essential oils and aloe

14 Home Remedies People Use to Treat Psoriasis—Do They Work?

By Leah Campbell
September 27, 2021

Whether you’ve been dealing with psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis for years or you’ve just recently been diagnosed, you’ve no doubt come across countless at-home treatment options as you’ve researched the disease. Some might strike you as potentially helpful while others seem like a stretch.

And with all of them, you’ve likely wondered, “Could this really work?”

The answer is that it’s often hard to know for sure. There is limited research surrounding natural treatment options for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, which means that most of the information we have is anecdotal.

Plus, using natural or alternative therapies may be a problem, says Susan Bard, M.D., of Vive Dermatology in Brooklyn, New York, when people put off medical treatment in hopes that their home remedies will work. “When we have proven treatments available for something that has serious consequences if it goes untreated, why risk waiting to see if an alternative treatment will work?” says Bard. “Remember, psoriasis is not just a disease of the skin. For most people, it tends to have more systemic involvement. And inflammation can lead to long-term consequences, especially in the case of psoriatic arthritis and permanent joint damage. So it’s really important to treat it quickly and effectively.”

So, know that it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible to start their recommended course of medical treatment. And don’t be afraid to use prescribed medications because you’d prefer “natural” remedies.

She explains that most at-home treatments tend to not be as effective as those offered within a medical setting. “Remember, a lot of the treatments we have are derived from nature,” says Bard. “We look to what’s available in nature, and then we concentrate it and purify it [to create some medications].”

Bard points to corticoid therapy as a perfect example of this, as this topical steroid treatment was created with the knowledge of how the body’s natural production and use of cortisol works to reduce inflammation.

Still, she acknowledges that some natural treatments can help provide relief when used alongside clinical treatments, as complementary medicine. But she says you should run any treatments you’re doing at home by your doctor first to ensure they won’t have negative interactions with your medical treatment.

As far as what you should try? Here’s what medical experts say is worth giving a shot—plus, what should be avoided at all costs.

Petroleum Jelly: Don’t Try This at Home

While some people might swear by putting petroleum jelly (or products containing petrolatum) on their psoriasis because it can be effective at softening and sloughing off a scale or plaque, it’s not an ideal at-home treatment, says board-certified dermatologist Rhonda Klein, M.D., of Modern Dermatology in Westport, Connecticut.

In fact, Audrey Christie, a nurse and holistic wellness practitioner, is firmly against this at-home remedy. “Petroleum jelly gives the illusion of hydration, but in reality, it seals and suffocates the pores, locking in whatever is underneath, including any moisture the skin already has. It doesn’t create more moisture,” Christie says.

“I’d prefer a petroleum-free alternative, like Vaniply Ointment,” says Klein.

Meditation: Good for Managing Stress

“Meditation is the lowest hanging fruit because it is free,” says Christie. “We know that studies link stress to autoimmune disease, as causes and flare triggers. And we know that the best-proven remedy for stress is meditation. Many people are intimidated by it, but I generally find that those people have a skewed version of what meditation should be.”

As a stand-alone solution, there isn’t much data to say that meditation reduces psoriasis flares. But alongside other treatments, research has found it can help, potentially because of the stress-reducing impact.

“There is growing evidence to support this connection,” Klein says. “When we’re stressed, cortisol levels rise, which triggers inflammation in the body. Psoriasis is an inflammatory condition and you therefore can see the connection. Furthermore, many patients suffer emotionally out of embarrassment for their outbreaks, so grounding meditations can help improve mood.”

Saran Wrap: It Doesn’t Hurt to Try

Some dermatologists use plastic in their offices post-treatment to help the skin fully absorb whatever creams, ointments or gels they’ve applied.

“The idea here is ‘occlusion therapy,’” Klein says. “After applying topicals, covering them like this can improve the absorption rate of the active ingredients to speed along relief.”

Some patients, eager to find their own at-home treatments, have latched onto this technique. And Klein says you can try it, pointing out that it’s best used for specific patches as opposed to widespread areas of skin.

Christie, on the other hand, gave this one a hard no, arguing there are better at-home treatments to try.

