alt=a person applies a topical cream to their psoriasis plaques. An array of skincare products are arranged before them.

Psoriasis Lessons: The Importance of a Skincare Routine

Plaque psoriasis creates flaky, scaly patches or plaques on the skin and scalp. It can vary in severity and require different treatments. Using topical treatments is the first step in treating plaques. Developing an effective skincare routine now can make a difference in the long term.1,2

Breaking down skincare options...

A skincare routine can be helpful for mild to severe plaques. While topical treatments alone may manage mild plaques, moderate to severe symptoms may need more aggressive treatments. Maintaining a topical skincare routine goes hand in hand with advanced treatments like biologics.2

What is a topical treatment?

Topical treatment is any therapy put on the skin. Treatments can be prescription or over-the-counter medicines. Each option provides different benefits. Topical treatments for plaques include:1-3

  • Creams
  • Lotions
  • Foams
  • Gels
  • Sprays
  • Oils
  • Specialty shampoos


Topical steroids (corticosteroids) are the most common treatment for plaques. They do not damage the skin when used on thick, active plaques. Stop using steroids when plaques have thinned or cleared. They are not a maintenance treatment for periods without flares.1-3

Steroids are available as prescription treatments. They act to:1-3

  • Reduce inflammation
  • Minimize the spread of plaques
  • Help suppress the immune response

Vitamin D3 analogues

Vitamin D3 analogues work similarly to a biologic, targeting specific receptors in the skin. Their effectiveness depends on the keratin-producing skin cells (keratinocytes) in your plaques. They can come as a cream, ointment, foam, or solution.1-3

The two most commonly prescribed vitamin D3 analogues are calcipotriene and calcitriol. Both are prescription treatments for plaques. They are used both for acute flares and as a maintenance treatment.1-3


An emollient is a moisturizer. Available as over-the-counter treatments, emollients soften and hydrate the skin. They can reduce itching, tenderness, and irritation. There are many options for moisturizing products. Each body is unique, so finding the best product for you will be a process of trial and error.2

Moisturizers are most effective when applied directly after showering or bathing. After you pat your skin dry, you can use a moisturizer to lock in hydration and soothe the skin.2


Tar has been used as a treatment for plaques for a long time. It can be a messy and smelly treatment, though, so many people who live with plaques try other options first. They often use it along with topical corticosteroids.2

Presently, no combination tar-corticosteroid creams exist. Tar is sold over the counter in cream, lotion, shampoo, oil, and ointment forms. Careful application is important, as it can stain clothing, hair, and skin.2

Skincare for scalp psoriasis

Plaques on the scalp and under the hair are difficult to treat with topicals. Topicals are most effective when put on plaques and left to absorb. On the scalp, leaving topicals in can lead to greasy hair, which can feel uncomfortable or embarrassing when in public.2,3

Shampoos designed to soften and treat scalp plaques are helpful. Shampoos with steroids, salicylic acid, or tar are a standard treatment. A tar shampoo must get deep into the scalp when applied. It should sit on the scalp for 5 to 10 minutes before you rinse it out.1,2

Consistency is everything

Staying consistent with a skincare routine is essential. The most benefit comes from continuing your skincare routine when your plaques are in remission. It can be hard to maintain a routine when the results are not dramatic and noticeable, but staying consistent with daily treatments will help in the long term.3

Everyone must find the products or combinations that work best for them. If topical skincare treatments do not give you the results you want, your doctor may consider UV light therapy or oral medicine. It also is important to note that all topical treatments come with possible side effects. Talk with your doctor about your treatment options and which ones might be right for you.3

Before beginning a new skincare routine for plaque psoriasis, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you take. This includes over-the-counter drugs.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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