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Soaps, Shampoos and Perfumes for Psoriasis

By Maureen Salamon

Updated July 08, 2008

(LifeWire) - Compared to most other people, those with psoriasis need to take special care in selecting toiletries. Ingredients in some soaps, shampoos, deodorants, perfumes and colognes can bother sensitive skin. In other cases, these products may serve as therapies.

Psoriasis is a skin disorder in which skin cells proliferate too rapidly. This results in lesions or plaques - thickened patches of reddened, scaly skin - anywhere on the body, including the scalp, elbows, knees, palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Psoriasis is thought to be an autoimmune disease, and people who have it are termed psoriatics. Many use soaps and shampoos to counter two troubling symptoms: scaling and itching.

Daily bathing and shampooing are essential to stay on top of new scaling and to moisturize the skin underneath. Moisturizing helps lessen itching. But scratching - or leaving the itch untreated - can actually aggravate psoriasis. Aloe, lanolin, oatmeal, glycerin and shea or cocoa butter are useful moisturizing ingredients found in many medicated soaps and shampoos.

Most psoriatics get tangible relief from medicated, over-the-counter (OTC) soaps and shampoos. However, about a third - generally those who have moderate to severe cases - respond better to prescription products such as corticosteroids. Medicated soaps and shampoos usually contain either salicylic acid, which diminishes scaling, or coal tar, which slows the growth of skin cells. Other ingredients found in OTC shampoos that can help control mild scalp psoriasis include pyrithione zinc and selenium sulfide.

OTC products are readily available in pharmacies under various brand names, including Head & Shoulders, Neutrogena T/Gel and Denorex shampoos, Tegrin and Polytar soaps. However, these products will not necessarily work for you, so be sure to see your doctor if they don't help -- there are other stronger options you can try.

If you do try them, be sure to follow package directions and, for coal tar-containing shampoos, try using a pleasantly scented conditioner to counter the pungent odor.

It should be noted that waterless, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which have become increasingly popular in the last few years, are not advised for those with psoriasis on their hands. Not only will the alcohol content sting lesions, but it also dries the skin, which can exacerbate existing psoriasis or, possibly, contribute to a new flare-up. However, for people without active psoriasis on their hands, hand sanitizers containing aloe may actually be less irritating to the skin than soap and water. This is an especially important consideration in psoriatics who frequently need to wash their hands, such as moms and healthcare providers.

Anyone with psoriasis should also be wary of added fragrances and perfumes in toiletries. Unscented soaps and shampoos are less likely to sting or irritate inflamed skin.

What of perfumes and colognes? Those who don't have lesions where they would apply such products often have no problem with them. However, the alcohol in perfumes and colognes can cause affected skin to sting terribly, so use caution when applying.


"Scalp Psoriasis: How Is It Treated?" Psoriasis.org. Oct. 2005. National Psoriasis Foundation. 10 Jun 2008 <http://www.psoriasis.org/about/psoriasis/scalp/treatment.php>.

"Topical Treatments: Tar." Psoriasis.org. Oct. 2005. National Psoriasis Foundation. 21 Apr 2008 <http://www.psoriasis.org/treatment/psoriasis/topicals/tar.php>.

"Treatment Guide." Psoriasis.org. Oct. 2005. National Psoriasis Foundation. 10 Jun 2008 <http://www.psoriasis.org/treatment/guide/otc/?cat=aaabah>.

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Maureen Salamon is a New Jersey-based freelance writer who has written for newspapers, websites and hospitals. She has suffered from psoriasis for nearly three decades.
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