Safe Ointments for Treating Psoriasis

Written by geoffrey darling
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Topical ointments are often the first self-treatment step for psoriasis sufferers. Ointments tend to be more lubricating and more potent than creams, says dermatologist Dr. Robert Langley, author of "Psoriasis: Everything You Need to Know." Available ointments range from strong steroid applications to simple moisturisers--from prescription only drugs to over-the-counter medications. Patients often find a new ointment will work well initially but lose effectiveness over time. All are safe when used as directed, Dr Langley says.


Moisturisers may make claims to cure psoriasis but in reality they do little more than reduce dryness and itching, flaking and scaling. Nevertheless they are an important tool when used with prescribed medicine, says Dr. Langley. Lemnis Fatty Cream will handle dry skin and also reduce psoriasis scaling. Salicylic acid will loosen scales and let other medication penetrate. Products like aloe vera, beeswax or emu oil are moisturisers and best used in conjunction with another product.


Steroid ointments slow the growth of skin cells; the main reason for psoriasis is too rapid skin cell growth. The ointments come in many strengths and usually only by prescription. An exception is hydrocortisone 0.5%, which is available as an over-the-counter medicine, says Dr. Langley. Steroids work quickly and the cost is reasonable. The most common are corticosteroids. Prolonged use is safe, he says, but there are side effects: stretch marks and thinning skin.

Coal Tar

Coal tar preparations are among the oldest treatment forms, says Dr. Langley. Most are over-the-counter products, but they are most effective when used with topical corticosteroids, says Dr. Langley. He warns they can stain white hair as well as clothing and bedding. Coal tar plus exposure to ultra-violet B light (the Goeckerman Regime) gives a greater therapeutic effect, he says.


Dovonex (calcipotriene), a manufactured form of Vitamin D3--and therefore replicated sunlight--is available by prescription, in ointment or cream form. Tazorac is a prescription ointment derived from Vitamin A, and like steroids, works by slowing down skin cell growth. But it has no skin-thinning side-effects. However Dr. Langley says it has limited use or effectiveness because it causes significant irritation.

Expert Insight

Long-time psoriasis patients have found ointments give initial relief but over time, maybe a few weeks, the skin adjusts to the new medication and they must look for something else. Steroid-based ointments used for a long can cause a quick and bad reaction, for example, your face may puff up.

Dr. Langley notes ointments are usually used when psoriasis is mild, is in a just a few areas or not creating discomfort. After a course of phototherapy an ointment will keep the psoriasis under control, he says.

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