Although there is no cure for psoriasis, oral and topical medications are an invaluable tool for many people in managing the disease. Topicals—which are applied directly to the skin—can reduce itching and inflammation, improve the skin’s appearance, and normalize abnormal cell production, which is thought to be one of the causes of psoriasis.
First line of defense
If your condition is isolated to a few areas, topicals are the first line of defense, says Steven Feldman, MD, PhD, professor of dermatology at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“I divide patients into two groups: Those with a few spots where I use topicals, and those with so many spots that you can’t possibly put topicals on all of them.” For those with psoriasis that covers many areas, oral medications and biologics might be a better fit.
Your dermatologist may also decide to use topicals in combination with other medications. Try to make applying them part of your daily routine, and make sure to apply them only to the part of the body directed by your doctor to avoid unwanted side effects.
A key to treating psoriasis is keeping your skin moisturized every day, and especially in dry or cold weather. Patients recommend ointments such as Vaseline and lotions to minimize itching and redness; finding the right product is a process of trial and error. Whatever you choose, slather the affected parts of your body immediately after a bath or shower.
How this age-old remedy helps psoriasis sufferers remains something of a mystery. “We have no idea how it works,” says Robert E. Kalb, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine in Buffalo, N.Y.
Doctors presume that it reduces the overproduction of skin cells. The upside to tar products is that they don’t cause side effects. The downside is that they’re smelly and messy, and can stain fabric.