Oregon Grape: Proceed with Caution

Oregon grape is an herb that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, particularly for the treatment of inflammatory skin conditions. In clinical trials studying the use of Oregon grape for the treatment of psoriasis, some but not all study participants responded favorably. One study involved 82 psoriasis patients applying an ointment with 10-percent Oregon grape extract to their psoriatic patches on one side of the body and a placebo to patches on the other side of their body two to three times a day. At the end of an eight-week period, 38.8 percent of study participants had a reduction in patches on the side where Oregon grape was applied; interestingly. 23.8 percent of study participants showed improvement on the placebo side, as well.

Christie says it may help some people in low doses, “but the cleansing effect could also trigger or worsen a flare. Use caution here.”

Klein agrees, saying it “may cause burning upon topical application.” She recommends patch testing before widespread use.

Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV): Mixed Reviews

Kristina Fulk, a lifetime psoriasis sufferer says she tried rinsing her scalp with apple cider vinegar unintentionally. She has hard water at home and heard ACV could help remove hard-water residue from the hair and scalp. But, she says, “It burned where the psoriasis flares were, and I would not choose to use this routinely.” She also didn’t notice any symptom reduction from her limited exposure.

Yet some people swear by this method, and even the National Psoriasis Foundation says it can help.

The burning Kristina experienced is to be expected, Klein says. “It’s important to dilute so that skin isn’t irritated.” She recommends a 4:1 ratio of apple cider vinegar to water, adding that you can customize this to your comfort level. “Soak sterile gauze pads in the solution and apply it to the affected area. Remove before they dry.”

For her part, Christie doesn’t recommend using ACV topically, but she says that ingestion of ACV could potentially help treat what she believes may be one of the root causes of psoriasis—low stomach acid. (This has been studied but not proven.) “This can be taken with or before meals,” she says. However, she advises, “Use caution and mix with water, as it is pretty acidic.”

Capsaicin: May Irritate

A 1986 study found that the topical application of capsaicin, an active component of chili peppers, significantly improved psoriasis scaling and symptoms. And a 1993 study produced similar results. Participants in both studies noted burning and itching with initial applications, but these side effects seemed to subside over time. The National Psoriasis Foundation suggests that capsaicin cream can reduce psoriasis itching and pain; but, it also cautions that the cream may not provide relief for everyone and that it could increase irritation for some.

For those reasons, Christie says she doesn’t typically recommend it to her patients.

Klein agrees, saying that this one may cause more harm than good. “This ingredient can help itch, but it also burns when first applied. More research is needed for me to recommend it.”

Tea Tree Oil: The Jury’s Out

While tea tree oil has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, it hasn’t been effectively studied in the treatment of psoriasis. Still, Klein says it “packs natural antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Adding a few drops to shampoo, body wash, and/or body lotion may help improve symptoms.

Christie agrees. “Sometimes, plaques, depending on where they are, can get infected,” she explains, while suggesting patients add a drop or two of tea tree oil to a bottle of grapeseed oil and apply the mixture to the infected area. “You can do this yourself or find combination products.”

Omega 3s: Not Proven

Research has produced mixed results on the benefits of Omega 3s in treating psoriasis, according to The National Psoriasis Foundation. The studies that have found positive results have almost all involved taking high-dose Omega 3 supplements—between 2.1 and 4.2 grams of EPA; and, between 8 and 21 grams of DHA—delivered intravenously.

To put that into perspective, a typical salmon meal generally contains no more than 500 to 1200 milligrams of combined EPA and DHA—so, even eating salmon daily would provide less omega 3s than these studies would suggest is necessary to see positive results.

For this reason, Klein says more research is needed but she adds that Omega 3s can be “an overall helpful part of a balanced diet rich in healthy fats and antioxidants.” So, go ahead and eat food rich in these.

Christie recommends people add flax and chia to their diets. She also cautions against taking a megadose of Omega-3 supplements, since this may not be as effective as getting the nutrient in your food. “Sometimes, high doses of discount brands cause more harm than good because they bring concentrated doses of other toxins with them,” she says. “Also, the cost can be prohibitive for the ultra-concentrated and reputable clean brands.”

Coconut Oil: Worth a Shot

Klein says coconut oil “can be effective at moisturizing and loosening scales and has natural antimicrobial properties. However, it is comedogenic, so it can clog pores, cause breakouts, and sometimes, even the scent itself can cause further irritation.”

Still, she says, it’s worth trying. “But before you dive in widespread, start with a patch test to see how your skin reacts.”

