Are you one of the 7.5 million Americans who suffers from psoriasis [source: National Psoriasis Foundation]? This chronic, non-contagious disease affects your skin when your body's immune system sends incorrect signals to trigger the growth of skin cells.
Psoriasis can occur on any part of the body. There are five types of psoriasis: plaque, guttate, inverse, pustular and erythrodermic. But plaque is the most common. Plaque psoriasis causes red bumps or legions covered with a silver-colored collection of dead skill cells, referred to as scales, to appear on the skin. People who have psoriasis also tend to suffer from other health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and depression.
Researchers are unsure about the causes of psoriasis; however, most agree that both genetics and the immune system may contribute to its development. In general, people who suffer from psoriasis have some of the genes that cause the disease and have experienced stress, suffered from skin injury, or taken a medication that might trigger the disease.
Keep reading for 10 ways to treat psoriasis.
Salicylic acid, an over-the-counter medication that can be obtained without a doctor's prescription, is a Federal Drug Administration approved treatment for cases of mild psoriasis.
Salicylic acid is a keratoolytic, a substance that causes the outer layer of skin to peel away. It works to treat a variety of skin conditions; in the case of psoriasis, salicylic acid causes scales to soften and fall away more easily.
When using salicylic acid to treat mild psoriasis, be sure not to overdo it. Strong salicylic acids can lead to skin irritation or hair loss if applied too frequently. But when used in moderation, salicylic acid can provide a certain measure of relief for sufferers of mild psoriasis.
Another Federal Drug Administration approved agent for the treatment of mild psoriasis is coal tar. This treatment comes from tar made from coal and wood, such as juniper and pine. Coal tar works to treat psoriasis by slowing the growth of skin cells, improving the affected skin's appearance, eliminating inflammation and reducing scaling.
When deciding which kind of coal tar to use, take into account the concentration of tar. Coal tar with a greater concentration of tar will generally be more effective.
Before using coal tar, be sure to test it on a small patch of skin. If your skin becomes red, moisturize the psoriasis area before you apply the coal tar. Coal tar also can cause skin to become more sensitive to the sun, so be sure to use sunscreen and limit your sun exposure when using this treatment.
Applying a daily dose of moisturizer to your skin can be helpful in preventing and treating outbreaks of psoriasis. Moisturizers will prevent skin from drying out, itching and reddening, as well as aid damaged skin to heal more quickly.
If you suffer from psoriasis, consult with your dermatologist to find the most effective skin cream or ointment to keep your skin moisturized. Sometimes products like cooking oils and shortening can be used as less costly ways to treat skin irritation associated with psoriasis [source: National Psoriasis Foundation].
One of the cheapest, simplest and most effective treatments for psoriasis is exposure to sunlight. Spending 10 minutes out in the sun and gradually working your way up to 30 minutes of exposure can lead to improvement of psoriasis.
When using this form of treatment, be sure to put sunscreen on all parts of your body that aren't affected by psoriasis. And don't overdo it; you don't want to get a sunburn or cause your skin damage. You'll also want to discontinue use of topical treatments that might increase your sensitivity to the sun. Although it may take some time to yield improvement, catching some rays in a cautious way can lead to relief from psoriasis.
Bath Solutions and Anti-itch Treatments
You may already have some treatments for psoriasis in your pantry or bathroom cabinet. Some sufferers of psoriasis find that bath treatments are effective in providing relief from soreness, itchiness, redness and scaling. Add oatmeal, oil, epsom salts or Dead Sea salts to your bath. It may help your skin to shed scales and ease itching caused by psoriasis. When using this treatment, soak in your bath treatment for about 15 minutes. After your bath, apply a moisturizer or oil to your skin to seal in water and prevent your skin from drying out.
You also can use readily available FDA-approved anti-itch ingredients such as calamine, hydrocortisone, camphor, diphenhydramine hydrochloride (HCl), benzocaine and menthol to soothe itching associated with psoriasis.
