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Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023 | Last updated: September 2023

Calcipotriene is a topical medicine that can be used to treat plaque psoriasis symptoms on the skin, scalp, and nails. It is only available by prescription.1

Calcipotriene is a type of medicine called a vitamin D3 analog or vitamin D synthetic. It contains synthetic vitamin D3, meaning that it is made in a laboratory and is different than the type of vitamin D available in food and nutritional supplements. Vitamin D analogues have been used to treat psoriasis since the early 1990s2.

Calcipotriene is applied directly to the skin, nails, or scalp, usually in the form of a foam, ointment, cream or scalp solution. It is generally prescribed for use twice per day for a period of 6 to 8 weeks, although your healthcare provider may advise that you can use it for a longer period of time.

Calcipotriene was formally sold under the brand name Dovonex.

How does calcipotriene work?

The symptoms of plaque psoriasis are caused by inflammation that triggers the production of new skin cells. These new cells grow more quickly than old skin cells can be shed by the body. Calcipotriene is formulated to slow down the process that produces new skin cells1. It also speeds up the life cycle of the new skin cells that are produced, so that they can be shed more quickly from the skin. The medicine also reduces the amount of inflammation that is the source of the symptoms.

Together, the effects of calcipotriene can flatten psoriasis plaques and remove scales on the surface of plaques. Many people with psoriasis find treatment with the medication to be quite effective4. The results of two large studies showed that almost three-quarters of patients treated with calcipotriene had significant improvement in their symptoms5. The same studies reported that 60% of patients with psoriasis symptoms on the scalp had similar improvement in symptoms.

What are the possible side effects?

About 20% of patients who use calcipotriene report that it causes skin irritation, burning, and/or stinging4. A smaller number of patients report side effects of dry skin, skin peeling, stinging, tingling, skin rash, or worsening of psoriasis symptoms. Let your healthcare provider know if you experience any of those side effects that are severe or do not go away.

Some people find that calcipotriene causes more irritation to the skin than topical corticosteroids do, especially in sensitive areas6. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you dilute the calcipotriene before use in sensitive areas, or use topical corticosteroids in those areas instead. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider to make sure that you are using a topical corticosteroid that does not affect the way that Dovonex works, however.

Other things to know

Calcipotriene is safe for use with various other psoriasis treatments, although you should always check with your healthcare provider before combining medicines. If you are using more than one type of topical medicine, you will usually be advised to apply them at different times of the day.

Some people may be advised to combine calcipotriene with stronger forms of corticosteroids.1

Patients with more severe symptoms may be advised to try calcipotriene in combination with oral systemic medicines that affect the entire body, such as cyclosporine, acitretin, or methotrexate2. This combination of treatments can be more effective and cause fewer side effects because it contains smaller doses of each treatment.

Studies have reported that using calcipotriene can make light therapy treatments more effective in reducing symptoms. However, it is important to apply calcipotriene after light therapy treatments, not before them, to make sure it is as effective as possible.

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