Anyone with psoriasis can tell you that flare-ups are a fact of life—and when they pop up, the goal is to clear them ASAP. After all, walking around with skin marked by cracked, scaly patches isn’t anyone’s ideal situation.
So, how do you calm your symptoms fast? Turn to these tricks, tips, and strategies that experts agree are the best at calming plaques in a hurry.
Take a Salt Bath
One way to soothe patches is with an Epsom salt bath. Says Sreedhar Krishna, M.D., a National Health Services (NHS) dermatologist in London and honorary clinical fellow in dermatopathology, “They can be helpful for three reasons: 1) Bathing is relaxing and reducing stress levels can be helpful in calming a flare. 2) Soaking helps lift scale, which means that creams applied after will absorb better. And 3) These baths can make people less itchy.” Try adding a cup to your warm (not hot!) bath water and soaking for up to 15 minutes.
Get an Rx
Doctors often suggest topical steroids to tackle plaques in a hurry—so it could be a good idea to discuss that option with your M.D. And Dr. Krishna has another fast-acting go-to to inquire about. “If someone has a serious flare, I often use a drug called cyclosporin [taken orally or by injection] to settle things quickly.” Used to stop people rejecting transplanted organs, he says it’s also been known to effectively clear psoriasis by chilling out the immune system and slowing skin-cell growth.
Being extra diligent with your nutrition at the first signs of a flare can be a good move. “It is important to follow an anti-inflammatory diet including fish, nuts, fruits and vegetables and to avoid fatty red meats, sugar, dairy, and processed food,” says David E. Bank, M.D., assistant clinical professor at New York-Presbyterian Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City.
When it comes to supplements, he adds, “It is possible that turmeric [approximately 4,000mg taken once a day] can help with psoriasis; there are some trials looking at this now.”
“Moisturizing should be part of the regular routine for patients with psoriasis,” insists Dr. Bank. And when you get a flare-up it’s especially important to keep skin hydrated. Dr. Bank suggests a fragrance-free moisturizer for sensitive skin such as Cetaphil Restoraderm Skin Restoring Body Moisturizer to avoid irritation.
And there’s one specific ingredient that could be good to look for: aloe vera gel, which research in Tropical Medicine International Health suggests is a particularly effective hydrator for plaques. Try: Jason Naturals Soothing 98% Aloe Vera Moisturizing Gel.
Add Plastic Wrap
Dr. Krishna, who has psoriasis himself, has found a way to make his moisturizer work overtime on his scaly spots. He places plastic wrap over the cream to make an occlusive dressing, then he relaxes while the patch helps the hydration absorb. Leave it on for at least 15 minutes for maximum benefits.
Any gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer you like will work, but he’s also had success with vitamin-D-based prescription topical steroid Enstilar foam spray, which can be used once a day for up to four weeks. His one warning when going this route: “I would advise against doing this on skin folds or the face as the degree of absorption can lead to skin thinning very quickly.”
Swap Your Soap
Fragrances and additives in your shower can irritate a psoriasis rash, keeping it around longer, says Dr. Bank. He recommends, skipping scented soap (bye-bye, bouquet) and using a moisturizing cleanser such as Cetaphil Restoraderm Soothing Wash.
And forget anything with scrubbing bits—they may seem like a good idea for sloughing off dead skin, but he says those granules can also exacerbate the problem.
Invest in a Humidifier
Again, “Skin that is well-moisturized will make the plaques less itchy and therefore less prone to scratching,” explains Dr. Krishna, who explains this means they’ll clear faster. One way to make sure yours is never parched? Running a humidifier in your office or bedroom to stop dehydration in its tracks. This is especially important in fall and winter, when air tends to be drier, but can help all year ‘round in arid climates. One to try: Honeywell Cool Moisture Humidifer.
Use Salicylic Acid
If you’re looking for an OTC fix, Dr. Bank says creams or shampoos containing salicylic acid (such as Derma E Scalp Relief Shampoo and CeraVe Psoriasis Moisturizing Cream with Salicylic Acid) can help slough scales when they appear.
Research also indicates that the astringent ingredient works for psoriasis another way: It allows for other topical creams to better penetrate both on the body (according to research in the Indian Dermatology Online Journal) and the scalp (according to a 2016 research review in Psoriasis). Since it can be a bit irritating, stay away from using it on sensitive spots like genitals or around the eyes.
Dr. Krishna himself has found stress not only brings on but can prolong outbreaks, so he takes care to keep things mellow when plaques come on—and passes this advice on to the people with psoriasis in his care. In fact, at the first signs of a flare-up, he says, “If a patient's work is particularly stressful, I'll often suggest a week off to de-stress.”
If marking off vacation days isn’t an option, just fitting in some “me time” to enjoy activities that bring on a sense of calm like meditation, knitting, gardening or spending time in nature could help shave some time off a psoriasis episode.
“Individuals with psoriasis often find that the disease is better controlled in sunny times,” says Dr. Krishna. “If this is the case, I recommend catching some natural sunlight.”
Indeed, research published in the British Journal of Dermatology shows that small periods of exposure to UV rays can help clear up psoriasis. One way it may help is by upping vitamin D levels, which a 2017 review of several studies in Reviews in Endocrine & Metabolic Disorders concluded is therapeutic to plaques.