How to Remove Psoriasis Plaques Like a Pro

by Kaleigh Fasanella Health Writer

Removing psoriasis plaques is no easy feat, folks. Without proper products and techniques, it can be an extremely uncomfortable process that results in bleeding and bacteria build-up, both of which can lead to infection. See: Not fun stuff. There are, however, several ways to painlessly remove psoriasis plaques using skin-friendly ingredients like salicylic acid and coal tar that help break down excess dead skin. Click through to learn more about how different ingredients work to exfoliate plaques, as well as some derm-approved techniques to speed up the process and soothe inflammation simultaneously.

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Skin-Softening Ingredient: Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid (SA) is a common ingredient used to treat psoriasis plaques. “This beta-hydroxy acid smooths the skin by removing and softening the flaking and scaling,” says Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D., a clinical professor of dermatology at NYU Langone in New York City. “It's important to use it as instructed and not apply too much or for too long as this can cause dryness and redness.” For best results, use generous amount of moisturizer in conjunction with a salicylic acid-based serum or lotion, or look for a cream that contains it, like CeraVe’s SA Cream for Rough and Bumpy Skin.

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Salicylic acid works in other ways as well: Technically, it is classified as a keratolytic—a.k.a. an agent that softens the keratin or outer layer of skin, says Joyce Park, M.D., an associate dermatologist at Kaiser Permanente in San Jose, CA. “In a skin condition like psoriasis, it can really help lift those stubborn scaly spots,” she says. Psoriasis Honey’s Skin Renewing Cream is another great emollient option as it’s made with not only salicylic acid but ultra-soothing pure honey (which is a humectant that locks in moisture), beeswax, and antioxidant-rich grapeseed and sunflower oils.

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Skin-Softening Ingredient: Coal Tar

We’ll admit, it doesn’t exactly sound like something you want to put on your skin. But there’s a reason coal tar is one of the main ingredients found in popular psoriasis shampoos like T/Gel and DHS. “This active ingredient is used to treat psoriasis in both prescription and over-the-counter products by decreasing inflammation, slowing down rapidly growing skin cells, and lessening flaking and itching,” says Dr. Levins.

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The reason coal tar works so well, Dr. Park explains, is because it calms underlying inflammation and balances the rapid skin turnover that psoriasis patients frequently experience. There’s just one caveat when it comes to coal tar: The ingredient can be irritating for some people's skin. “It's always best to test it out on a small area first, before applying it to all areas of psoriasis,” advises Dr. Levin.

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Skin-Softening Ingredient: Alpha-Hydroxy Acids

Also called AHAs, alpha-hydroxy acids refer to natural acids found in foods, including organic derivatives of sugar such as glycolic acid (from sugar cane) and lactic acid (from milk). Because glycolic acid is the smallest in molecular size, it can penetrate the skin more easily and is one of the most common AHAs in cosmetic products. Like salicylic acid, AHAs can help psoriasis by softening and exfoliating the skin—and sometimes they do it more gently than their counterpart.

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“AHAs work to lift flaky skin cells and smooth the appearance of plaques,” explains Dr. Park. Dr. Levin adds that, while generally less irritating than salicylic acid, alpha-hydroxy acids can also cause adverse reactions in some cases, which is why she always recommends using them in combination with, or inside of, a moisturizer. Skinfix’s Resurface+ AHA Renewing Body Cream is an excellent option made with soothing coconut oil, glycerin, shea butter, and aloe leaf extract.

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Skin-Softening Ingredient: Urea

Used for a variety of scaly skin conditions, urea is another exfoliating ingredient that helps to loosen and lift dead skin cells. Another bonus: It happens to be incredibly hydrating, which aids in the removal process of psoriasis plaques. “Urea is unique in that it has a dual purpose,” says Dr. Park. “It helps hydrate the skin by slowing water loss and acts as a keratolytic to exfoliate skin flakes, which allows medications and other topical preparations to penetrate and function more deeply.”

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Skin-Softening Tip: Soak in the Tub

One of the simplest things you can do to help banish psoriasis plaques is bathing. No joke: Fill your tub with lukewarm water (overly hot water can be irritating) and let your skin soak for 15 minutes. “The water in the tub softens scales, making them easier to remove,” says Dr. Levin, who advises being as gentle as possible when exfoliating so as to not further irritate the skin. She also suggests swapping bubbles for a few drops of tea tree oil, which has natural antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory benefits that can alleviate scaling, itching, and inflammation.

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Skin-Softening Tip: Lock in Moisture

Fresh out of the bath or shower, slather on your favorite psoriasis lotion followed by a thin layer of ointment, and in just a few hours, your plaques should be significantly softer. “Because of the chronic inflammation with psoriasis, the skin barrier can be compromised, so it’s important to moisturize with occlusive agents,” says Dr. Levin. CeraVe’s Healing Ointment is amazing for this as it’s a non-greasy, ultra-nourishing occlusive that contains ceramides and hyaluronic acid for added skin benefits.

Kaleigh Fasanella
Meet Our Writer
Kaleigh Fasanella

Kaleigh Fasanella is a beauty, wellness, and health writer based in Brooklyn, New York and formerly worked for magazines like Allure and Teen Vogue. She's a huge advocate for skin-acceptance and self-love, and she really enjoys writing about topics that help shed the stigma surrounding chronic conditions like psoriasis and eczema. When she's not writing to pay her rent, Kaleigh can be found face-masking, watching any and every culinary documentary on Netflix, and planning her next Italian excursion.