bundle of itchy sweaters

5 Methods for Psoriasis Itch Relief

By Jene Luciani
January 07, 2021

Ask almost anyone with psoriasis and they’ll tell you one of the worst parts is the itch. In fact, according to a study published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology (CCID), a whopping 75 percent of people studied scratched until they bled. There’s got to be a better way, so we asked dermatologists the best ways to fight the itch and feel more comfortable during a flare.

Shower Less

Reduce the number of minutes you’re actually in the shower, not the frequency of your showers (no need to risk hygiene, here!). According to Ashley Magovern, M.D., a dermatologist practicing in Manhattan Beach, California, taking brief (about five to 10 minutes in duration) showers is key. Use warmnot hot—water, and gently cleanse the skin, without scrubbing. “Long, hot showers where people scrub their skin only releases more histamine, which means more itching,” says Magovern.

Put It on Ice

Ice packs aren’t just for bruises. A simple cool compress is an effective and all-natural itch reliever, says Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D. of SkinSafe Dermatology in Beverly Hills, California. “An ice pack on a particularly itchy patch of skin temporarily breaks the itching sensation,” she says. Shainhouse recommends wrapping the ice pack in a dish towel to limit direct contact to the skin, or only applying it for two minutes at a time, to prevent frostbite.

Rub it On

Many topical creams can be effective for keeping itchiness at bay, including prescription-strength topical steroids, and lotions that contain pramoxine (such as DerMend Moisturizing Anti-Itch Lotion), which temporarily numbs the skin. Menthol and camphor are also helpful ingredients, since they provide a cooling sensation. These creams can be even more effective when cold. “Some of these lotions can really provide relief when they are stored in the fridge,” says Angela Bowers, M.D., a dermatologist in Southlake, Texas. The cooling sensation on the skin can temporarily redirect nerve impulses, so you don’t feel the itch, explains Shainhouse.

Gift of Coal (Tar)

A common spot for particularly itchy outbreaks can be the scalp. “Coal tar-based shampoos can help soothe itchy patches and plaques,” says Shainhouse. She advises using a shampoo such as Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo or DHS Tar Gel Shampoo three times per week. The coal tar helps soften the skin, greatly reducing itching and inflammation. In fact, all the doctors we spoke to agree: Keeping the skin moisturized, on the scalp and elsewhere, is essential during a flare-up to keep the symptoms at bay.

Lifestyle Changes

No one wants to hear the word “diet,” but in the case of psoriasis, what you are putting into your body, may also affect the severity of your flare-ups. “Many patients find that managing their diet helps with the symptoms and also reduces frequency of flare-ups,” says Adam Mamelak, M.D., a dermatologist in Austin, Texas. “Fish oil, found in foods or supplements, has been reported to help control outbreaks. Also, foods that reduce inflammation, such as olive oil, nuts, tomatoes, leafy greens, and fish, can also be tried.” Gut health has also been linked to many skin conditions, so you may want to ask your doctor if taking a probiotic could potentially help your condition.

And we know we are all supposed to drink around eight glasses of water a day. Doctors say staying hydrated, as well as avoiding or limiting caffeine and alcohol, and quitting smoking all can help you fight the itch.