These changes in the skin often itch. The itching can become intense, and scratching increases the risk of an infection. While there is no cure for psoriasis, it is treatable.
The right combination of creams, medications, and home remedies can stop the itching.
Fast facts on psoriasis:
- Psoriasis is a chronic immune system condition, affecting about 7.5 million people in the United States.
- Itching is due to inflammation.
- Many home and over-the-counter remedies can help soothe the itch of psoriasis.
- People who think they have psoriasis should see a doctor before using home remedies or itch creams.
Why does psoriasis itch in the first place?
Itchy skin is a common symptom of psoriasis, and itching it may worsen the condition.
Between 70-90 percent of people with psoriasis experience itching.
Psoriasis develops when the immune system becomes too active, causing the body to build new skin cells much faster than normal. The result is patchy skin, skin lesions, and rashes, which are often accompanied by pain and itching.
Inflammation that causes the itching sensation is the process the body uses to fight infection. In people who are sick or have a skin infection, this inflammatory process is a healthy thing.
In people with psoriasis, however, inflammation does not heal a wound. Instead, it just causes intense itching. Scratching the itchy patches sometimes makes things worse. Frequent scratching can irritate the skin, causing wounds and slowing healing time. The body then increases inflammation to heal these wounds, making the itch worse.
People with a specific kind of psoriasis called inverse or flexural psoriasis may also develop yeast infections on or near skin lesions. Yeast is a type of fungus that can cause intense itching, increasing the pain and itchiness of psoriasis.
Do all forms of psoriasis itch?
Plaque psoriasis, which causes scaly patches that may look gray, is the most common type of psoriasis. It is also the most common cause of psoriasis itching, although other forms of psoriasis also itch.
However, itching may vary such that one psoriasis flare-up is only mildly itchy, but the next is severely itchy. It is possible for one person to have multiple types of psoriasis, have psoriasis lesions that do not itch, or that only mildly itch, as well as psoriasis lesions that are severely itchy.
How to stop psoriasis from itching
Meditation and mindfulness techniques may distract from the sensation of itchy skin.
Lifestyle and dietary changes
Psoriasis is caused by changes in the immune system, so some people find that making lifestyle changes, particularly to their diet, helps. These changes will not stop itching immediately but can help reduce the frequency and severity of psoriasis flare-ups.
Meditation and distraction
Distraction can help the itching seem less intense. An engrossing hobby such as drawing, gardening, or painting may help keep a person’s mind off the itch. Others also find relief with meditative techniques.
Cool or warm compresses
Cold compresses and cool showers can temporarily help with itching. Some people also find that warm compresses ease the pain, so alternating warm and cold compresses may help with both itching and pain.
Dry skin can make psoriasis worse, particularly in dry climates and during the winter months. Applying heavy moisturizers after a shower and several times each day can help.
Topical steroids are medications that are applied directly to the skin. Hydrocortisone cream is safe for most people and can relieve itching. If hydrocortisone helps but does not stop the itch, it is possible to get a prescription for a stronger hydrocortisone cream.
Numbing and anti-itch creams
Topical steroids, or anti-itch creams may help to relieve the itching sensation, and make the skin difficult to itch.
Numbing creams and sprays, such as benzocaine, can offer temporary relief from itching.
Calamine lotion, colloidal oatmeal, and other skin-soothing anti-itch products may help, too.
Some people get relief from bathing in calamine lotion or oatmeal, then moisturizing and applying hydrocortisone.
Over the counter antihistamines such as Benadryl can temporarily relieve psoriasis itching.
These drugs can cause feelings of sleepiness, however, so do not take them before driving. A doctor can also prescribe a stronger antihistamine.
Products that soften and remove psoriasis patches are called keratolytics. Keratolytics can speed up healing time and may also help reduce itching. Phenol, salicylic acid, and urea are keratolytics that are available in some over-the-counter products. A doctor can also prescribe a prescription-strength keratolytic.
Scratching psoriasis alone will not make the itch worse. It can, however, call attention to the itching, making it feel worse and more frustrating. Also, scratching will not stop the itching. Frequent or intense scratching can open up psoriasis lesions, slowing healing time. People who really need to scratch should try gently rubbing or tapping the area, or scratching only the skin surrounding lesions.
Treatments for psoriasis
Psoriasis affects the skin, but the problem actually lies with the immune system. Home remedies and anti-itch medications will not treat the underlying condition.
Some medications address the immune system problem that is causing the psoriasis. Some treatment options include:
- Biologics: These products use biological chemicals to treat psoriasis. They are given via a needle in a vein (IV) and are usually only given to people who have not responded to other treatments.
- Systemics: These medications change the way the immune system behaves, making it less sensitive. They can reduce symptoms of moderate to severe psoriasis. A new group of systemic drugs is more targeted, which means these drugs may cause fewer side effects.
- Phototherapy: Phototherapy is a light therapy that exposes the skin to ultraviolet light. It is possible to lie in the sun, but it is safer to undergo controlled phototherapy in a doctor’s office.
A doctor can discuss the range of options that might be best for each individual case of psoriasis.