woman scratching psoriasis on her hand

Why Does Psoriasis Itch? Plus 6 Tips for Relief

By Beth W. Orenstein
October 23, 2023

This Q&A is part of a series highlighting frequently asked questions, answered by a healthcare professional in our community.

We asked: “Why does psoriasis itch? And how can I ease the itchiness?”

Allison Truong, M.D.: Many people with psoriasis explain that their skin itches. Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin disease, meaning that your immune system becomes overactive. As a result, you make new skin cells much faster than normal, which causes plaques to form. Those plaques can be itchy, red, and painful.

What causes them to itch is complicated to explain and still is being studied, as itch is a complicated science. Your body uses inflammation to fight infection and protect itself against things that can make you sick. However, when it’s in overdrive, there are excess cells and proteins that may cause itch.

You may find the itch varies among flares; some psoriasis flares may be itchier than others. One time, the itching may be somewhat mild and the next time you have a flare, it’s severe.

Don’t scratch. You’re irritating your skin when you scratch, and the irritation can cause wounds and increase healing time. Scratching also can expose your skin to infection. Scratching also releases more itch proteins, which will make you feel itchier.

Here are some things you can do to relieve the itch other than scratching:

  • Tap or rub. If you feel as though you must scratch, try tapping your lesions or gently rubbing them instead.
  • Apply moisturizer to your skin. Dry skin is itchier than normal skin, so apply a good moisturizer frequently throughout the day, such as Vaseline or Aquaphor or thick creams.
  • Take an Epsom salt bath. The magnesium in this type of salt can help slough off skin cells that have built up.
  • Take a cool or icy bath. Cold temperatures can have a numbing effect and help reduce inflammation and swelling that leads to itching. Or you can try an oatmeal bath, which can also be soothing.
  • Take antihistamines. Antihistamines block substances called histamines that your body releases when it detects something harmful, such as infection. Histamines cause the blood vessels to expand and your skin to swell, helping to protect your body. This swelling can lead to itching, though, so blocking histamines can help provide some relief.
  • Apply hydrocortisone. Hydrocortisone is a type of steroid cream that you can buy over the counter (OTC). You also can ask your doctor to prescribe a stronger steroid cream if OTC creams aren’t enough to help ease the itchiness.

Also, follow your doctor’s advice on the medications that are best for treating your psoriasis. Taking medications as directed can help reduce symptoms, including itching.

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