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What is the best psoriasis shampoo?

Man shampooing hair
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If you have psoriasis on your scalp, a medicated shampoo may be an effective way to treat your symptoms. Read on to find out more about psoriasis shampoos and decide which might be the best for your needs.

About psoriasis shampoo

Psoriasis shampoo is a type of medicated treatment designed for people with scalp psoriasis. Typically, shampoos for psoriasis don’t require a prescription, but you may need to have a short conversation with the pharmacist before you buy them or answer some confidential questions when purchasing online.

Psoriasis shampoos are not like normal shampoos designed to simply wash the hair. Rather, they are applied as a treatment and left on for several minutes before rinsing. After you have used a psoriasis shampoo you may want to also use regular shampoo and conditioner on your hair.

Types of psoriasis shampoo

Psoriasis shampoos typically contain one or more of these ingredients:

  • Coal tar
  • Salicylic acid
  • Steroids

Coal tar

Coal tar is a thick, dark liquid which is known to have anti-inflammatory and moisturising properties, making it a good treatment for psoriasis. Psoriasis shampoos containing coal tar are typically available without a prescription. They are usually sufficient to treat mild symptoms of scalp psoriasis, such as flaking.

Because coal tar is dark in colour it can stain skin and fabric, and can even temporarily darken the hair. You should apply it carefully as you would with hair dye.

Two popular coal tar psoriasis shampoos are:

  • Polytar – alleviates itching, reduces scaling and inflammation
  • Neutrogena T/Gel – effective treatment for a dry and itching scalp

Salicylic acid shampoo

Salicylic acid is a substance that causes the outer layer of the skin to peel and shed. It can be an effective treatment for scalp psoriasis in which thick plaques have built up under the hair. Psoriasis shampoos containing salicylic acid usually also contain coal tar and coconut oil – one example is Capasal, which is available over the counter in your local pharmacy.

Steroids can be found in certain prescription-only shampoos for people with moderate to severe psoriasis. Steroids can reduce inflammation and irritation. One psoriasis shampoo containing steroids that your doctor might prescribe is Etrivex. This should be applied in small amounts, rubbed into the scalp, and left in for 15 minutes before rinsing. Treatment should last no longer than four weeks.

How to use psoriasis shampoos

Psoriasis shampoos should not be used like normal shampoos. They are not designed to clean the hair, which means you may need to use a regular shampoo to wash your hair after you have finished the treatment.

You should use psoriasis shampoos exactly as directed by your pharmacist or doctor. If you’re in doubt, carefully consult the patient information leaflet that came with the product – if you can’t find it, you can search for it online at Medicines.org.

When applying psoriasis shampoo to your scalp, make sure you use the recommended amount, and make sure that it reaches the scalp, and doesn’t get stuck in the hair. Some psoriasis shampoos must be left on for 10-15 minutes, while others should be rubbed in and rinsed out twice.

You shouldn’t leave psoriasis shampoo in your hair longer than recommended as you could damage the skin.

How often should you wash your hair with psoriasis?

You can wash your hair as much as feels right for you, provided it isn’t causing irritation to your scalp and making your psoriasis worse. Medicated shampoos like Polytar and Neutrogena T/Gel are designed to be used about twice a week for a period of four to six weeks, however you can use normal shampoos in between.

If you have oily hair look for a mild, daily use shampoo to use on your days off. If you have dry hair you might want to shampoo less often and use moisturising conditioners. It can also be helpful to shampoo with lukewarm, rather than hot water, and to be careful about styling – avoid tight hairstyles, heated styling tools, and vigorous brushing or combing.

Psoriasis scalp applications

Another type of treatment for scalp psoriasis is scalp application. These are medicated ointments, gels or liquids applied directly to the scalp. Scalp applications might contain coal tar, vitamin D analogues, or steroids.

Unlike psoriasis shampoos, scalp applications should not be washed out. One exception to this is Cocois Ointment – this product contains coal tar and salicylic acid and should be applied to the scalp for one hour before being shampooed out.

Coal tar scalp applications are typically available over the counter without a prescription. Scalp applications containing vitamin D analogues or steroids typically require a prescription from your doctor.

Obtaining psoriasis shampoos and scalp applications

As we’ve already highlighted, several types of psoriasis shampoo and scalp application are available without a prescription. Certain products, including Polytar, can even be bought without speaking to a pharmacist.

However, it’s generally a good idea to speak to a medical professional before you start using any psoriasis shampoo or scalp application – if you haven’t received a diagnosis of scalp psoriasis, you may end up using the wrong treatment.

To learn more, make an appointment with your GP, or pop into your nearest LloydsPharmacy for advice from one of our experienced Pharmacists.