How To Treat Scalp Psoriasis


So you think you may have scalp psoriasis?

First things first. If you even suspect you have scalp psoriasis, go and see a doctor or dermatologist.

I’m serious. Even if your condition is mild but especially if your condition is chronic.

Shampoos, in isolation, won’t control chronic scalp psoriasis. You’ll likely be prescribed far stronger treatments such as a steroid cream. Often in addition to a medicated shampoo.

The shampoo? Well, that’s where we come in…

What is scalp psoriasis?

If you’ve read around the web you’ll all sorts of medical literature proclaiming that psoriasis is an auto-immune condition.  But what the heck does that even mean?

It’s actually pretty straightforward in theory.  An auto-immune condition is when your body mistakes some specific normal body tissue for something dangerous.  It then goes about trying to combat that “dangerous” tissue.  Psoriasis is no exception.  It occurs when your body mistakes a perfectly normal skin cell for a pathogen i.e. something that contains a  disease.

If you have scalp psoriasis your body will react to the “pathogen” by overproducing skin cells.  It sheds it so quickly your body can’t shed it.  We all have a natural cycle of skin regeneration.  We shed skin, we produce replacement skin cells.  For most people,
this shedding is in synch with the regeneration.  However psoriasis sufferers generate more new skin cells than their body sheds.

Over time, the outer skin grows thicker as your body is not shedding cells quick enough.  This results in your scalp becoming inflamed with red patches and brittle silvery scales.

In some cases, a yeast infection can make psoriasis worse and you may also be prone to serborrhoeic dermatitis, a form of dandruff which requires a very different set of treatments.

The condition affects around 1 in 20 adults.  At least half of the people who do have psoriasis have it on their scalp.  Roughly 2 to 3% of the population.

The symptoms of scalp psoriasis

scalp psoriasisIf you suffer from scalp psoriasis, you’ll typically have an itchy dry scalp.   Intensely so at times.  You’ll often see red patches of inflamed skin.  Some sufferers complain of tightness and soreness around the head. Your dandruff will be silvery and powdery.  It’ll form scales on your scalp that are reasonably large in size and brittle to touch.  They are quite distinct from the more granular flakes you’d get from a dry scalp or the yellow oily flakes you’d get from Serborrhoeic Dermatitis.

Your dandruff may also be visible on the scalp; on the forehead, neck or behind the ears.

Again, if you suspect you have scalp psoriasis go and see a professional!  The treatments for psoriasis, dry scalp, seb derm or product build up are totally different.  Your doctor or dermatologist can tell you exactly what you have.  They can also prescribe stronger treatments than aren’t available over the counter.  However for many of you the over the counter treatments will really help, and there’s no better place to find a good treatment than here!

What triggers scalp psoriasis?

There are a number of known triggers for scalp psoriasis.  In all honesty, scalp psoriasis has more triggers than the OK Corral. Don’t worry though, not all of them affect every sufferer.  You should be aware that the following cause outbreaks in some sufferers:

  • the sun
  • cold weather
  • stress
  • medications (beta blockers, malaria tablets and certain steroids can all trigger psoriasis so tell your doctor of your condition before they prescribe anything)
  • infections
  • cuts, scrapes, bites and other skin injuries
  • tattoos
  • acupuncture
  • changes in hormone levels
  • smoking
  • band aids or other adhesives on the skin
  • obesity
  • poor diet
  • alcohol
  • gluten
  • dairy/eggs

Harsh chemicals on the skin can also trigger an outbreak.   These chemicals may be in your regular shampoo so use something gentle in between outbreaks.  We monitor all our shampoos for over 90 chemicals commonly added to shampoos that cause contact dermatitis so our shampoo search is a good place to start when trying to find your best dandruff shampoo.

How to treat scalp psorasis

UV light is considered to be the original psoriasis treatment. Speak to your doctor or dermatologist about phototherapy treatment if it’s a treatment you wish to pursue. Many UV Combs and lamps are appearing on the market.

OTC treatment of scalp psoriasis is best achieved by shampoos containing the active ingredients Coal Tar and Salicylic Acid.  As these ingredients can be harsh by themselves, it is also recommended that scalp psoriasis sufferers use these only when required, and use a very mild non-perfumed shampoo in between flare ups.  The gentler the shampoo the better!  Try not to wash too much otherwise you’ll strip your scalp of its natural oils.

Note, for more severe conditions we highly recommend that you visit a dermatologist who will be able to prescribe stronger treatments.

The best shampoos to treat scalp psoriasis

These staff picks are all excellent choices in their own right but be sure to keep checking back as the list just keeps on growing.

Pharmaceutical Specialities Free & Clear Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp and Psoriasis

Pharmaceutical Specialties formed in 1974 to “start a company to make better products than were commercially available for people with sensitive skin”. And boy, have they achieved it with this Free and Clear shampoo.

What is perhaps surprising on a website dedicated to dandruff treatments is that this isn’t a dandruff shampoo at all.

It’s rather a "a non-medicated, mild shampoo for sensitive skin and scalp.”

