Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts that some cite as effective alternative treatments for certain conditions. Different plants have different effects. However, very few studies have taken place into the effectiveness of essential oils as a complementary treatment for psoriasis.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition, meaning the immune system that normally targets infectious organisms instead focuses on and attacks skin cells. The skin then regenerates cells more quickly than usual, leading to the characteristic plaques that develop on the skin of people with psoriasis.
In this article, we look at the evidence for and against using essential oils to manage psoriasis, as well as other natural options.
Essential oils and psoriasis
Psoriasis varies greatly from person to person and is a relatively common condition
Plants are the source of some standard medical treatments for psoriasis, such as salicylic acid, which originally comes from white willow bark.
Tea tree oil, chamomile, and bergamot oil are examples of essential oils from plants that people have used to manage psoriasis.
In particular, many non-prescription commercial skin products contain tea tree oil. It is available in shampoos that some people use for scalp psoriasis, for example.
Tea tree oil also posses certain antiseptic properties and features in some alternative acne treatments.
Some people are allergic to tea tree oil and should stop using it if it causes any reaction. No evidence from scientific studies confirms any benefit for using tea tree oil for psoriasis.
One review of essential oils used in aromatherapy only listed chamomile as helpful for psoriasis.
Other sources suggest using a blend of several oils.
Bitter apricot essential oil is another example that has undergone some scientific study. Researchers found that it affected the growth of psoriatic skin cells in a Petri dish. However, the study was not clinical in nature as the study authors did not run the test on humans.
Essential oils from the East Indian Globe Thistle was also the subject of some study. Again, this research occurred at a basic chemical level, and the oil's effect against psoriasis is suggested but not proven.
Limited scientific evidence is currently available confirming essential oils as a safe and effective measure for psoriasis. More and more studies are examining the function and effects of essential oils, and some people may benefit from trying them.
Other natural remedies
People who want to use essential oils are often looking for a natural way to manage their symptoms. However, essential oils are not the only options, and other natural treatments may carry fewer side effects.
Some people have used evening primrose oil as a way to manage the plaque that develops during psoriasis. Others try fish oil supplements, including supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, as these can help strengthen the structure of the skin.
Omega-3 fatty acids are available in dietary supplements but are also naturally plentiful in some vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, soy foods, fatty fish, and algae. Several studies suggest that fish oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids are effective against psoriasis symptoms.
Aloe vera is a gel-like substance that derives from the aloe plant. People often apply it to areas of skin affected by psoriasis. Creams containing aloe vera may have some effect on symptoms including redness and itching. Oregon grape is another option that people also to treat acne.
Turmeric is a spice, food, preservative, and traditional medicine used in many cultures. Curcumin is the yellow pigment and major component in turmeric. Curcumin has shown significant effects on psoriasis due to its anti-inflammatory, wound-healing, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties.
One final option that has the backing of some research is capsaicin, the key component of cayenne pepper. A small placebo-controlled trial found that applying 0.025 percent capsaicin cream to the skin four times a day for 6 weeks reduced psoriatic itching compared with a placebo.
However, the cream is not suitable for use on open skin wounds or the face, and some people experience burning sensations.
Some people moisturize the skin around areas with psoriasis, as well as the scalp, using coconut oil. While it contains no proven clinical benefit outside of its moisturizing properties, it is also not harmful if people wish to use it as a remedy.
Sunshine can help to treat psoriasis but too much may be a trigger.
Doctors involved in the management of psoriasis include dermatologists, who are specialist skin doctors. Patients who also have psoriatic arthritis, the joint disease that often accompanies psoriasis, may receive treatment from rheumatologists.
There are three broad forms of medical treatment for psoriasis:
- topical treatments, or remedies applied to the skin, including corticosteroids, which a review of treatments deemed to be the safest and most effective, and vitamin-D-based treatments, although these carried more side effects
- ultraviolet (UV) light therapy, also called phototherapy
- certain prescribed medications for severe psiorasis
Prescribed mediations for psoriasis include:
- methotrexate, which suppresses the immune system
- retinoids, such as acitretin and isotretinoin
- cyclosporine, which suppresses the immune system
- biologics, including etanercept, adalimumab, and infliximab
Other topical treatments include tar-based preparations, dithranol, salicylic acid, and vitamin A.
Topical treatments are generally suitable for mild psoriasis. Doctors will add phototherapy for people with a moderate presentation and prescribed medications for severe psoriasis.
Doctors can prescribe all of these topical treatments.
Emollients are recommended for anyone with psoriasis and are available from the pharmacy without prescription. Emollients include creams, ointments, petrolatum, and paraffin. By softening the plaques they can reduce psoriatic itching and irritation, and people should apply them to the skin twice a day.
Phototherapy for psoriasis can be as simple as increasing exposure to sunlight with a monitored exposure time. Controlled artificial exposure to UV light (UVB) is also available through doctors. This can be effective but needs to monitored by your doctor, as UV light can increase other health risks on the skin, such as sunburn and skin cancer. Tanning beds are not recommended.
When to see a doctor
A person should see a doctor if they have a long-term skin rash.
Anyone with a long-term skin rash should see a doctor, who can provide an accurate diagnosis and medical management.
A skin specialist will usually diagnose psoriasis based on a person's appearance and clinical history alone.
Rarely, doctors will have a sample of skin analyzed in the lab after taking a biopsy to separate it from other possible skin conditions.
Essential oils are plant extracts that some people use to manage psoriasis symptoms.
Tea tree oil, chamomile, and bergamot oil often feature in studies about essential oils for psoriasis, although no clinical evidence confirms their benefits. Several basic studies on cells rather than humans showed that bitter apricot and East Indian globe thistle can impact the growth of plaque in psoriasis.
Other natural treatments for psoriasis include capsaicin, aloe vera, turmeric, fish oil supplements, and sunlight.
People should only use essential oils or natural treatments alongside a clinically approved treatment, such as topical corticosteroids, phototherapy, or prescribed medication.
Seek medical treatment for any long-term rashes.
Will essential oils harm me if I try to take them for psoriasis?
This will largely depend on which oils you attempt to use and how you administer them.
When testing a new oil out on the skin, be sure to apply it to a portion of the skin that doesn’t currently have a rash to ensure you don’t have an allergic reaction to it. Some oils used in aromatherapy can also cause asthma flare-ups.
Lastly, finding the proper dilution for each oil is essential as they can cause severe skin reactions, be toxic, or possibly invoke respiratory problems.
Use caution if you are testing essential oils out for the first time, and research application methods and dilution methods very carefully.Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.