Psoriasis symptoms can show up anywhere on your body. Itchy or sore patches of raised, red, dry skin known as plaques can occur on the face, arms and hands, legs and feet, and the back. One of the most common types of psoriasis affects the scalp treatment. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF), at least half of the 7.5 million Americans who have the disease have it on their scalp.
How you treat any type of psoriasis depends, to some degree, on how severe it is. The symptoms of scalp psoriasis can range from mild scales and flaking to moderate and severe plaques that cover the entire scalp and can cause the hair to thin in areas. Severe scalp psoriasis can go beyond your hairline, across the forehead to your neck and around the ears.
Depending on your symptom severity and how much of your skin is affected, your doctor may recommend a variety of treatment options. Fortunately, if one treatment doesn’t work or stops being effective, there are likely to be others that you can try.
“We have so many fantastic ways to clear psoriasis and to treat scalp psoriasis,” says Melodie Young, NP, RN, an advanced practice nurse focusing on gerontology and dermatology at Baylor Scott and White Modern Dermatology in Dallas.
For milder cases of scalp psoriasis, shampoos with ingredients such as coal tar extract and salicylic acid can be helpful. “Liquid or foam topical medications are easy to apply to the scalp,” says Dina D. Strachan, MD, a dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.
Severe flares may require the use of oral or injectable medication in conjunction with such topical treatments.
Dermatologists will sometimes treat mild scalp psoriasis with steroids, injecting scalp lesions with the medication. The steroids act to locally reduce the inflammation that causes this frustrating buildup of scaly skin cells.
Doctors don’t typically prescribe systemic medicines for scalp psoriasis alone, but if you have moderate-to-severe psoriasis on the scalp, you’re likely to have it elsewhere too. In that case, systemic medication can really help, says Colby Evans, MD, a dermatologist in Austin, Texas, and chairman of the board of trustees for the NPF.
Even though the symptoms of scalp psoriasis may appear to come and go, it’s important to remember that psoriasis is a chronic condition that will need to be treated and managed over time.
If you have flaking, itchiness, or redness caused by scalp psoriasis or another form of irritation, try one of these five easy, at-home treatments to control your symptoms. But always be careful to check with your doctor before trying any at-home treatments, to make sure they’ll be safe and effective for you. And remember that the worst thing you can do is scratch an itchy scalp. That’ll just worsen the psoriasis and raise the risk for infection if you create an open wound.