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Top OTC Products for Psoriasis

What Non-Prescription Psoriasis Treatments Are Worth a Shot?

By Maureen Salamon

Updated May 20, 2008

(LifeWire) - I've slathered creams and ointments on my skin, massaged oils and tar onto my scalp, and stood in ultraviolet light boxes that feel like standing coffins. In the nearly 30 years I've suffered from psoriasis, I've tried almost every remedy -- barring pills and injections -- to keep its itchy, red scales under control.

At times the treatments have felt extreme, but that's because this chronic skin condition is so fickle and unpredictable. Medications that work well for months or years can suddenly turn impotent. An outbreak that seemed manageable in one or two areas can quickly cover much of your skin.

In fact, there's no part of the body that's off-limits to psoriasis, including the genitals, palms of the hands and soles of the feet. But long before those with psoriasis end up with sore scales in these areas, they've usually accumulated a war chest of both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) treatments.

Here are 10 of the top OTC products for people who have psoriasis -- presented in no particular order --based on my 30 years of experience with the condition. These 10 treatments were also based on their effectiveness in fighting the itch, moisturizing irritated skin, eradicating scales or providing some combination of these benefits. Certain brands are mentioned because they are easy to find, but each product is available under many brand names. Make sure to follow the directions provided with each product and consult your doctor about any unexpected reactions.

1) Hydrocortisone cream: This topical steroid comes in many brand names, such as Cortaid or Lanacort. Low-strength OTC versions are amazingly versatile and useful for many other skin conditions. This cream can be used 1 to 4 times per day and is most effective when applied to skin that has just been washed. It also fights itch -- with one application for poison ivy -- and it's safer for the face and neck than its stronger prescription forms. However, excessive use should be avoided, because over time, steroid creams can thin the skin.

2) Aloe: Long known for its healing and soothing properties, the cactus-like aloe vera is one of the more useful houseplants. Just snip one of its soft leaves and rub the gel inside on psoriasis lesions or plaques. Anecdotal evidence suggests that aloe can help clear psoriasis outbreaks. Studies on the topic, however, are limited. One showed a benefit from using aloe to treat psoriasis symptoms, while another showed no advantage. Even it ale doesn't clear your case, it can likely quiet your irritated skin, leading to less itching and soreness. OTC creams containing aloe extract, such as Aloe Vesta, may also work as equally well.

3) Oatmeal bath flakes: Oatmeal baths, such as Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment, also have skin-calming properties. These products look much like what you'd use to make hot cereal for breakfast. You simply pour them into your bath water as the tub fills. Since the entire body is immersed, this treatment is particularly helpful for those with extensive lesions. This option probably won't clear your psoriasis, but it can help soothe it.

4) Salicylic acid: Better known in its Head and Shoulders shampoo or Oxy Clean soap versions, salicylic acid is also recommended for other skin problems such as acne and warts. The 2% concentrations found in several shampoos and soaps aid psoriasis by removing flakes. Salicylic acid also comes in prescription strengths, but its OTC use can serve as a first step before other psoriasis remedies are applied.

5) Coal tar: Tar solutions may stink, but it's hard to argue with their results, which at times equal those of prescription medications. Coal tar comes in many OTC forms, including shampoo, such as T-Gel, Denorex or Tegrin, and ointments, such as MG 217. These work by slowing the overgrowth of skin cells common to psoriasis and by reducing inflammation and itching. Note: It may be hard to find these products over the counter in California.

6) Moisturizers: Dry skin is "angry" skin, and psoriatic skin is bad enough without dehydration. Lotions can be helpful, although creams and ointments are more hydrating. Slathering on an emollient-rich option, such as Eucerin or Vaseline, after bathing can help -- anecdotal evidence suggests well-moisturized skin is less vulnerable to new lesions.

7) Cosmetic cover-ups: Especially on the most visible parts of the body, such as the face, neck and hands, there are times when it seems unacceptable to present psoriasis to the world. For times like these, there are several specialized concealers available, such as Covermark or Dermablend, that can help conceal (though not treat) affected skin. Note that it can be tricky to cover up psoriasis. Do not attempt to mask lesions that are open or cracked, because this can lead to stinging and potential infection.

8) Indian earth: When mixed with unscented body lotion, Indian earth -- a naturally occurring mix of many minerals, including iron, silicon, aluminum and calcium -- helps cover and moisturize psoriasis plaques. It's available online, as well as at drug and health food stores, and it can be applied to select skin areas with a small sponge. Again, this can help ease your symptoms, but will not clear up your psoriasis entirely.

9) Small UVB sunlamps: Another easily found item is the UVB lamp, which has been proven to clear psoriasis plaques and help prevent new outbreaks. Home lamps are useful for small areas, such as the hands or feet, but you should consult with your doctor regarding exposure limits, as UVB does pose a risk of burn and skin cancer. While tempting, more is not necessarily better, and for some individuals this treatment could lead to burn-related flare-ups.

10) Menthol spray: That tingle you get from pungent menthol-laced sprays, such as Eucerin, comes from peppermint plant oil -- the source of menthol. Besides its tingle, menthol has soothing properties, and just like many other OTC psoriasis aids, menthol works for many ailments. Menthol also has anesthetic properties that help relieve itching, though it too won't clear your psoriasis.

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 newspaper, website and hospital clients. She has suffered from psoriasis for nearly three decades.
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