Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that can lead to skin rashes, scaly patches, and other skin changes. Itching is a common symptom of psoriasis.
Some people with psoriasis experience intense itching, and scratching increases the risk of infection. While there is no cure for psoriasis, the right combination of creams, medications, and home remedies can relieve the itching.
In this article, we explain why psoriasis often causes itching and how to prevent it.
Psoriasis develops when the immune system becomes overactive, causing the body to generate new skin cells much faster than usual. This results in raised white or silvery patches, or plaques, that may be painful and itchy.
Inflammation causes an itching sensation. Inflammation is the process that the body uses to fight infection, protect itself against disease-causing agents, and respond to wounds.
When a person has psoriasis, however, the immune system incorrectly triggers inflammation, which leads to itching. Scratching the itchy patches may make the plaques worse and increase the risk of infection.
Frequent scratching can irritate the skin, causing wounds and increasing the healing time. In response to this, the body increases the levels of inflammation in an attempt to heal these wounds, making the itch worse.
People with inverse or flexural psoriasis may also develop yeast infections on or near skin lesions. Yeast is a type of fungus that can increase the pain and itchiness of psoriasis.
Do all types of psoriasis itch?
Plaque psoriasis, a type that causes scaly, often gray-looking patches, is the most common type of psoriasis. It is also the most common cause of psoriatic itching, although other forms of psoriasis may also itch.
However, the severity of an itch may vary between one flare and the next. One psoriasis flare may only cause mild itching, while the following flare could result in severe itching sensations.
One person can have multiple types of psoriasis at once and develop lesions that do not itch or only cause mild itching.
Many treatment options are available to help people who experience psoriatic itching.
Dry skin can make psoriasis worse, particularly in dry climates and during the winter months.
Applying heavy moisturizers after a shower and several times each day, can help a person soothe itching, prevent dry or cracking skin, and promote faster healing.
Dermatologists recommend that people with psoriasis apply moisturizer daily to keep their skin lubricated.
Cool or warm compresses
Some people might experience temporary relief from the itching by using cold compresses and taking cool showers.
Others also find that warm compresses ease their pain, so alternating between warm and cold compresses may help with both itching and discomfort.
People should not take hot baths and should try to avoid showering for longer than 10 minutes, as this can increase irritation. Applying lotion after a cool bath can help a person retain moisture in their skin, reducing the risk of dryness and itching.
Numbing and anti-itch creams
Numbing creams and sprays, such as benzocaine, can offer temporary relief from itching.
Other products that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved as effective for psoriatic itch relief include:
- diphenhydramine hydrochloride (HCl)
Some people find relief by applying calamine lotion or bathing in Epsom or Dead Sea salts or oatmeal, then moisturizing and applying hydrocortisone, which is a mild steroid.
People can apply topical steroids directly to their skin. Hydrocortisone cream can relieve itching, is available over the counter (OTC), and is safe for most people.
If hydrocortisone helps but does not fully relieve the itch, a person may wish to see a doctor and request a stronger prescription-only hydrocortisone cream.
Keratolytics are products that soften and remove psoriasis patches, speed up healing time, and help reduce itching. Removing scales can help relieve itching and enhance the effects of other itch relief medications. Phenol, salicylic acid, and urea are some of the OTC keratolytic products available.
If OTC keratolytics do not work, a doctor can prescribe a stronger form.
On its own, scratching lesions will not make the itch worse. However, it can call attention to the itching, making it feel worse and more frustrating.
Scratching will not stop the itching. Frequent or intense scratching can open up psoriatic lesions, slow the healing time, and increase the risk of infection. People who need to relieve the itch can try gently rubbing or tapping the area near the lesions.
Using other techniques and remedies to soothe the itch can help reduce the need to scratch.
Meditation and distraction
Distracting the mind can help reduce the impact of itching on a person’s daily life. An interesting hobby, such as drawing, gardening, or painting, may help divert a person’s attention from the itch.
Other people find relief through meditative techniques, such as deep breathing or yoga.
Stress is also a potential trigger for psoriasis symptoms. Therefore, activities that reduce stress may help reduce the number of flares
Lifestyle and dietary changes
Excess weight may exacerbate the severity of psoriasis symptoms, including itching. Increased body fat promotes inflammation, which can make the itching worse and reduce the effects of treatments.
These lifestyle and dietary changes will not provide immediate relief but can help reduce the frequency and severity of psoriasis flare-ups over time.
People can purchase skin creams and other products from a pharmacy. They are also available to purchase online. People should consult with a doctor before buying any creams to make sure the cream is suitable for them.
Psoriasis affects the skin but also many other systems in the body. Home remedies and anti-itch medications will not treat the underlying condition.
The best way to relieve psoriatic itching is to treat the condition directly. While researchers are still working on a full cure, systemic medications that work across the whole body can help reduce the number of flares and the severity of symptoms.
Some treatment options include:
- Biologics: These products use chemicals taken from living cells to target specific parts of the immune system. A doctor or the affected individual will administer them by injection. Doctors usually only prescribe them to people who have not responded to other treatments. Depending on the label, some can be taken by infusion.
- Methotrexate: People with severe psoriasis can use methotrexate to suppress the immune system and reduce its skin involvement. However, it is a potent medication. Those taking the drug will need to undergo regular liver function tests.
- Emollients: These are moisture-based lotions that doctors may prescribe to help a person with psoriasis retain moisture in their skin, reducing the itching and tenderness.
- Oral retinoids: These drugs, made from vitamin A, are helpful for people with severe psoriasis. They work across the whole body without suppressing the immune system. This can help people with reduced immune function, such as those with HIV, control their itching and flares.
- Phototherapy: Phototherapy is a light therapy that exposes the skin to controlled doses of ultraviolet light. Exposure to the sun can have a similar benefit, but it is safer to undergo controlled phototherapy in a doctor’s office.
A range of emollient creams is available for purchase online.
Not every treatment will work for all people with the condition. A doctor can discuss the range of options that might be best for each person.
What does it mean when your psoriasis itches?
An itchy sensation is a common symptom of psoriasis. People with psoriasis produce an excess of skin cells, causing dead skin cells to build up on the surface of their skin.
Patches form on the outermost layer of skin and become inflamed as the body tries to fight infection, leading to itchiness.
Why is psoriasis constantly itchy?
Dead skin cells build on the outer layer of skin in people with psoriasis, forming patches that grow inflamed. The body also incorrectly triggers inflammation, which leads to more itching.
Why is psoriasis itchy at night?
IL-23 is a cytokine (protein) that sends signals between cells, mainly signaling a pathway leading to inflammation. Inflammation is a root cause of itch in psoriasis.
At night, the body releases more cytokines, which can increase inflammation, thereby causing more itching.
Is it OK to scratch psoriasis?
Scratching psoriasis will not actually relieve the itch, and may cause the lesions to open up, increasing the risk of infection.
To relieve itching, gently rubbing or tapping the affected area will lessen the likelihood of damage.
Can you spread psoriasis by scratching?
Scratching does not cause psoriasis to spread to other parts of the body.
Scratching can lengthen the time it takes for the psoriasis patches to heal, and can make them appear larger (or more spread out).
Itching is a common symptom of psoriasis, which can lead to discomfort, skin rashes, patches, and a risk of infection.
While there is no direct cure for psoriasis, there are several options to manage the condition.
Treatments, including oral retinoids and biologics, are available to help reduce flares and symptom severity. Other options for managing symptoms include moisturizers, anti-itch creams, steroids, meditation, and more.