Topical Medication Options To Treat Psoriasis

Effective Topical Medications To Treat Psoriasis

Flakes of dead skin, SEM
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Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that causes a rapid buildup of skin cells that are red, raised, dry, cracked and scaly patches, and even blisters to form on the skin. Psoriasis can affect your fingernails, causing yellowing and small depressions. Symptoms of psoriasis most commonly appear on the scalp, elbows, knees, hands, feet, and genitals. While there is no cure for psoriasis, there are several treatments available to relieve its symptoms.

There are several effective topical medications that slow down skin cell reproduction and reduce the inflammation associated with psoriasis. Some medications can be purchased over-the-counter while others are by prescription only.

Some options for treating psoriasis with topical medication – medicine that can be applied to the skin are as follows:

Prescription Topical Medication

Topical Corticosteroids

Topical corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory medications that reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system. They come in varying strengths; lower strength corticosteroids may work better on the thinner skin of the face but a higher strength may be more effective on your feet, elbows, or knees.

The risks of side effects include a thinning of your skin and resistance to the medication. Corticosteroids are held in reserve until there is an active outbreak of psoriasis to minimize the side effects and increase the effectiveness of treatment.

Synthetic Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 synthetics are effective if applied alone, but are even more effective if applied in combination with a topical corticosteroid or phototherapy. There are two types of Vitamin D derivatives used in the treatment of psoriasis: Calcitrol, also known as Vectical, which slows down the growth of skin cells, and Calcipotriene, also known as Dovonex, which flattens the psoriasis plaques and reduces scales.


Anthralin removes the scaly patches of skin that are common with psoriasis. It slows down skin cell growth in the psoriasis plaques and reduces scales. It is recommended for short-term treatment because of its side effects of irritating the skin and staining skin, clothing, and other items.

Topical Retinoids

Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives and are more commonly known for the treatment of acne. Tazorac, also known as tazarotene, is a topical retinoid that was developed for use in the treatment of psoriasis. It may decrease inflammation but does cause irritation. It is not recommended if you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or you are breast-feeding.

Over-the-Counter Topical Medications

Coal Tar

Coal tar has been used for years as a topical treatment for psoriasis, especially in shampoo-form. It can cause skin irritation and has an unpleasant smell. Coal tar should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women. It can cause redness and irritation but it does help to fight inflammation.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a peeling agent. It helps remove the patchy outer layers of skin and by thinning the psoriasis scales.


  • MedlinePlus
  • Mayo Clinic
  • National Psoriasis Foundation
  • American Osteopathic College of Dermatology
  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

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