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For people with psoriasis, using the right soap can prevent further irritation, help the patches heal more quickly, and possibly even treat the condition. Some examples of soaps that can help include those containing coal tar and colloidal oatmeal.

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes skin symptoms such as painful and sometimes itchy patches of raised, shiny or silvery, thickened skin.

On black skin, the patches may be violet or purple. On white skin, they may be reddish.

Psoriasis is not contagious and does not develop due to poor hygiene. However, treating mild psoriasis with moisturizing creams, lotions, and special soaps may help relieve skin symptoms.

Using the right soap will not prevent psoriasis or wash the patches away, but it can prevent them from getting worse, and it may help healthy skin grow more quickly.

Below, we list some types of soap that may help ease psoriasis symptoms. A dermatologist can help a person choose the right product for them.

Tar soaps

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Tar soaps may help relieve itching, redness, and inflammation.

Some studies have found that tar can help slow the growth of skin cells that contribute to the buildup of psoriasis plaques.

Tar can also help with:

There are two types of tar soap:

Wood tar soaps

These contain tar that derives from the wood of various plants, such as juniper and pine.

The soaps may:

  • have anti-inflammatory antiseptic, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties
  • help stop the overgrowth of skin cells

According to one 2017 study, the product is not actually a soap but a soap-free bar. Lotions and gels are also available. The product can contain up to 2.3% pine tar.

Coal tar soap

This contains tar from coal.

Doctors have been recommending coal tar soaps for many years, and they consider it safe, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

It is not clear exactly how it works or why, but it appears to help treat itching and scale in:

The ADD note that it can be very effective. Some people's symptoms completely disappear, and they may have a long period of remission (no symptoms) before the next flare (when symptoms reappear).

For symptoms that are difficult to resolve, a doctor may recommend combining coal tar soap with a corticosteroid cream or lotion.

In 2010, scientists analyzed data from 25 studies that looked at the use of coal tar soap for treating psoriasis. In 84% of the studies, results showed that coal tar soap was effective. In 16%, the data showed no benefit of using coal tar soap.

Potential risks

Tar soap has a strong odor that some people find unpleasant. It can also make the skin more vulnerable to sunburn. In some people, sunburn is a risk factor for psoriasis flares, so it is especially important for people who use tar soap to wear sunscreen.

Some people experience skin irritation or burning with tar or tar soap. For this reason, it is a good idea to test a small patch of skin before using the soap on the rest of their body.

In the past, some animal and workplace studies have suggested that exposure to coal tar may increase the risk of cancer. In California, products containing more than 0.5% coal tar must carry a cancer warning.

However, the AAD note that there is no evidence of a risk to people who use it. In fact, one 2010 study that included 13,200 people found no increase in cancer risk among those who used coal tar products for 1–300 months.

Also, in 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noted that coal tar concentrations of 0.5% to 5% are safe. The strength of the product does not appear to predict how well it will work.

That said, when pregnant or breastfeeding, it may be better to avoid coal tar products.

Exfoliating soaps

Exfoliating soaps help lift the top layer of skin. This can help speed up the healing process, allowing the body to replace scaly patches with smooth, healthy skin more quickly.

Salicylic acid is a common exfoliating ingredient. Many acids, including glycolic acid and lactic acid, can also exfoliate the skin.

Stronger exfoliating soaps may qualify as keratolytics. A keratolytic helps remove psoriasis scales.

Removing scales can speed healing and allow psoriasis medications to penetrate deeper into the skin. However, products that do this can be highly irritating and might not be safe to use on all areas of the body.

A person should talk to a doctor before using a highly concentrated exfoliating soap. Always do a patch test on a small patch of skin before using the product on the rest of the body.

A 2011 review of scientific research reported that using salicylic acid during pregnancy is unlikely to pose a risk to the fetus. However, it is best to speak to a doctor first.

Oatmeal soap

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Oatmeal soaps may help ease pain and itching.

Oatmeal soap, particularly colloidal oatmeal, can ease the pain and itching that can occur with psoriasis.

Research from 2010 found that oatmeal can reduce inflammation and may prevent the skin from releasing chemicals that promote inflammation.

Oatmeal products are unlikely to irritate the skin, even in people with a history of allergic reactions. One 2012 study concluded that oatmeal appears to be a safe and effective ingredient.

For people with psoriasis who have sensitive skin or who cannot use certain products, oatmeal soap may be a good option.

Moisturizing soap

Having dry skin does not cause psoriasis, but it can increase the discomfort associated with the condition.

A variety of oils and moisturizers may help. Some people with psoriasis prefer to use soaps containing natural oils, such as aloe or avocado oil, as these may be less likely to trigger irritation.

It is always best to try a product on a small area of skin first to check for any adverse reactions.

Soap or lotion: What is the difference?

Lotions are another option for relieving the symptoms of psoriasis. Lotions tend to contain the same ingredients as psoriasis soaps, such as salicylic acid and colloidal oatmeal. Some lotions contain corticosteroids, which can reduce inflammation.

The main difference between psoriasis lotions and soaps is that lotions are safe to leave on the skin. In fact, many have to stay on the skin to work.

Hydrocortisone is one lotion that needs to remain on the skin to be effective. Hydrocortisone is a steroid that can reduce the inflammation that causes itching and irritation.

Since they are safe to leave on the skin, lotions are usually less potent than soaps that contain the same ingredients. For example, the salicylic acid content of a soap may be stronger than that of a lotion.

A person should not leave soap on the skin. It is important to follow the label instructions to prevent skin irritation.

People with psoriasis who use both lotions and soaps should monitor for irritation or other changes, as the additional dose may trigger a reaction.

When using an exfoliating soap, a person should not use an exfoliating lotion at the same time. Sometimes, mixing products can cause them to behave differently or increase the risk of adverse effects.

Skin care products for for psoriasis are available to purchase online. A person should always check which one is suitable for their individual needs.

Other tips

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A person should moisturize soon after bathing.

To avoid making skin symptoms worse when bathing, try these tips:

  • Bathe for a maximum of 15 minutes, or shower for up to 5 minutes, no more than once per day with warm water.
  • Use a psoriasis-friendly soap or a fragrance-free product for sensitive skin.
  • Avoid abrasive scrubs.
  • Gently wash the skin with the hands rather than a sponge or loofah.
  • Pat the skin dry with a towel instead of rubbing it.
  • Apply a thick, fragrance-free moisturizer for sensitive skin within 5 minutes of bathing or showering.

A doctor or pharmacist can advise on suitable products.

Outlook

Psoriasis is a chronic condition that affects the skin. No soap can alleviate the condition permanently, but some types can relieve the symptoms and may stop them from coming back for a while.

People with new or moderate to severe symptoms should speak to a doctor about treatment. They may recommend a suitable soap, lotion, or other topical product.

They may also recommend other treatments that can help manage the underlying cause of psoriasis. Examples include systemic drugs that treat the whole body and some newer medications called biologics, which can change the way the immune system works.

A doctor may recommend combining psoriasis soaps and medications to help a person achieve longer periods of clear, scale-free skin.

Q:

I have cracked, dry skin with psoriasis. What ingredients should I use, and which ones should I avoid?

A:

When a person has cracked dry skin (fissures) with psoriasis, they must take extra care, as some ingredients in soap can easily irritate the exposed skin tissue.

It is best to clean an open fissure with warm water and use a mild soap around the cracked skin. It is also best to avoid any exfoliating soaps and soaps that have ingredients with tar or acids. An oatmeal-based soap would be best to use around the cracked area.

Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COIAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.