In addition to using some of the topical treatments previously mentioned, you can increase the effectiveness of topical ointments by covering them up, a process known as occlusion. When you cover up ointment already applied to your skin, your skin will be more likely to absorb the medication or moisture to provide relief for psoriasis.
To use occlusion to treat psoriasis, apply a topical medication or moisturizer to the affected area of your skin. Next, cover it with plastic wrap, cotton, nylon or a waterproof dressing. But be sure to consult with your physician before attempting to use occlusion with a prescription topical treatment, as there may be risks.
More recent technological developments in the treatment of psoriasis include both excimer laser and pulsed dye laser therapy. These laser treatments are typically used in cases of moderate to severe psoriasis.
The Federal Drug Administration-approved excimer laser gives off ultraviolent light B (UVB), which can eliminate sites of psoriasis plaque.This type of laser treatment usually takes effect after four to 10 sessions of exposure. In general, psoriasis patients can have two treatments per week with two days between treatments.
The pulsed dye laser uses dye and a different wavelength than the excimer laser to break down small blood vessels that cause psoriasis lesions. Patients undergoing pulsed dye therapy have treatments for 15 to 30 minutes every three weeks. If the therapy is effective, legions begin to disappear four to six weeks after treatment.
Prescription Topical Treatments
If you're not responding to over-the-counter topical treatments, your doctor might prescribe you a topical anti-inflammatory corticosteroids drug to treat your psoriasis. These drugs, which are applied directly to the skin, will help to suppress the immune system and decrease production of skin cells, reduce inflammation and soothe pain and itching.
These topical prescription ointments come in a variety of strengths; typically, lower concentrations of prescription topical corticosteroids are used for sensitive skin locations like your face or the folds of skin. Stronger concentrations can be applied to tougher areas on your hands and feet.
Topical Vitamin D
If exposing yourself to sunlight isn't providing you with sufficient vitamin D to relieve your psoriasis, you can get this important vitamin from a prescription like Calcipotriene (Dovonex). This synthetic form of vitamin D will help to slow the growth of skin cells and is available in cream, ointment and solution form.
In addition to slowing the growth of new skin cells, calcipotriene will also reduce lesions and aid in the removal of scales. This form of treatment oftentimes can be used in conjunction with other topical medications or light therapy. On the down side, calcipotriene can sometimes lead to skin irritation, so consult with your physician if your skin condition worsens as you use this medication.
Oral or Injected Medication
If your psoriasis is not responding to any other type of treatment, you may want to consider oral or injected prescription medications. These medications can cause severe side effects for some users, so they're used for short periods of time. Because each of these drugs in some way works to suppress your immune system, you may become more susceptible to other forms of illness when undergoing treatment for longer periods of time.
Some oral and injected forms of psoriasis treatment include vitamin A retinoids, methotrexate, cyclospine, hydroxyurea and mmunomodulator drugs, which all reduce the production of skin cells and help to suppress the immune system and thus inflammation of the skin. As always, consult with your physician before undergoing these treatments.
HowStuffWorks talks to experts to find out why some people love to pop zits — or even watch zit-popping videos on YouTube.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- "About Psoriasis." National Psoriasis Foundation."http://www.psoriasis.org/netcommunity/about_psoriasis
- "Calcipotriene." Mayo Clinic.http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/drug-information/DR601571
- "Psoriasis: Definition." Mayo Clinic.http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/psoriasis/ds00193
- "Treatments and Drugs." Mayo Clinic.http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/psoriasis/DS00193/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs
- "Treating Psoriasis: Light Therapy." National Psoriasis Foundationhttp://www.psoriasis.org/netcommunity/sublearn03_mild_light
- "Treating Psoriasis: Over the counter." National Psoriasis Foundation.http://www.psoriasis.org/netcommunity/sublearn03_mild_otc
- "Treating Psoriasis: Steroids" National Psoriasis Foundation.http://www.psoriasis.org/netcommunity/sublearn03_mild_steroids