Results can vary. For example, Kristina has given coconut oil a try in the past, saying it helped to minimally reduce the tenderness of her psoriasis spots but didn’t stop the scaling.

Epsom Salt Baths: They Work for Some

Bathing in Dead Sea salts has been found to improve skin hydration and reduce inflammation on a basic level, though this particular treatment option hasn’t been tested for psoriasis specifically. Christie believes bathing in Epsom salts creates a similar environment and is worth trying—especially because, she says, there are no risks involved.

“This tends to be helpful on a couple of levels,” she says. “An Epsom salt bath helps to improve mineral balance in the body and to reduce stress all at once. It may or may not reduce inflammation temporarily on the skin.”

Klein agrees, calling this a “great option for relief from itchy, painful outbreaks. The salt helps loosen scales and soothes itching.”

But Christie notes that most people don’t use enough salt in their baths to see a truly positive effect. Depending on how much water you have in your tub, one to two cups of Epsom salts is ideal.

Turmeric: Doesn’t Hurt

This spice is a known anti-inflammatory, and research has found promising benefits using it both topically and orally for the treatment of psoriasis patients. Klein says, “It is actually curcumin, which is the active ingredient in turmeric that may be helpful. Research indicates that when adding curcumin gel to a topical treatment plan alongside steroids, patients can see faster improvement of symptoms.” She also recommends turmeric as part of an anti-inflammatory diet.

Christie says turmeric is, “highly anti-inflammatory and helpful to use on a daily basis for overall health for autoimmune sufferers.” Still, she admits, “I would not tell someone this will stop their flare-up.”

Oat Baths: Go Ahead and Try

Some people swear by adding dry oats to their baths in the middle of a psoriasis flare. But while Christie says this can be soothing to the skin, there aren’t a lot of overall benefits to the treatment of psoriasis. Still, she says there are no contraindications, though she does suggest using gluten-free oats to reduce the potential irritation gluten could cause those with sensitivities.

Klein is a little more complimentary of this at-home treatment, acknowledging that while it may not reduce plaques, it can be, “great for soothing pain and itchiness.”

UV Light: Scientifically Backed, But Be Super-Careful

Christie says a little sun exposure can be good for both flaring and dormant psoriasis. “Vitamin D is critical for a healthy immune system, including in those with autoimmune disease.” But she warns patients to not overdo it. “Twenty to thirty minutes in unmitigated sunshine (not through sunscreen or a window) is usually enough for people.” This would be on a daily basis.

This is one of the few natural treatment options that has research to back up its benefits in the treatment of psoriasis, which is why light therapy is often prescribed and provided by dermatologists. But sun exposure doesn’t come without risks—especially if people are overdoing exposure or using tanning beds.

“There are huge cons to trying to self-treat in tanning beds,” Bard says. “When you do phototherapy [in a doctor’s office], it’s not ‘safe,’ but it is at least controlled. I warn all my patients that even though we use a very specific wavelength for a very specific timeframe, this is still radiation. We are providing a level of protection and specificity that tanning beds can’t provide. And if you’re not being carefully monitored, you’re more likely to burn.”

Burns, she says, could actually contribute to flares or new psoriasis spots developing because of the trauma they inflict upon the skin. And, of course, burning also increases the risk of developing skin cancer.

Plus, too much sun and heat could backfire. “During the summer, I don’t spend a lot of time directly in the sun because when I sweat it makes the psoriasis really itchy,” says Kristina.

Aloe Vera: Yep, It Works

In research settings, the topical application of aloe vera has been found to have a significant impact on clearing psoriatic plaques with no adverse symptoms. For this reason, Klein says using aloe vera topically, “May reduce redness and scaling associated with psoriasis.”

Christie says this natural remedy may be beneficial for soothing psoriasis symptoms both externally and internally—if you’re up for trying aloe-vera juice from your local natural foods store.

If your heart is set on natural therapies, Bard says most alternative treatments can be used alongside the treatments your doctor recommends. “Just make sure you talk to your doctor first before trying anything at home, because some things can cause reactions. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s not harmful.”

And know that it may take some trial and error to find what will truly work for you. “When dealing with psoriasis, every patient is a little different,” Klein says. “It takes time, but it is important to identify triggers and the solutions that work best for you. This spans across our lifestyle, from diet to products.”

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