Sign up for this email series:
Article written by
Medically reviewed by
Over-the-counter (OTC) moisturizers can be highly beneficial for treating and preventing the symptoms of psoriasis, such as flaking, itching, and redness. Moisturizers, also called emollients, help keep the skin hydrated and allow it to heal. They also cover, soothe, and protect small skin cracks and fissures. While an OTC moisturizer may not be a substitute for a prescription medication, it can be an additional tool in your toolbox of psoriasis treatment options. Your dermatologist can help you understand how OTC products fit into your psoriasis treatment plan.
When choosing an OTC moisturizer, keep in mind the two most effective ingredients in managing psoriasis symptoms: salicylic acid and coal tar. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved both ingredients to treat psoriasis.
Salicylic acid is keratolytic, so it helps peel and shed the outer layer of skin cells and softens and removes scales or plaques. Using an OTC skin care product containing salicylic acid in conjunction with your prescription topical treatment can help the prescribed medication penetrate the skin more deeply, increasing its effectiveness. Over-the-counter moisturizers containing salicylic acid come in strengths up to 3 percent. Anything with a higher concentration will require a prescription from a dermatologist or other health care provider.
Salicylic acid can cause stinging and skin irritation if left on for too long or if too high a concentration is used. Additionally, the body may absorb too much salicylic acid if used over large areas of the skin. This has been known to happen only to those using a preparation of 6 percent salicylic acid or higher on 40 percent or more of their body.
Coal tar slows skin cell growth, promotes peeling, and reduces the inflammation, itching, and scaling that is common with psoriasis. The higher the concentration of tar, the more potent the product. OTC products with tar can be found in strengths between 0.5 and 5 percent.
Tar can irritate, redden, and dry out skin, sometimes causing an acne-like breakout. Tar can also make skin more sensitive to sunlight, so you’ll need to use sunscreen and limit your sun exposure to avoid sunburn.
Coal tar can stain fabric and other surfaces. One member of MyPsoriasisTeam said, “I’ve tried coal tar cream, but I'm tired of smelling like a car engine and my clothes turning yellow.”
While not as effective as salicylic acid and coal tar in the treatment of psoriasis, the following active ingredients can help soothe affected areas of skin:
Many moisturizing lotions contain additives and fragrances that could be irritating to the skin. Try to avoid products that contain:
Below is a list of popular OTC moisturizers that have earned the National Psoriasis Foundation’s Seal of Recognition and have worked well for MyPsoriasisTeam members. Be sure to discuss using over-the-counter emollients with your dermatologist.
Gold Bond Ultimate Multi-Symptom Psoriasis Relief Cream is a 3 percent salicylic acid cream. A MyPsoriasisTeam member said, “Gold Bond released a psoriasis relief lotion that has salicylic acid in it. Topically, that's the only thing that's ever relieved the pain, itch, and redness for me.” Another member concurred, “I use Gold Bond medicated body lotion. It seems to control the itch.”
MG217 Sal-Acid Multi-Symptom Moisturizing Cream formula contains 3 percent salicylic acid and can be used concurrently with MG217’s Medicated Coal Tar Ointment. The salicylic acid helps loosen and remove scales, while the coal tar slows down the production of skin cells.
Many MyPsoriasisTeam members vouch for MG217’s salicylic acid cream. “MG217 is an over-the-counter cream specifically for psoriasis and you can get it at Rite Aid or Walgreens. It works better than my prescription,” one member wrote. Another member said, “I have been using an ointment called MG217. That and the wonderful Arizona sun seems to be keeping it in check for now.”
MG217’s Medicated Coal Tar Ointment works best in conjunction with MG217 Sal-Acid Multi-Symptom Moisturizing Cream. The 2 percent coal tar helps to slow cell overgrowth and moisturize skin to relieve itching, scaling, irritation, and redness.
A MyPsoriasisTeam member who experiences scalp psoriasis said, “I have tried several things and the MG217 shampoo and coal tar ointment is the best for getting rid of all the scales very easily.”
CeraVe Psoriasis Moisturizing Cream contains 2 percent salicylic acid to remove scales, lactic acid for exfoliation, niacinamide to calm the skin, and ceramides to reinforce the skin’s barrier and maintain hydration levels. CeraVe also makes a skin cleanser with similar ingredients.
CeraVe Psoriasis Moisturizing Cream is a favorite on MyPsoriasisTeam. One member offered, “I suffer from mild psoriasis on my foot and I tried this cream. It cleared it up in one day. Hoping this might help somebody.” Another member shared, “The CeraVe Psoriasis Cream helps me more than anything.” The complete CeraVe line of products got the endorsement of another member, “I've been using CeraVe products and they are very good with moisturizing my extremely dry skin due to plaque psoriasis.”
Although Eucerin Skin Calming Itch Relief Treatment wasn’t specifically created for people with psoriasis, it contains menthol and oatmeal, which can help relieve itchiness caused by dry skin.
Eucerin products are quite popular with members of MyPsoriasisTeam:
Dermarest Psoriasis Medicated Moisturizer contains 2 percent salicylic acid and can help remove scales, soothe itchy skin, reduce redness, and restore moisture.
One MyPsoriasisTeam member said, “For the itching, I use Dermarest.” Another agreed that, “Dermarest helps with the itching and isn't greasy.” A third member wrote, “Dermarest seems to help. I have it around my eyes and nostrils, along with Vaseline. I put it on at night.”
By joining MyPsoriasisTeam, the social network and online community for those living with psoriasis, you gain a support group of more than 82,000 members.
What moisturizers do you use to find relief from psoriasis? Share your tips and experiences in the comments below or on MyPsoriasisTeam.