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Moisturizers for Psoriasis: How To Choose

Updated on January 03, 2023
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Emily Brown

  • There are several over-the-counter (OTC) moisturizers that can be beneficial for people with psoriasis.
  • Ingredients like salicylic acid and coal tar can be helpful for managing psoriasis symptoms.
  • Avoid moisturizers with fragrance or alcohol because they can cause skin irritation.

Over-the-counter moisturizers can be highly beneficial for treating and preventing the symptoms of psoriasis, such as flaking, itching, and discoloration. 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. An OTC moisturizer may not be a substitute for a prescription medication like biologics that can help with complete skin clearance. However, it can be an additional option for psoriasis treatments. Your dermatologist can help you understand how OTC products fit into your psoriasis treatment plan.

When choosing a moisturizer, look for salicylic acid and coal tar on the label. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved both ingredients to treat psoriasis.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a keratolytic agent, 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 with your prescription topical treatment can help the prescribed medication penetrate the skin more deeply, increasing its effectiveness. OTC moisturizers containing salicylic acid come in strengths of up to 3 percent. Anything with a higher concentration requires a prescription from a dermatologist or other health care provider.

Potential Side Effects

Salicylic acid can cause stinging and skin irritation if you leave it on too long or use to high a concentration. Additionally, your body may absorb too much salicylic acid if you apply it over large areas of your skin. This has been known to happen only to people using a preparation of 6 percent salicylic acid or higher on 40 percent or more of their body.

Coal Tar

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 is, the more potent the product will be. OTC products with tar can be found in strengths between 0.5 percent and 5 percent.

Potential Side Effects

Tar can irritate 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 is not for everyone, and it 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.”

Other Helpful Ingredients

Although not as effective as salicylic acid and coal tar in the treatment of psoriasis, the following active ingredients can help soothe affected areas of the skin:

  • Lactic acid
  • Urea
  • Phenol
  • Calamine
  • Hydrocortisone
  • Camphor
  • Diphenhydramine hydrochloride (HCl)
  • Benzocaine
  • Aloe vera
  • Jojoba
  • Zinc pyrithione

Ingredients To Avoid

Many moisturizing lotions contain additives and fragrances that could be irritating to the skin. Try to avoid products that contain fragrances and alcohol.

Recommended OTC Moisturizers

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. Although OTC moisturizers alone cannot give you total remission from psoriasis, finding the right moisturizer may be a helpful tool in your treatment plan. Be sure to discuss using OTC emollients with your dermatologist.

Gold Bond Ultimate Multi-Symptom Psoriasis Relief Cream

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 agreed, “I use Gold Bond medicated body lotion. It seems to control the itch.”

MG217 Sal-Acid Multi-Symptom Moisturizing Cream

MG217 Sal-Acid Multi-Symptom Moisturizing Cream formula contains 3 percent salicylic acid and can be used 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 seem to be keeping it in check for now.”

MG217 Medicated Coal Tar Ointment

MG217’s Medicated Coal Tar Ointment works best combined with MG217 Sal-Acid Multi-Symptom Moisturizing Cream. The 2 percent coal tar helps to slow cell overgrowth and moisturize the skin to relieve itching, scaling, irritation, and discoloration.

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 Cream

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.”

A third member endorsed the complete CeraVe line of products: “I’ve been using CeraVe products and they are very good with moisturizing my extremely dry skin due to plaque psoriasis.”

Eucerin Skin Calming Itch Relief Treatment

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:

  • “I found that a good moisturizer, such as Eucerin, helps.”
  • “Today, I have been putting Eucerin lotion on every chance that I get, and it has calmed my skin.”
  • “Eucerin products seem to help my hands. A friend told me about it and I decided to give it a chance. I haven’t been sorry. All the pharmacies and even some of the grocery stores carry it.”
  • “I use Eucerin lotion. There are different kinds ranging from light to rich. I use the richest one. On the back, it even says it helps with psoriasis and eczema.”

Dermarest Psoriasis Medicated Moisturizer

Dermarest Psoriasis Medicated Moisturizer contains 2 percent salicylic acid and can help remove scales, soothe itchy skin, reduce discoloration, 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.”

Other Moisturizers

There are many other moisturizers with the National Psoriasis Foundation Seal of Recognition that may be of interest. These include:

  • Bodewell Psoriasis Calming Cream — This product contains salicylic acid and other ingredients intended to help clear skin.
  • Curél — The brand’s Hydra Therapy Wet Skin Moisturizer and Hydra Therapy Itch Defense are both intended to be used after bathing.
  • Codex Beauty — This brand offers a toning mist, eye cream, and night cream that may appeal to individuals who would like luxury skin care products that are appropriate for psoriasis.

Find Your Team

MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 112,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis.

What moisturizers do you use to find relief from psoriasis? Share your tips and experiences in the comments below or on MyPsoriasisTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Emily Brown is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in health communication and public health. Learn more about her here.

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