Psoriasis is the most prevalent autoimmune disease in the US with over 7.5 million affected by this chronic skin condition. Further estimates by the American Academy of Dermatology place almost half of that number specifically suffering from psoriasis of the scalp. (source) Although there is no known cure for psoriasis of the scalp yet, there are many ways you can manage the condition and get relief from its symptoms.
Psoriasis symptoms include patches of red, scaly, itchy skin that can occur anywhere on the body. With scalp psoriasis the embarrassing symptom of flaking skin that is often mistaken for dandruff is also thrown into the mix. Although not life threatening, if left untreated scalp psoriasis can affect your sleep or everyday life and the constant scratching leads to a greater risk of skin infections or even possible hair loss.
One of the easiest ways to soothe the symptoms of scalp psoriasis is with the use of a special shampoo. Shampoos especially formulated to treat psoriasis are readily available over the counter at your local drugstore, supermarket, hair salon or from many online retailers. In more severe cases, additional medical treatment may be need including corticosteroids, vitamin D creams or the anti-scaling drug Anthralin, which can all be prescribed by your physician or dermatologist.
Your first port of call in the fight against psoriasis should be to change your shampoo and try one of the many specialized formulas available. We will look at five of the best shampoos for psoriasis and how they work.
Why Do We Get Psoriasis of the Scalp?
Psoriasis, unlike many other skin conditions, is not contagious and can’t be passed from one person to another through contact. It is an internal disease without too many external causes. Scientists believe psoriasis is mainly caused by genetics and immune system deficiencies.
Research has shown that 10% of the population is born with the genes that have been recognized as causing psoriasis, but only about 2% of the population will actually develop the chronic disease. (source) There’s very little we can do about the genes that cause psoriasis in the first place, but we can try to avoid factors that trigger the condition.
Scalp psoriasis lies dormant for many years in most people, but certain factors can trigger it. Some of the most common triggers include stress, injury to the skin, certain medications, infections and cold or dry air.
Symptoms of Scalp Psoriasis
Scalp psoriasis is often confused with many similar conditions that occur on the skin of your head.
The type of psoriasis we experience most on the scalp is known as plaque psoriasis with the main symptoms being red patches of skin, a silvery-white scaling of patches, itching and inflammation of the scalp. Psoriasis of the scalp is sometimes limited to a small area that goes virtually unnoticed but at other times it covers the whole scalp extending down the ears and neck.
Milder cases may only involve a slight itching whereas more severe cases lead to more scaling, larger bumps, raised red areas of skin and flakes that look like dandruff. Flakes caused by scalp psoriasis are usually much larger than dandruff flakes and can often be confused with seborrheic dermatitis. The scaling of the skin with psoriasis tends to be much thicker and appears dry.
It can be very tempting to scratch patches caused by psoriasis but this just makes the condition worse and causes patches to thicken. In more extreme cases, scratching too much leads to the skin bleeding, which may be painful and increases the risk of infection.
What Makes a Shampoo Good for Scalp Psoriasis?
There are many different brands of shampoos recommended for use in the relief of psoriasis but they mainly fall into three categories, coal tar, medicated and herbal or essential oil based.
Coal tar shampoos slow down the growth of skin cells that irritate or inflame the scalp while soothing irritation of the skin. Although a higher concentration can mean more effective shampoos, the FDA limits over the counter products to a maximum of 5% tar content due to high levels of coal tar being associated with cancer. Coal tar shampoos are usually not suitable for use with lighter colored or color treated hair as it can dull the colors.
Medicated shampoos will normally contain either a topical steroid or one of the following ingredients – ketoconazole, salicylic acid or zinc pyrithione. These are used for many skin conditions and act as a peeling agent that forces the scalp to shed skin. In the short term they may cause more flaking but symptoms will clear up over time. These shampoos can also contain harsh chemicals that irritate more sensitive skin, with keratolytic shampoos typically only used on more severe cases.
Natural or herbal alternative treatments use botanical or organic ingredients often with essential oil which may include tea tree oil, aloe vera or capsaicin. Although they may help remove scaly skin and moisturize the skin, they are often not as effective as the two previous options, however they are more gentle on sensitive skin and color treated hair.
The Best Shampoo for Psoriasis
With so many different brands and types to choose from, the strength and formula of shampoo you need is very much dependent on your symptoms. We have looked at some of the top selling psoriasis shampoos currently available to find the best shampoo for psoriasis based on its effectiveness and the ingredients used.
Our Choice for the Best Shampoo for Psoriasis
If the idea of putting coal tar on your head doesn’t sound to appealing, there are many other alternative formulas that can relieve the irritating symptoms of scalp psoriasis. Herbal formulas or shampoos that use low concentrations of coal tar combined with hair nutrients and scalp moisturizers can be just as effective as many medicated formulas – it’s about finding the right one for you and your scalp.
In our opinion, the best shampoo for psoriasis is the Dermarest Psoriasis Shampoo and Conditioner; it uses skin peeling salicylic acid, zinc and natural ingredients to stop scalp flaking and scaling. The effects may not be as instant as some coal tar based treatments or stronger medications, but if you take the time, it does what it says on the bottle.