10 Natural Remedies for Psoriasis Reliefby Jeanine Barone Health Writer
When you’re dealing with psoriasis, a chronic condition where your immune system attacks your own skin cells, you’ll try just about anything to soothe the itch and irritation that come with it. The good news is that there’s a lot that can be done. Along with conventional treatments, like topical creams, oral meds, and biologics, there's increasing evidence for some complementary therapies. While none of these should be used without first consulting your physician, they’re certainly worth inquiring about. Click through to learn more about 10 natural remedies that can help your skin.
People with psoriasis tend to have an imbalance in their microbiome, meaning they have more gut bacteria that produce pro-inflammatory compounds, which can lead to scaly, red skin. It’s thought that consuming a probiotic supplement (a.k.a. beneficial bacteria), such as a Lactobacilli, could help balance the bacteria levels and reduce inflammation. According to Joseph Zahn, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., some human studies have found that a Lactobacillus probiotic supplement improved the symptoms of those with severe psoriasis who were not responsive to steroids and other medication.
Prebiotics, including fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and galactooligosaccharides, are foods or supplements that feed your body’s good bacteria, stimulating their growth and activity. Though most of the work in prebiotics has been done on other inflammatory skin conditions (such as atopic dermatitis and rosacea), there’s no reason to think that prebiotics wouldn’t also provide some benefit to those with psoriasis, says Dr. Zahn. “Just as with probiotics, these supplements can help keep your gut healthy and potentially stave off chronic inflammation that may be associated with a dysregulated gut biome and psoriasis.”
Jasmine Flower Paste
Ayurveda, the traditional medical system of India that dates back thousands of years, has long recommended crushing jasmine flowers (Jasminum polyanthum) and applying the paste directly to the skin lesions of psoriasis. Online you can find facial masks containing jasmine flowers mixed in with other herbal ingredients. It’s said that this paste reduces pain and itchiness, perhaps in part by helping moisturize the skin. The flowers contain several phytochemicals, including terpineol and linalool, two antioxidants that can tamp down tissue-damaging free radicals, which might play some role in psoriasis.
Traditional Indian and Chinese medicine practitioners have used topical curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) for its anti-inflammatory properties. It alters pro-inflammatory cytokines (cell-signaling chemicals important in immune reactions), resulting in a reduction in psoriasis symptoms. People with psoriasis who have applied a curcumin-containing gel to their skin along with topical corticosteroids had improvements in their skin lesions. According to Manuela Kogon, M.D., an internal medicine physician at the Stanford Center for Integrative Medicine in Palo Alto, CA, “There is some evidence that turmeric’s anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties might work in psoriasis. But more randomized studies are needed.”
Black Seed Oil (Nigella Sativa)
Nigella sativa (referred to as black seed) is an antioxidant-packed shrub that typically grows in parts of Asia, Middle East, Eastern Europe, and North Africa. The seeds (and seed oil) have been used (orally or topically) in traditional Chinese, Arabic and Ayurvedic medicine to treat an array of conditions, including skin inflammation. According to Dr. Kogon: “There is evidence that Nigella sativa is effective as a topical treatment for psoriasis. It might be even more effective when combined with oral treatment, but there have only been a few studies in humans.” In other words, slathering it on your skin while taking it orally, might pack a powerful psoriasis punch.
Indigo naturalis is the generic name for a variety of plants that have been used for centuries in Asia as a fabric dye and as a treatment for myriad inflammatory conditions, including psoriasis. Studies found that Indigo naturalis improved the severity and extent of psoriasis lesions as well as decreased a pro-inflammatory immune chemical called interleukin-17 (IL-17). According to Dr. Kogon, “In one study with 42 [Asian] patients, treatment with indigo improved symptoms by 81%, while the improvement with placebo was only 26%.”
Oregon Grape Root Extract
While more robust studies are necessary, when a cream containing a 10% extract of Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)—a.k.a. barberry—was applied to the skin in small trials, it reduced the redness of skin lesions in those with mild to moderate psoriasis. “M. aquifolium has shown the ability to significantly improve the symptoms of psoriasis, with minimal side effects, such as burning or itching,” says Dr. Zahn. “Its effect has been attributed to berberine, an anti-inflammatory alkaloid present in the extract.” Try it for yourself: MJ's Herbals First Aid Salve.
St. John’s Wort
Praised for its depression-combating properties when ingested, the oil of St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) can also be applied onto the skin to treat psoriasis flares. Studies have shown that it reduces the production of interleukin-12 (IL-12), a signaling molecule that can has pro-inflammatory benefits, but it can also reduce metabolic pathways that produce inflammation-inducing compounds. According to Dr. Kogon, “The major active ingredient of St. John’s wort shows significant improvement of redness, extension, and thickness of psoriasis plaques.” There is, however, some risk of skin irritation and sun-sensitivity, especially in fair-skinned individuals.
The extract of Boswellia (or Frankincense) comes from a tree typically found in North Africa, the Middle East, and India, and it's a traditional remedy that’s been relied upon in Ayurvedic medicine to treat inflammatory conditions. The active ingredients, boswellic acids (BAs), have been found to inhibit pro-inflammatory pathways, including one referred to as nucleic factor kappa light chain enhancer of activated B cells (NF-kB). A study found that topically applying a skin cream containing an extract of Boswellia serrata resin reduced the redness and scaling in people with psoriasis.
Widely used in Ayurvedic medicine, Neem (Azadirachta indica) is an evergreen tree that’s native to India and Sri Lanka and is noted for its ability to treat dozens of conditions—no wonder its Swahili name, Muarubaini, means the “tree of 40 cures.” The major active chemical is azadirachtin, which may inhibit pro-inflammatory tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-stimulated responses. According to Dr. Kogon, “Taking oral neem supplements might enhance [the effects of topical prescription treatments].” In one study, patients with plaque psoriasis took neem leaf extract capsules plus a topical regimen (5% crude coal tar and 3% salicylic acid) saw significant improvement.