In most cases, diagnosis of psoriasis is fairly straightforward.
Psoriasis treatments reduce inflammation and clear the skin. Treatments can be divided into three main types: topical treatments, light therapy and systemic medications.
Used alone, creams and ointments that you apply to your skin can effectively treat mild to moderate psoriasis. When the disease is more severe, creams are likely to be combined with oral medications or light therapy. Topical psoriasis treatments include:
Topical corticosteroids. These drugs are the most frequently prescribed medications for treating mild to moderate psoriasis. They reduce inflammation and relieve itching and may be used with other treatments.
Mild corticosteroid ointments are usually recommended for sensitive areas, such as your face or skin folds, and for treating widespread patches of damaged skin.
Your doctor may prescribe stronger corticosteroid ointment for smaller, less sensitive or tougher-to-treat areas.
Long-term use or overuse of strong corticosteroids can cause thinning of the skin. Topical corticosteroids may stop working over time. It’s usually best to use topical corticosteroids as a short-term treatment during flares.
Topical retinoids. These are vitamin A derivatives that may decrease inflammation. The most common side effect is skin irritation. These medications may also increase sensitivity to sunlight, so while using the medication apply sunscreen before going outdoors.
The risk of birth defects is far lower for topical retinoids than for oral retinoids. But tazarotene (Tazorac, Avage) isn’t recommended when you’re pregnant or breast-feeding or if you intend to become pregnant.
Calcineurin inhibitors. Calcineurin inhibitors tacrolimus (Prograf) and pimecrolimus (Elidel) reduce inflammation and plaque buildup.
Calcineurin inhibitors are not recommended for long-term or continuous use because of a potential increased risk of skin cancer and lymphoma. They may be especially helpful in areas of thin skin, such as around the eyes, where steroid creams or retinoids are too irritating or may cause harmful effects.
Coal tar. Derived from coal, coal tar reduces scaling, itching and inflammation. Coal tar can irritate the skin. It’s also messy, stains clothing and bedding, and has a strong odor.
Coal tar is available in over-the-counter shampoos, creams and oils. It’s also available in higher concentrations by prescription. This treatment isn’t recommended for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
This treatment uses natural or artificial ultraviolet light. The simplest and easiest form of phototherapy involves exposing your skin to controlled amounts of natural sunlight.
Other forms of light therapy include the use of artificial ultraviolet A (UVA) or ultraviolet B (UVB) light, either alone or in combination with medications.
Psoralen plus ultraviolet A (PUVA). This form of photochemotherapy involves taking a light-sensitizing medication (psoralen) before exposure to UVA light. UVA light penetrates deeper into the skin than does UVB light, and psoralen makes the skin more responsive to UVA exposure.
This more aggressive treatment consistently improves skin and is often used for more-severe cases of psoriasis. Short-term side effects include nausea, headache, burning and itching. Long-term side effects include dry and wrinkled skin, freckles, increased sun sensitivity, and increased risk of skin cancer, including melanoma.
If you have severe psoriasis or it’s resistant to other types of treatment, your doctor may prescribe oral or injected drugs. This is known as systemic treatment. Because of severe side effects, some of these medications are used for only brief periods and may be alternated with other forms of treatment.
Although doctors choose treatments based on the type and severity of psoriasis and the areas of skin affected, the traditional approach is to start with the mildest treatments topical creams and ultraviolet light therapy (phototherapy) in those patients with typical skin lesions (plaques) and then progress to stronger ones only if necessary. Patients with pustular or erythrodermic psoriasis or associated arthritis usually need systemic therapy from the beginning of treatment. The goal is to find the most effective way to slow cell turnover with the fewest possible side effects.
There are a number of new medications currently being researched that have the potential to improve psoriasis treatment. These treatments target different proteins that work with the immune system.
A number of alternative therapies claim to ease the symptoms of psoriasis, including special diets, creams, dietary supplements and herbs. None have definitively been proved effective. But some alternative therapies are deemed generally safe, and they may be helpful to some people in reducing signs and symptoms, such as itching and scaling. These treatments would be most appropriate for those with milder, plaque disease and not for those with pustules, erythroderma or arthritis.
If you’re considering dietary supplements or other alternative therapy to ease the symptoms of psoriasis, consult your doctor. He or she can help you weigh the pros and cons of specific alternative therapies.
Explore Mayo Clinic studies testing new treatments, interventions and tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage this disease.
Although self-help measures won’t cure psoriasis, they may help improve the appearance and feel of damaged skin. These measures may benefit you:
Coping with psoriasis can be a challenge, especially if the disease covers large areas of your body or is in places readily seen by other people, such as your face or hands. The ongoing, persistent nature of the disease and the treatment challenges only add to the burden.
Here are some ways to help you cope and to feel more in control:
You’ll likely first see your family doctor or a general practitioner. In some cases, you may be referred directly to a specialist in skin diseases (dermatologist).
Here’s some information to help you prepare for your appointment and to know what to expect from your doctor.
Make a list of the following:
For psoriasis, some basic questions you might ask your doctor include:
Your doctor is likely to ask you several questions, such as:
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