Amid the dizzying array of treatments available for psoriasis, moisturizing is the only therapy that can help all patients, regardless of the severity of their skin lesions. A daily moisturizing regimen is simply essential for people with psoriasis. If you suffer from psoriasis, you want to not only keep your existing patches from worsening, but help to prevent future outbreaks.
A moisturizer—whether in the form of a lotion, cream, oil, or ointment—serves double duty in the fight against psoriasis, an immune-system condition that causes skin cells to reproduce far more rapidly than normal. About 6 million Americans, or 2 percent of the population, suffer from psoriasis. It can strike at any age, and it usually produces red, itchy, inflamed skin lesions anywhere on the body. Although it is not curable, many available medications can help control symptoms, including topical creams, ultraviolet light therapy, oral medication, and injectable medicines known as biologics.
However, no matter which therapy is used, regular moisturizing will also improve all other benefits. First, skin that is consistently moisturized—in addition to simply feeling better—is also stronger and more able to keep cracking and other damage at bay. For a significant number of people with psoriasis, even minor skin damage can lead to a flare-up in the same location, a trigger known as the Koebner phenomenon. As a result, it’s recommended that you don’t scrub your psoriasis patches too vigorously.
Second, keeping already inflamed psoriasis patches moist helps to loosen scales, an effect enhanced by a process called occlusion, which involves covering affected areas with thick cream or lotion, covering the area in plastic wrap or fabric, and leaving the covering on overnight. Cosmetically, moisturized psoriasis also looks better, and the scales that remain are partially hidden.
The Best Moisturizers for Psoriasis
So which moisturizers work best?
A general rule of thumb is that oils and ointments lock in skin moisture more effectively than creams—which, in turn, do this better than lotions.
Here’s a guide to the terms you may come across while reading over-the-counter moisturizer labels:
- Emollients include shea and cocoa butter; mink, emu, and lanolin (animal-based) oils; and mineral oil and plant oil.
- Water-binding agents help maintain skin’s water concentration and include collagen, elastin, lecithin, amino acids, proteins, glucose, fructose, sucrose, and phospholipids.
- Anti-irritants help quiet the skin and are especially useful for people with psoriasis. These include aloe, vitamin C, licorice root, grape extract, green tea, chamomile extract, and willow bark.
- Antioxidants accelerate cell turnover, helping clear psoriatic scales away while moisturizing. These include selenium, vitamin A, coenzyme Q10, alpha lipoic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E, and grape extract.
Establish a Treatment Routine
People with psoriasis who establish a daily bathing and moisturizing routine will find that doing so not only minimizes scaling, but also helps alleviate itching and keeps psoriasis patches looking as good as possible. According to Doris J. Day, M.D., Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology at New York University Medical Center, this routine should include a 10- to 15-minute soak in warm bath water (not hot, because it saps moisture from the skin). The bath can include sloughing off scales with a loofah sponge or washcloth, if necessary.
After bathing, pat skin lightly to dry and then moisturize immediately, Day advises. Patients may want to use heavier creams, ointments, or oils at night and lighter lotions in the morning. Twice-daily moisturizing sessions are optimal.
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