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Soap for Psoriasis: What Do Dermatologists Recommend?

Posted on March 04, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Victoria Menard

Cleansers | Tar Soaps | Oil-Based Cleanser | Moisturize | Support

If you have psoriasis, you understand the care that goes into selecting the right cleanser for your skin. It should do its job and get you clean, but that’s only the beginning. Skin cleansers for psoriasis should also be formulated to cleanse flaky, itchy, painful skin without causing further irritation. And with ingredients like salicylic acid, coal tar, and pine tar available in many psoriasis-friendly cleansers, you may not know where to start.

Here are some cleansers that can help psoriatic skin and prevent worsening existing symptoms. Many MyPsoriasisTeam members have also weighed in on these dermatologist recommendations with their own experiences.

Gentle, Non-Detergent Cleansers

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends that people with psoriasis use gentle, moisturizing soaps or cleansers formulated for sensitive skin. If you are receiving phototherapy for psoriasis, such as psoralen and UVA (PUVA), UVB or laser treatments, it is especially important to use a mild cleanser to minimize skin irritation after sessions.

Avoid scented soaps as well. Fragranced soaps can cause allergic reactions that worsen existing psoriasis. Skin affected by psoriasis has a compromised barrier, so this skin may be more sensitive to dyes and fragrances. One MyPsoriasisTeam member shared that they “bathe in baby soap without any fragrance” to avoid irritation. Others suggested options include CeraVe and Cetaphil.

CeraVe Psoriasis Cleanser

As one MyPsoriasisTeam member shared, “I use CeraVe. It was recommended by my dermatologist.” The National Psoriasis Foundation has given CeraVe’s Psoriasis Cleanser its Seal of Recognition, which highlights products that are nonirritating and safe for people with psoriasis or very sensitive skin to use as part of their skincare routine.

CeraVe’s Psoriasis Cleanser is formulated with lactic acid, ceramides, and 2 percent salicylic acid to help relieve irritated skin and provide gentle exfoliation. Salicylic acid is a keratolytic — an agent that promotes the shedding of the skin’s outermost layer. It can help soften the scales of psoriasis and help other topical medications penetrate the skin more effectively. Ceramides are fatty acids that play a key role in the structure and function of the skin’s barrier.

A dermatologist-developed body wash, CeraVe’s Psoriasis Cleanser helps remove psoriasis scales and helps the skin retain moisture. Research has even shown that this cleanser, when used alongside CeraVe’s Body Cream, provided relief from psoriasis and left the skin soft and smooth in the majority of participants.

Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser and Restoraderm Soothing Wash

Cetaphil cleansers such as Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser for the face and Cetaphil Restoraderm Soothing Wash for the body may also be beneficial for dry, sensitive skin. Although the Restoraderm line was designed for patients with atopic dermatitis, it may be helpful for those with psoriasis. Many MyPsoriasisTeam members have shared that they use Cetaphil cleansers in their daily routines. “I shower with Cetaphil soap,” wrote one member, “and it helps.” Another member wrote that they “use Cetaphil or the generic version for soap. It’s very gentle.”

Tar Soaps

Tars made from coal and wood have been used for their medicinal benefits in products for many years. Like salicylic acid, coal and pine tars appear to act as keratolytic agents, suppressing excess skin cell growth and smoothing the skin. They can also help reduce some of the characteristic symptoms of psoriasis, including itching and inflammation.

Keep in mind that tar products can cause irritation, redness, and dry skin, as well as increased sensitivity to sunlight. The National Psoriasis Foundation advises patch testing a tar product on a small area of skin before using it on the rest of the body, keeping an eye out for irritation or other adverse effects. If your skin responds well, use the product as directed — just make sure to wash it off thoroughly and use sufficient sun protection.

Pine Tar Bar Soap

The Grandpa Soap Company Pine Tar Bar Soap has earned the National Psoriasis Foundation’s Seal of Recognition. This dermatologist-tested bar soap is made with natural pine tar oil. Pine tar, which is made by carbonizing distilled pine wood, has been shown to have anti-itching, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.

One MyPsoriasisTeam member shared that Grandpa’s Pine Tar Bar Soap has helped them “immensely.” This soap moisturizes and relieves itching and can be used on the face, body, and hair.

Coal Tar Soap

Coal tar is one of two over-the-counter (OTC) treatments the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved to fight psoriasis. It is often used in shampoo for psoriasis, but can also be found in bar soaps.

Coal tar soap can treat itching and plaque psoriasis, including plaques on difficult-to-treat areas, such as the palms and soles of the feet. However, not all MyPsoriasisTeam members have been completely satisfied with coal tar soap. One member warned that, while coal tar worked, “It has a very strong odor.” Another found that their visible psoriasis lesions improved, but itching did not: “I got coal tar bar soap and my skin looks great, but I’m so itchy.”

Coal tar can also irritate the skin and cause a rash, so any use should be carefully monitored. Some warnings caution that coal tar may cause cancer, but these warnings apply to highly concentrated industrial uses, such as paving. The FDA states that OTC products with concentrations of coal tar between 0.5 percent and 5 percent are safe and effective for psoriasis.

Oil-Based Cleanser

The National Psoriasis Foundation has also given Atoderm Cleansing Oil its Seal of Recognition. This gentle cleanser hydrates, soothes, and protects the skin against drying irritants.

Seal in Moisture After Cleansing

For psoriatic skin, it’s important to moisturize after bathing, no matter what soap you use. The AAD recommends applying a fragrance-free moisturizing lotion within five minutes of bathing or showering. Learn more about choosing moisturizers for psoriasis.

Find Your Community

MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network made exclusively for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 89,000 members from across the globe connect to answer questions, offer support, and share their stories of daily life with psoriasis.

Have you found a soap that works well with psoriasis? Share your recommendations with others in the comments below or by posting 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.
Victoria Menard is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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