It's best to know what psoriasis is, since it can look similar to other scalp conditions (keep scrolling past the products for more info). If you suspect you have it, see a doctor to get properly diagnosed.
Recommended shampoos and products for scalp psoriasis
One of Shamban’s recommendations, this product is made with FDA-approved zinc pyrithione and green tea extract that cleanses the scalp deeply but gently.
Shamban likes this shampoo as its main active is zinc pyrithione (also known as zinc omadine) and also includes sage, juniper, tea tree oil (which she recommends) and soothing aloe vera. Note: There is both an extra strength formula and this coal tar-free formula—coal tar is an effective treatment for scalp psoriasis, according to the AAD, but some people may want to avoid it, as there are potential side effects such as skin sensitivity.
The selenium sulfide formula relieves stubborn dandruff symptoms while leaving hair feeling soft and clean. “Another ingredient to make sure is included in your scalp regimen, is ZPT [zinc pyrithione], as it works with selenium sulfide to address the source of dandruff and its symptoms, an irritant resulting from a natural occurring fungus on the scalp,” says Wilkerson.
This fragrance-free shampoo contains 3 percent salicylic acid, plus a zinc complex that’s formulated to treat psoriasis. It also has nourishing botanicals such as green tea extract, kukui nut oil and safflower extract.
If you want something with more natural ingredients, try this one from Yes To. Tea tree oil is another ingredient that can be beneficial for scalp psoriasis, according to Shamban.
Popular on Amazon, this 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner contains salicylic acid as well as tea tree oil, green tea, and vitamins E, C, and B5.
In addition to shampoo, get yourself a scalp scrubber. Shamban likes this one from Briogeo, as it’s “a simple handheld device that can help to massage, exfoliate, increase circulation, and loosen the tough layers of scales.”
“Shampoos with coal tar help with scaling and thickens the skin on your scalp by slowing down the growth of skin cells,” says Dr. Melanie Palm, a board-certified dermatologist. They can also help with itching and reduce redness, and this shampoo with three percent coal tar also smells better than most coal tar shampoos, say Dr. Palm.
This Vanicream shampoo is a medicated yet gentle option that can help relieve itching, redness, flaking, and irritation, says Dr. Palm. Shampoos with salicylic acid help to lift and soften the scales on your scalp, but they can also make you more susceptible to sun damage, so Dr. Palm advises to use SPF if you’re using shampoos that are medicated to treat psoriasis on your scalp.
This shampoo contains one percent coal tar to help relieve itchy scalps, and is gentle enough to be used every day. It’s also recognized by the National Psoriasis Foundation to help relieve symptoms.
What is psoriasis?
According to Ava Shamban, a board-certified dermatologist based in Beverly Hills, psoriasis causes the body to create an overproduction of new skin cells over the course of a few days rather than weeks like normal skin does, resulting in the immune system mistakenly attacking our normal, healthy skin cells.
“As our dermis goes into high defense mode, it rapidly produces new cells that accumulate. The overdrive in skin cell production can accumulate anywhere on the skin’s surface, producing thick red dry patches of skin on face, body, palms of the hands, bottoms of the feet, and even scalp,” she explains. “There are several types of psoriasis, with the most common form being plaque psoriasis which presents as thick and scaly patches that are most often red, raw, painful, extremely dry, flaky, cracking and itchy. In extreme cases they can even bleed.”
What does scalp psoriasis look like?
Scalp psoriasis, Shamban explains, occurs on the scalp and nape of the neck, and thick patches can sometimes lead to hair loss. “Conditions are different in that our dermis is thicker naturally on the scalp and we have a significantly more active sebaceous network and millions of follicles unlike any other place on the body.” It’s also important to rule out other scalp conditions first. For example, Shamban says that psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis share some similar presentations in the forms of red, scaly skin. “Seborrheic dermatitis is usually very itchy and often a yellow accompanied by dandruff flakes down the hair shaft,” she says. “Psoriasis however has a tendency to extend beyond the scalp while seborrheic dermatitis is usually confined to the scalp. In addition, the scales may be thicker lesions and somewhat drier in appearance than seborrheic dermatitis.”
Ingredients that can benefit scalp psoriasis
Shamban says that when looking for products, keep an eye out for gels and shampoos or pre-treatments containing salicylic acid, as it can help soften thick patches of skin on the scalp. Another good thing about salicylic acid? It penetrates into skin and pores, allowing other medications for other symptoms to get in deeper. “Look for products with antibacterial, antimicrobial, and anti-fungal properties that can help treat seborrheic dermatitis and scalp psoriasis,” she adds. “Antifungals also inhibit yeast growth, a main factor in dandruff which is a secondary outcome with the condition.”
Ingredients to avoid
There are also certain shampoo ingredients to avoid, such as sulfates and alcohol and other drying agents, according to Shamban. And if you didn't guess already, fragrance-free formulas are best. Meanwhile, Dr. Rolanda Wilkerson, Principal Scientist and Senior Manager of Scientific Communications in Beauty Care at Procter & Gamble, says that chemical treatments can cause dryness on the scalp. “I would not say it has to be avoided, however, it is best to make sure you are following the proper protocol and recommended frequency for using them so that the health of the scalp is not negatively impacted,” she says. “Dry shampoos, although can be your best friend while trying to prolong styles, can cause build up and dryness with daily use and no washes in between.”
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