The Best Shampoos for Psoriasis

by Jared Paventi ; Updated July 18, 2017

Over-the-counter shampoos are a potential psoriasis treatment.

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Psoriasis is a chronic dermatological condition marked by scaly skin and red, itchy patches. It can form anywhere on the body, from arms and legs to finger and toe nailbeds. When it forms on the scalp, the embarrassment of skin flaking or dandruff is added to the mix. Doctors treat psoriasis topically with corticosteroids, Vitamin D-based creams and the anti-scaling drug Anthralin. Over-the-counter shampoos are also available to control flareups. Work with your scalp gently, no matter which product you choose, as massages, scratching or harsh shampoos can aggravate the condition even more, PsoriasisNet says.

Tar-Based Shampoos

Coal tar is the most commonly used treatment for psoriasis. Psoriasis is a buildup of skin cells that inflame and irritate the surface of the skin. The tar slows the growth of the skin cells and soothes the irritation and scaling. Higher concentrations of tar in a shampoo mean the product is more potent. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows shampoos with up to 5 percent tar to be sold over the counter, as very high concentrations of coal tar (such as levels found in industrial paving) may cause cancer.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid may sound familiar to people dealing with skin conditions. An active ingredient in acne medications, the acid causes the skin to shed its cells. This is useful in psoriasis treatment, as the acid forces the infected areas to lose the skin cells that have scaled on the surface. Salicylic acid will cause more flaking in the short term, but it has a long-term positive effect on symptoms.

Keratolytic Shampoos

Like salicylic acid, keratolytic shampoos are skin peelers that force the shedding of cells. The human scalp is one of the thickest layers of skin on the body, and more severe cases of psoriasis require stronger treatments. Keratolytics are a more concentrated application than salicylic acid and are typically used only on the head.

Essential Oils and Herbal Shampoos

There is no proven link between nonmedicated shampoos and a cure for psoriasis. Aloe vera, tea tree, zinc pyrithione and capsaicin may remove scales, moisturize the scalp or relieve irritation, but these treatments lack the medical treatment to strip the skin cells from the flareup.

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About the Author

Jared Paventi is the communications director for a disease-related nonprofit in the Northeast. He holds a master's degree from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication and a bachelor's degree from St. Bonaventure University. He also writes a food appreciation blog: Al Dente.