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What To Look For in Scalp Psoriasis Ointments

Medically reviewed by Zeba Faroqui, M.D.
Written by Anika Brahmbhatt
Updated on February 29, 2024

Are you frustrated by the relentless itching and irritation of scalp psoriasis? It can feel like a never-ending battle, especially when flare-ups occur one after another. Scalp psoriasis ointments can help, but finding the right one can be challenging, leaving you feeling stuck in a cycle of discomfort without relief.

Many people might reach for ointments as a topical treatment for scalp psoriasis. Like other treatments, such as creams and shampoos, ointments vary in strength. Some may be purchased over the counter (OTC), while others require a prescription.

MyPsoriasisTeam members report using ointments as part of their treatment regimen. “I’ll use my ointments and moisturize like crazy and my skin looks great, but as soon as I miss a few days using ointment, my skin flares up terribly again,” wrote one member.

Having psoriasis around your hairline or on the scalp is frustrating — and common. About half of people with plaque psoriasis will experience flare-ups of lesions on or around the scalp. Many people try OTC treatment options before seeking a prescription psoriasis treatment.

Ingredients To Help Treat Scalp Psoriasis

The following are ingredients you may want to look for when searching for an OTC ointment to treat the affected areas of your scalp:

Salicylic Acid

Some members of MyPsoriasisTeam experience severe scalp psoriasis symptoms. One member wrote, “I’m trying not to pick scales. They are covering most of my scalp. I’m using salicylic acid and tea tree oil shampoos. How do I remove these scales without them coming back? Underneath, it is very dry.”

Ointments that contain salicylic acid can help break down scales and psoriasis patches. Whether used alone or with other products, a salicylic acid-based option may be worth a try.

Hydrocortisone

Hydrocortisone may be a good option if your psoriasis shows up in small patches. A hydrocortisone ointment can help reduce both the itching and the inflammation associated with scalp psoriasis.

If your psoriasis is tough to treat, your doctor might prescribe a stronger corticosteroid ointment, like triamcinolone (such as Kenalog, Triderm, and Trianex) or clobetasol (such as Clobex, Cormax, Embeline, and Olux). In general, topical corticosteroids work quickly and effectively, with minimal side effects when used short term.

Coal Tar

Many coal tar products are available without a prescription. Coal tar helps reduce bothersome symptoms of scalp psoriasis such as itchiness, swelling, and flaking or scaly skin.

Coal tar slows down fast skin cell growth, which affects people with psoriasis and helps smooth the skin. You can use coal tar ointment on your body as well as your scalp.

One MyPsoriasisTeam member wrote about using coal tar ointment for their daughter: “If she used it every day, it completely controlled her psoriasis. However, it was tough to use it on her scalp.”

Members have reported mixed results from using coal tar to control their psoriasis symptoms.

Ointments That May Help Ease Psoriasis Symptoms

Some MyPsoriasisTeam members have described finding relief by using topical OTC antibiotics such as neomycin (Neosporin) for psoriasis on different parts of their body. “On a day-to-day basis, I’ve been using Neosporin and Vaseline as an inexpensive way to relieve the itching and to moisturize the extreme dryness,” wrote one member.

Antibiotic ointments don’t treat the source of the psoriasis itself, however. Neomycin is intended to prevent bacterial infections, not address the factors that cause plaques and other symptoms to develop on the scalp.

Additionally, try to avoid irritating or drying out your skin if you use an anti-itch ointment. You may want to also use a moisturizer on the area to keep your skin hydrated. Overall, make sure you’re treating your scalp with gentle care.

Other Factors To Consider When Using Ointments

Besides checking labels for the various ingredients that may be helpful in psoriasis ointments, you can look for other useful details on product packages. The National Psoriasis Foundation Seal of Recognition indicates that a product is acceptable for very sensitive skin. Products with this seal are understood to be generally nonirritating for people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

Applying Ointment to Your Scalp

Putting an ointment on your scalp can be a messy and frustrating process, especially if your hair gets in the way. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends parting your hair several times, in several places, as you apply topical treatments.

If you don’t like the texture of ointments, you can ask your doctor about other options, such as lotions or soaps, with helpful ingredients.

Using Caution With Hair Dye

If you’re living with scalp psoriasis and use hair dye, you’ll want to be cautious about the ingredients in the dye. Some chemicals and harsh additives in hair dye could make scalp psoriasis symptoms worse or cause irritation, potentially interfering with the benefits of ointments. Look for dye products made for sensitive scalps or talk to a dermatologist for advice.

Working With Your Dermatologist

It might take more than one treatment to get the best results for your scalp. Consult a dermatologist before combining different medicated products to treat psoriasis or any skin condition.

Having an expert to consult regarding your treatment plan provides the best way to ensure safety and optimal results. Don’t use any products that contain ingredients you don’t recognize — check with your dermatologist first.

Find Your Team

By joining MyPsoriasisTeam, the social network and online support group for those living with psoriasis, you gain a support group of more than 126,000 members. Scalp psoriasis is one of the most-discussed topics.

How does scalp psoriasis affect your life? Has your doctor prescribed treatments to manage your symptoms? What helps you look and feel good? Share your tips and experiences in a comment below or on your Activities page.

    Updated on February 29, 2024

    A MyPsoriasisTeam Subscriber

    The head "Hair' is the worst, I have had this horrible disease for 70 years of my 82. The teen years were the worst, you couldn't go swimming or go around in shorts. But still the head was the worst… read more

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    Is Scalp Psoriasis And Seborrhea The Same?
    February 3, 2024 by A MyPsoriasisTeam Member
    Zeba Faroqui, M.D. earned her medical degree from the SUNY Downstate College of Medicine. Learn more about her here.
    Anika Brahmbhatt is an undergraduate student at Boston University, where she is pursuing a dual degree in media science and psychology. Learn more about her here.

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