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Urea for Psoriasis: Uses and Side Effects

Medically reviewed by Diane M. Horowitz, M.D.
Posted on March 23, 2021

There are several treatments for psoriasis, including oral medications, biologics, phototherapy, and topical interventions. Among the topical interventions (applied directly to the skin) is urea. Urea is a molecule produced by the human body and naturally present in the skin. It is also available as an active ingredient in topical formulations.

Benefits of Urea in Psoriasis

Urea’s use in dermatology dates to the early 1900s, although it has been used in various forms for skin care for thousands of years. Urea may be particularly useful in psoriasis care. Applied topically, urea not only moisturizes the skin to decrease itching, but also reduces the skin growth that plays a key role in the development of psoriasis plaques. In addition, urea promotes the healing of thickened (hyperkeratotic) skin lesions.

Urea regenerates the skin barrier and may reduce the need for other topical psoriasis products. It promotes the absorption of other topical drugs. Urea has keratolytic effects, meaning it removes the skin patches that become inflamed and itchy and allows other treatments to better penetrate the skin.

Topical Forms and Concentrations of Urea

For use on the skin, urea is available in different emollient forms:

  • Emulsions
  • Creams
  • Foams
  • Gels
  • Lacquers
  • Lotions
  • Ointments

Urea is available in concentrations from 2 percent to 50 percent:

  • The keratolytic (descaling) effects are typically only observed at concentrations higher than 10 percent urea.
  • Based on a report published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, at low concentrations (2 percent to 12 percent), urea is an effective moisturizer and can help relieve skin dryness.
  • At medium concentrations (15 percent to 30 percent), urea is useful in the treatment of mild to moderate thickening of the skin.
  • At higher concentrations (40 percent to 50 percent), urea is effective for more severe skin patches.

Some topical urea emollients contain zinc, a mineral that has wound-healing properties. Some topicals with urea may also have other keratolytic agents (for example, lactic acid and salicylic acid) or drugs such as antifungals or corticosteroids.

Unless combined with prescription drugs, urea is available over the counter. If you are living with psoriasis, your health care provider or dermatologist may recommend a product such as Keralac, although there are many other brands that contain urea. Talk with your health care provider about the urea emollient that is right for you.

Other Uses of Topical Urea

In addition to psoriasis, other skin conditions that may benefit from topical urea include:

  • Abnormally dry skin (xerosis)
  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
  • Dry and scaly skin (ichthyosis vulgaris)
  • Fungal infection of the nails (onychomycosis)
  • Noncancerous skin growth (seborrheic keratosis)
  • Calluses on the hands and feet

Safety and Side Effects of Topical Urea

Urea is a safe and effective topical agent for dry and scaly skin diseases such as psoriasis. The only adverse effects that have been reported in studies are occasional and mild skin irritation, tingling, and burning in the affected area (but no allergic reactions).

Due to its safety, urea emollients may be used to treat psoriasis in children.

Topical urea may transfer to breast milk, so talk to your doctor before using urea if you are breastfeeding.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 90,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis.

Have you tried urea for your psoriasis? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyPsoriasisTeam.

Posted on March 23, 2021
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Diane M. Horowitz, M.D. is an internal medicine and rheumatology specialist. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Paz Etcheverry, Ph.D. has an M.S. in food science and nutrition from North Carolina State University and a Ph.D. in food science and technology from Cornell University. Learn more about her here.

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