Emollients are a crucial part of the treatment plan for many people with psoriasis. They include creams, ointments, moisturizers, and a range of other products that primarily help prevent the skin from drying out, while providing additional benefits.
These products can also soften plaques and cracks, improve the skin's barrier function, ease inflammation, and act as a vehicle for active medical ingredients.
People with psoriasis can use medicated and nonmedicated moisturizers as part of their daily care routines.
Emollients and moisturizers come in different forms that can affect the skin in different ways. A person may need to try several before finding the one that works best. Others may see the most improvement by combining two or more products.
Doctors often recommend using a medicated product alongside a plain moisturizer to help relieve the symptoms of psoriasis.
Below are the various kinds of emollients and moisturizers:
Ointments: These are thick and greasy. They stay on the skin and offer long-lasting hydration. Ointments are suitable for nighttime use, but they may be too oily for daytime use.
Creams: These can be good for daytime use, as they are less greasy than ointments, and the skin absorbs them quickly.
Lotions: Lotions tend to be thin. They are easy to spread but less moisturizing than thicker products. They can be useful in areas where hair grows.
Bath and shower products: An emollient bath additive or bath oil can help the skin retain moisture during bathing. Regular bath products, such as bubble baths, can dry the skin.
Emollient soaps: A person can use a soap substitute with water to wash the hands and skin. Regular soaps can dry the skin, which can make symptoms worse.
Aqueous creams: Aqueous creams or emulsifying ointments can act as soap or shaving cream substitutes. However, some can cause a stinging sensation.
Anyone trying bath or shower emollients may benefit from using a nonslip mat because these skin care products can make the bathtub slippery.
The term "emollient" can refer to a product, such as a moisturizer, or an ingredient in a product.
The combination of ingredients in any emollient product will determine its use and how effective it is likely to be.
The key ingredients in a moisturizing product are humectant and occlusive agents.
A humectant enhances the way that the skin's surface holds water. Examples include:
- pyrrolidine carboxylic acid
These substances attract water from the air and from the lower layers of skin to moisturize the surface of the skin.
An occlusive agent slows water loss by adding a layer of oil to the skin's surface. Examples include:
Alone, either of these ingredients can feel sticky on the skin, so manufacturers combine them with other substances. These make the product easier to spread and help the ingredients penetrate the skin.
The ratio of oil — or lipid — to water will determine how thick a product is. A lotion has a low lipid content, compared with an ointment.
Emollients with high lipid contents are greasier and stickier. They also make the skin shinier.
Thicker products are often a good choice for people with psoriasis, as they are better able to prevent dryness.
An emollient may be an ointment or any of a range of other products, including cosmetics.
For psoriasis, a doctor may prescribe topical creams and ointments that contain one or more of the following ingredients:
- salicylic acid
- synthetic vitamin D
- coal tar
These ointments can have various effects, from reducing inflammation to softening the skin so that ingredients can penetrate more deeply.
Follow the doctor's advice when using these products. They are medications, and some can have adverse effects.
Some natural ingredients in creams, lotions, and moisturizers can help people manage psoriasis.
Some studies have suggested that aloe vera may help reduce symptoms of psoriasis, while others have found conflicting results.
A review published in 2015 concluded that, while there is no clear evidence of the ingredient's effectiveness, it does not appear to cause severe adverse effects.
Learn more about aloe vera for psoriasis
Tea tree oil
Some researchers have suggested that tea tree oil may help with psoriasis, but there is limited evidence to support its use. Some people find that it irritates the skin.
It is important to do a patch test before applying this or any other new product more widely to the skin.
Here, learn more about tea tree oil and psoriasis.
There is not enough evidence to confirm that either of these products can help treat psoriasis. If a person tries them, they should do so alongside a doctor-recommended treatment plan.
Emollients can come in many forms, including creams, ointments, powders, and bars that look like soap.
Many are available over the counter, without a prescription, but a person may need a prescription for higher-strength products.
A pharmacist or doctor can help a person choose an emollient. The decision will depend on:
- how dry the skin is
- the type of skin involvement
- the affected area of the body
- whether the product is medicated
- which other products a person uses
- any allergies or previous reactions
- personal preference
To reduce the risk of irritation, avoid fragranced products and opt for hypoallergenic ones.
A person may need to try several before finding the right emollient or use different products, such as a thick ointment at night and a lighter cream during the day.
Various emollients are available for purchase online.
The American Academy of Dermatology provide a list of suitable products and their ingredients.
A doctor will give instructions about when and how to use a medicated product.
For an over-the-counter moisturizing product:
- Apply it within 5 minutes of bathing, while the skin is still moist.
- Use it at least three times a day, as needed, or according to a doctor's instructions.
- Apply it gently and follow the direction of hair growth.
- Avoid rubbing the product in, which can lead to irritation and trigger a reaction.
- Continue using the emollient between psoriasis flares to prevent symptoms from reappearing.
- When using soap substitutes, apply them gently with the hands to avoid abrasion.
Different emollients and moisturizers can play key roles in managing psoriasis. They often work as part of a treatment plan that includes topical medications, systemic drugs, biologic medication, and light therapy.
Before using any emollient, ask a doctor or pharmacist for advice. Also, check for an allergic reaction by applying a small amount of the product to a dime-sized area of skin. If no reaction occurs after 24 hours, it is probably safe to use.
If topical treatments do not help relieve symptoms, consult a doctor about other options.