Topical Treatment for Psoriasis

Emollients or cream

Topical treatments

This type of medicine is usually the first option doctors will offer you. They help to slow the excessive skin growth and lessen the inflammation you experience. Some treatments may show an improvement quickly, while others may take a few weeks to have an effect.

Emollients (moisturisers)

These creams are rubbed directly on your psoriasis to lock in moisture and create a protective layer. They are often offered for mild psoriasis and aim to stop the itching and scaling. Other creams or ointments can be used with emollients, but it is best to wait 30 minutes before applying another treatment on top. Some emollients contain flammable ingredients that can catch fire easily. Be careful near naked flames or when smoking to avoid clothes, hair or bedding catching alight.

Steroid creams or ointments

These work by lessening the inflammation of your skin. They come in different strengths and are generally used for short courses as they can cause your skin to thin. If you stop your treatment too quickly then your psoriasis might come back worse so, follow your doctor's instructions on how to use the cream.

Tar preparations

These bath oils, creams, ointments and shampoos are one of the oldest treatments for psoriasis. They can be messy and have a strong smell. They help to reduce scaling and slow the overgrowth of your skin.


Used for stubborn psoriasis usually on elbows and knees. It stains clothes and your shower/bath. It will stain your skin, but this will fade over time.

Vitamin D analogues (calcipotriol, tacalcitol, and calcitriol)

These come as ointments or liquids and help to regulate your immune system to stop the inflammation and slow skin overgrowth. They do not stain or have a strong smell but can irritate sensitive skin. They are not recommended for use during pregnancy or breast feeding.

Vitamin A analogues (tazarotene)

These are gels that you rub into your psoriasis to stop inflammation. They can irritate sensitive skin and are not recommended for use during pregnancy or breast feeding.

Topical calcineurin inhibitors

These are mainly used for atopic eczema, which is a form of dermatitis that causes skin to become red and itchy, but your doctor may prescribe them for your psoriasis. They aim to reduce redness and itching by blocking certain chemicals.

Treatments for scalp psoriasis

Medicated shampoo

Contains ingredients, usually including coal tar, to help to get rid of any scales in mild psoriasis.

Descaling ointments

These are put on for several hours or overnight to treat thick scaly areas, and then you wash them out with medicated shampoo. They often contain salicylic acid and coconut oil. Getting rid of the thick scales helps other treatments to work.

Topical steroids

The same as for your skin, these come in different strengths. Products containing strong steroid are only used for short periods of time. For your scalp they come as lotions, gels, foam or as shampoo.

Vitamin D

These are used as a shampoo or gel. Sometimes they are also available in combination with steroids.