear psoriasis plaques.
Important Safety Note
Starting or stopping any treatment, including natural ones, may also come with risks. Any new treatment or change in treatment should be evaluated by your doctor.
Psoriasis is a frustrating, painful condition that can lead to a significant decrease in the quality of life in anyone suffering from it. Consider talking to your doctor about incorporating the treatment options mentioned above into your lifestyle in order to manage symptoms.