That said, we can’t use a medicated shampoo all the time, and this is my go to shampoo for those “between” washes.

buy now on Amazon

Dead Sea Spa MAGIK Mineral Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp and Psoriasis

Dead Sea Spa MAGIK Mineral Shampoo is a combination shampoo containing both salicylic acid and zinc pyrithione.  The thinking behind this shampoo is that the salicylic acid will soften and exfoliate existing build up and the zinc pyrithione will help prevent new build up from forming.

I’m generally a big fan of combination shampoos and this is no exception.  The shampoo feels great, has a nice light smell and leaves the hair feeling extremely soft.  It only contains one known contact allergen too - cocamidopropyl betaine.

If you suffer from mild seb derm I can’t recommend this highly enough.

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DHS Fragrance Free Tar Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

DHS Coal Tar Shampoo is an expertly formulated shampoo containing 0.5% coal tar and is the gentlest coal tar shampoo we’ve yet reviewed

We can't recommend this product or this company highly enough.

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Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

Quite simply the best pure Salicylic Acid shampoo we’ve yet reviewed. The shampoo contains 3% Salicylic Acid combined with a fragrance free, sulfate free and virtually every other nasty ingredient free formulation. It does this and still feels luxurious when washing.

Neutrogena should be exceptionally proud of this top top class shampoo.

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Scalp 18 Coal Tar Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

Scalp 18 Coal Tar shampoo is a 2% coal tar formulation that has a number of added essential oils to further nourish and soothe the scalp.

These essential oils do contain fragrance but if you're not sensitive to fragrances then this is a superb shampoo.

It is extremely gentle and washes like a high end salon shampoo.

If you’re not sensitive to fragrances then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this shampoo.

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DHS Sal Dandruff Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

DHS Sal Shampoo is a 3% salicylic acid shampoo designed to treat Psoriasis and Seborrheic Dermatitis.

It’s an outstanding shampoo that washes well, contains relatively few ingredients, is gentle and won’t break the bank.

If you’re not sensitive to sulfates and are looking for a good salicylic acid shampoo, this is an excellent performer.

Yet again, DHS have produced a shampoo that we can't recommend highly enough.

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Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

Capasal have taken the unique step of combining 1% Coal Tar with 0.5% Salicylic Acid and added coconut oil.

It's perhaps the most original and interesting shampoo formulation we've yet seen

While the shampoo is SLS, fragrance and paraben free there are still a few known contact allergens in there. Unfortunately it smells like a coal tar shampoo too.

That aside Capasal is an excellent shampoo for those who suffer mild to moderate scalp psoriasis.

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Denorex Extra Strength 2 in 1 Dandruff Shampoo and Conditioner

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

Denorex isn’t the gentlest shampoo, but with 3% Salicylic Acid it’s as strong as you’ll find OTC.

If you don’t use it too frequently and you suffer from mild to moderate psoriasis or seb derm, Denorex is very effective treatment.

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Bioderma Node DS Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

Bioderma Nodé DS+ shampoo certainly packs an anti-dandruff punch. Its combination of anti-dandruff actives (Piroctone Olamine and Zinc Pyrithione), with keratolytic Salicylic Acid and anti-inflammatory Sodium Shale Oil Sulfonate are also complimented by several scalp soothing ingredients. A heck of an ingredients list only let down by the use of SLES and one or two other potential irritants.

This shampoo is definitely worth checking out.

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Alphosyl 2 in 1 Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

Alphosyl is an outstanding shampoo let down by the presence of both sulfates and parabens.

Given the wide variety of alternatives out there these days, this is very disappointing.

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Polytar Liquid

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis and Psoriasis

Polytar is an absolute legend of the psoriasis community.

If you suffer from mild scalp Psoriasis then this stuff works for so many of you.

Bear in mind that it stinks like your grandad's pipe and will strip your hair and scalp of their natural oils.

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DHS Clear Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp and Psoriasis

DHS Clear Shampoo is a decent shampoo to use between medicated shampoo washes, or if you are suffering from a dry scalp.

We say decent and not great because, although it has only a few ingredients, a significant portion are mild to medium contact allergens.

As such, we can't help but be mildly disappointed given the company's previous track record of producing the gentlest shampoos on the market.

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Mineral Fusion Anti-Dandruff Mineral Shampoo

Designed to treat Seborrheic Dermatitis, Dry Scalp and Psoriasis

Mineral Fusion's formula contains an interesting blend of therapeutic agents. It features salicylic acid, which is normally used in conjunction with other active ingredients that kill the offending fungus or slow down cell regeneration.

Used alone, salicylic acid will exfoliate existing dandruff, but it won't prevent new dandruff from forming.

If you’re willing to take a leap of faith and trust in the undocumented healing powers of the product's mineral content, which includes extracts of malachite, smithsonite, rhodochrosite, and hematite, this formula might be a great option. The shampoo also contains tea tree and oregano oils, which are both effective for treating seborrheic dermatitis.

You won't find parabens, phthalates, sodium lauryl sulfate, artificial color or fragrance on the label.

Unfortunately, it does contain the contact allergens potassium sorbate, coco-betaine, ethylhexylglycerin and dimethicone.

In use, this mineral shampoo delivers luxurious lather and a squeaky clean finish. While its efficacy in controlling dandruff inspires some skepticism, its overall performance is top-notch.

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View all our other reviews of scalp psoriasis shampoos

Comments 2

  1. Caroline Kernan December 11, 2015
  2. Hussein December 28, 2015

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