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Psoriasis is a chronic skin disease characterized by red, inflamed patches of skin with circular plaques and scaling. The knees and elbows are the most common affected areas, although any area of the body, even fingernails and toenails, can be involved. It can also affect the scalp, causing scaling, itching, and bleeding. Up to 1 out of every 50 people has this common skin condition.

It’s a disease that can affect more than just skin. Thirty-percent of people with psoriasis also have inflammation in their joints due to psoriatic arthritis. Psoriasis has also been linked with an increased risk of some medical conditions including stroke, heart disease, depression, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

What Causes It?
The exact cause of this common skin condition is still unknown. One theory is that immune cells attack healthy skin cells. This causes a release of inflammatory chemicals that increase the production of skin cells and immune cells. The skin cells start to pile up on the surface of the skin since they can’t be shed rapidly enough. This leads to the scaly patches on the skin that is so common with this disease.

There appears to be a genetic component since psoriasis runs in families, but environment plays a role too. Stress, certain medications, cosmetics, alcohol, injury to the skin, infection and cold weather are all environmental factors that can trigger outbreaks. Fortunately, the symptoms can usually be controlled with the appropriate treatments.

Treating the symptoms with over the counter products should be the first course of action since some of the prescription medications used to treat severe psoriasis can cause serious side effects.

At-Home Treatments
Use a mild cleanser, and follow up with a moisturizer after every cleansing. A lack of skin moisture worsens the symptoms of psoriasis. A gentle cleanser removes dirt and debris while bathing the skin in natural ingredients that help to keep it soft and moist.

Follow up by applying a product containing coal tar, which helps to slow the build-up of cells on the skin surface and reduce scaling and inflammation.

To slough off psoriatic scales and relieve itching, soak in an oatmeal bath with added moisturizing oil. This soothing bath can provide immediate relief for itching and irritation. Always use a fragrance-free moisturizer after exposing skin to water.

Other Treatments for Scaling
Keratolytics are chemicals that help to remove scaling by gently lifting the scales of the skin surface. Some common keratolytics are lactic acid, urea, and salicylic acid.

For itching, an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can offer relief, but don’t use these creams for longer than a week without consulting your doctor due to their potential side effects.

Scalp Psoriasis
Shampoos containing coal tars help to relieve the flaking, scaling and itching of scalp psoriasis. A shampoo containing coal tar along with salicylic acid can help remove scalp scales. This product is applied to the scalp and left on for a short period of time before shampooing. A special applicator makes it easy to target only the scaly areas while keeping the product off the hair.

Exposure to sunlight improves the symptoms of psoriasis.

Other Treatments
Exposure to sunlight improves the symptoms of psoriasis. In fact, special lamps have been designed to treat psoriatic skin problems through a process called phototherapy. U.V. light seems to slow down the overproduction of skin cells that cause the scaling.

In mild cases of psoriasis, these treatments may be all that’s necessary. In more severe cases that involve large areas of the body, some doctors prescribe medications that suppress the overactive immune response. These treatments involve risks, so it’s important to use them only after other treatment options have failed.

The Bottom Line?
Psoriasis is a challenging skin condition which can be disfiguring in some cases. Fortunately, there are over the counter treatment options which can be very helpful at relieving symptoms. Many people suffering from psoriasis have found relief with the right combination of personal care products.