About two percent of all Americans, roughly 7.5 million people, are sufferers of the chronic skin condition psoriasis. Among them, about 25 percent experience the rash that characterizes psoriasis on just one part of their body, such as on the scalp. Doctors have not found a cure for scalp psoriasis, but if you suffer from the condition, understanding its causes and the treatment options available for dealing with the problem can help you live a more comfortable life.
The hallmark symptom of scalp psoriasis is a skin rash that consists of large red patches. Atop these patches, you'll likely notice fine silver or white scales that can flake off and become attached to your hair strands. The rash may be itchy or sore and sometimes reaches beyond the hair to be visible around the ears, neck or forehead.
Psoriasis occurs when your body does not shed skin cells at a normal rate, causing tough patches of skin called plaques to form. Doctors don't completely understand what causes this malfunction, but believe it to be tied to T lymphocytes or T-cells. In people with psoriasis, these cells appear to attack the cells, causing increased circulation and an overproduction of new skin cells. Along with these symptoms, inflammation and irritation occurs.
Triggers and Risk Factors
Around 40 percent of all people with psoriasis have a family member who has the condition as well, suggesting a genetic link. This means that if you have a close relative who suffers from the condition, you're more likely to develop it as well. Smoking, obesity and excessive alcohol use can also increase your likelihood for developing scalp psoriasis. In addition, stress, skin injuries and systemic infections like strep can trigger scalp psoriasis outbreaks.
Nearly 60 percent of polled psoriasis sufferers reported that the condition greatly affects their day-to-day lives. If you're finding it difficult to sleep, work or just enjoy your life because of scalp psoriasis, there are a number of treatments that you can try to help manage your symptoms.
Home Remedies and Self-Care
Dry skin tends to make psoriasis symptoms worse, so it's vital that you keep your scalp properly moisturized. Switch to a shampoo that's intended for dry scalps to use between outbreaks. When you've finished washing your hair and have toweled it dry, use a comb to section off your hair and reach the skin on your scalp. Then, place a dab of lightweight, high quality moisturizer onto your scalp and rub it in. Make sure you complete this step right after bathing, as using a moisturizer on wet skin will create a barrier to prevent dehydration.
When you have a psoriasis outbreak, take a bath every day rather than showering. Mix colloidal oatmeal, Dead Sea salts or a bath oil with your bathwater and submerge as much of the affected areas of your scalp as possible. Soaking for around 15 minutes will help provide some relief from your symptoms.
Coal tar shampoos and scalp treatments may also provide relief from your symptoms.
Another self-care treatment to try when you're in the middle of an outbreak is to apply a heavy moisturizer to your scalp at night and then sleep with your head covered. This can help soften the scales and make them easier to lift away. When you wake up, wash your hair to remove the moisturizer.
Sunlight can also improve scalp psoriasis symptoms, but due to the dangers associated with ultraviolet rays, sun exposure without a sunscreen should be limited to 5 to 10 minutes per day. Often, you get this much sun exposure just by running errands, walking to the mailbox and performing other quick tasks outdoors.
If you have scalp psoriasis that is very severe or widespread psoriasis that is affecting other parts of your body as well, you may require clinical intervention to help manage the condition.
The most common treatment for scalp psoriasis is the use of a topical corticosteroid drug. This class of medications includes desonide, hydrocortisone and triamcinolone acetonide. Some are available in shampoo form to make them easier to apply. Your doctor likely won't prescribe a topical steroid for long-term use as it can cause the skin on your scalp to thin. Acne, irritation and dryness can also occur from topical steroids.
Another medication used to treat scalp psoriasis is anthralin. The drug helps reduce the rate of skin cell production, which for some patients, can lead to complete remission of psoriasis symptoms. If you have sensitive skin, you may be unable to use anthralin because it has the potential to cause severe skin irritation.
To complement treatment with prescription medications or to deal with scalp psoriasis outbreaks that are mild to moderate, over-the-counter remedies can be of great help.
Skin care treatments that contain retinol are often effective at eliminating or thinning the plaques that form on the scalp. Derived from vitamin A, retinol boosts the skin cell turnover process and can help exfoliate your skin. Many companies produce moisturizers with retinol, which can be applied to your scalp after you shower or before you go to bed at night.
Coal tar shampoos and scalp treatments may also provide relief from your symptoms. In fact, coal tar has been used to effectively treat psoriasis for more than a century. The chemicals contained in this by-product of coal block the actions of enzymes that exacerbate psoriasis. Coal tar also helps slow skin cell production, providing additional benefits for psoriasis sufferers.
Shampoos that contain salicylic acid that are used to treat acne and dandruff are useful for some scalp psoriasis sufferers as well. This naturally occurring acid breaks the bonds that hold the excess skin cells to the surface of your scalp and allows some of them to be washed away when you rinse your hair. Like retinol, salicylic acid helps thin the plaques that form on your skin, which will ease symptoms of discomfort.
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Found in many moisturizers and in some shampoos and conditioners, aloe vera extract is excellent for reducing the discomfort associated with psoriasis. The extract soothes irritation, which alleviates both redness and itching.
Some studies have found that oral fish oil supplements can provide relief for psoriasis sufferers. In addition, vitamin D3 is also helpful for some people. This vitamin is found in some multivitamin formulations and can also be purchased separately at some health food stores.