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Dealing with any skin condition can be frustrating, but psoriasis may just be one of the most problematic of the bunch. If you do suffer from it, take heart in the fact that you’re not alone; the National Psoriasis Foundation estimates that psoriasis affects 2-3% of the world’s population.
The chronic, autoimmune condition stems from an overactive immune system that speeds up the turnover of skin cells, explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Charlotte Birnbaum. Simply put, your skin cells start to multiply much more rapidly than they should, sometimes up to 10 times faster than normal. The result? Itchy, scaly red patches on the skin known as plaques, as well as rough, white flaky skin known as scales. And no one really knows why this happens: “It’s thought that psoriasis occurs in patients who are genetically susceptible, but we usually do not know the initial trigger that sets off the rash,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jason Miller.
What we do know is there are ways to help manage it. Cases can range from mild to severe, and it’s important to note that if you psoriasis falls more towards the severe end of the spectrum, it’s important to book an appointment with your derm. “If the plaques have gotten thick, spread to sensitive areas like the genitals, or cover a large part of your body, see your dermatologist,” advises Miller, who notes that there are many therapies including prescription topicals, lasers, and light therapy that can be effective.
The good news? If psoriasis is mild, there are a plethora of OTC options that can help. Keep scrolling for the best creams for psoriasis.
There are two FDA-approved over-the-counter ingredients for treating psoriasis; salicylic acid, found in this cream, is one of them, says Birnbaum. “Salicylic acid is keratolytic, meaning it breaks up skin cells. In psoriasis, this helps soften and exfoliate thick plaques,” she adds. This formula is one of her go-to's, and Miller is also a fan also, pointing out that it can decrease not only the scaling but also the irritation. Fragrance-free and deeply hydrating, it rings in at a great price, and there’s also an accompanying psoriasis cleanser that can further help boost the effects.
Thanks to oatmeal extract, vitamin E, and a ceramide complex, this goes to town fast, minimizing itch and generally making skin feel better. The formula is water-activated, so you’re meant to slather it on immediately post-shower (which, let’s be real, minimizes the likelihood that you’ll skip it or forget to use it). It’s so great for irritated skin conditions that it has both the National Psoriasis Foundation's Seal of Recognition and the National Eczema Association's Seal of Acceptance.
Itchiness is one (majorly annoying) symptom of psoriasis, which is why this earns top points for helping to tamp down the itch. Plus, it also contains salicylic acid—at a maximum, over-the-counter, 3% concentration—to help break down plaques and scale. And since it costs less than lunch, you can go ahead and slather it on with reckless abandon.
Specially formulated for extremely dry or even atopic (read: extremely dry and red and itchy) skin, this a top pick for those who have to deal with both dryness and psoriasis. It offers a heavy hit of hydration immediately, but also has an exclusive complex that works to repair a damaged skin barrier. And psoriasis-sufferers will appreciate that it has an added anti-itch ingredient as well.
The elbows are another common spot where psoriasis appears, says Miller. And for that particular area, this balm can be beaten. It’s thick enough to address the thicker skin on your elbows; credit a petroleum-jelly blend that’s great for any type of super dry skin, psoriasis-prone included. Still, it absorbs quickly without feeling greasy, so you can even use it in the morning before getting dressed.
Another one of Birnbaum’s go-to's, this also contains salicylic acid, great for reducing those pesky plaques. The addition of lactic acid further boosts its exfoliating prowess, making it a good choice to use on legs to help knock out not only psoriasis, but general scaliness, shaving bumps, and more.
While urea may not be one of the FDA-approved psoriasis ingredients, Birnbaum says it’s still a good choice: “Moisturizers that include urea are very beneficial for psoriasis as they exfoliate while enhancing the barrier of the skin.” This is one of her favorites, and we especially like it for slathering onto the chest, stomach, and back, areas where you definitely don’t want any kind of lingering greasy residue.
Another pick with urea, grab this the next time you’re at the drugstore and slather it on from head to toe. Along with the smoothing, exfoliating benefits of the urea, it’s also super hydrating, not to mention, fragrance-, dye-, and paraben-free, all important qualities to seek out in a product when you have psoriasis.
While not officially positioned as a psoriasis cream, this universal skin salve is ideal for anyone dealing with the condition. The super soother is packed with ingredients such as panthenol, shea butter, and glycerin to help fight irritation and inflammation, which is exactly what you want when you’re dealing with psoriasis. Not to mention that you can then use it as a face moisturizer, on any cuts or burns, even chapped lips.
With a thicker consistency, this ointment is choice for dabbing onto smaller spots, ideal for anyone who suffers from random, smaller areas of plaques and scale. It touts 2% salicylic acid in a steroid- and fragrance-free formula that’s also hypoallergenic.
When psoriasis strikes, it’s often at very inopportune times. (Stress can trigger it, which is why it tends to pop up before a big date or job interview.) That’s the time to reach for this formula, another option that both dermatologists recommend. It knocks out flare-ups, fast, thanks to a 2% concentration of coal tar. Not only can it decrease the inflammation and scaling of existing plaques, but it can also slow down the excessive skin production that causes them in the first place, says Miller.
The scalp is a common spot where psoriasis can crop up. Admittedly, it may be less visible here than when it’s on your arms or legs, but the discomfort can be intense. We know, we know, this isn’t a cream, but really who wants to apply a cream on their scalp? We’ll let this one sneak onto the list, especially because it came highly recommended for scalp psoriasis by both of the derms we spoke to.
It contains coal tar, the other FDA-approved ingredient for psoriasis, which, has been shown to calm inflammation in the skin and slow the growth of skin cells, helping with the itch and scaling associated with psoriasis,” notes Birnbaum. FYI, to fully reap the benefits, Miller recommends using it two to three times per week and letting it sit on the scalp for at least a few minutes before rinsing.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. While she herself doesn’t suffer from psoriasis, her boyfriend does; she used him as her guinea pig when selecting the best products for this story. Six of the 12 products included also have the National Psoriasis Foundation's Seal of Recognition.
Dr. Charlotte Birnbaum is a board-certified dermatologist at Spring Street Dermatology practicing medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatology. Dr. Birnbaum treats patients of all ages, regularly treating patients with psoriasis, as well as acne, eczema, rosacea and skin cancer.
Dr. Jason Miller is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in medical dermatology, including psoriasis, as well as skin cancer and cosmetic dermatology.