What are my options for topical psoriasis treatments?

People have been using topical medications to treat psoriasis for over a century. There are many different topical treatment options available. Some have been around for more than a hundred years, such as coal tar and anthralin. Others, such as corticosteroids and salicylic acid, have been around for decades. And a few are newer, such as calcipotriol, calcipotriol/betamethasone, and tazarotene.

Psoriasis occurs when the body's T-cells (immune system cells designed to fight infections) become overactive. This leads to increased growth of the skin's outer layer. The new skin cells grow faster than they can be shed, forming scales. Topical medications - medications that are applied to the surface of the body - work by acting on different parts of this process.

Topical medication How it works
Calcipotriol Controls skin cell overgrowth
Calcipotriol/ betamethasone Controls skin cell overgrowth/reduces inflammation and itching
Corticosteroids Reduces inflammation, slows down skin cell growth
Salicylic acid Softens up psoriasis scales so they are easier to remove
Tazarotene Believed to work by controlling skin cell overgrowth and reducing inflammation
Anthralin Controls skin cell overgrowth
Coal tar Controls skin cell overgrowth

Topical medications also differ in their side effects, how long it takes them to start working, and how long they should be used for. To learn more, read the next sections in this feature: "Treating psoriasis: It's all about timing," "Topical psoriasis treatments: What about side effects?" and "Questions to ask your doctor or pharmacist about psoriasis treatments."

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