Dealing with psoriasis can be difficult and stressful — but there are ways to manage this autoimmune condition on your own. For example, if you have psoriasis on your scalp, using the right shampoo can make a big difference. According to board-certified hair loss expert Dr. William Yates, with whom Elite Daily spoke for this article, the best shampoos for psoriasis contain salicylic acid or coal tar, so look for products that contain one of those ingredients. Salicylic acid can soften and break down thick patches of psoriasis, while coal tar is useful for people experiencing scalp irritation and itching. Shampoos containing apple cider vinegar can also help soothe inflammation on the scalp, says Dr. Yates, who even makes his own.
Dr. Yates also recommends steering clear of products that contain added fragrance and strong chemicals. He's also "not opposed" to using soothing oils on the scalp that can help calm irritation. And since psoriasis can be triggered by stress, he advises his patients to strive for as healthy and stress-free of a lifestyle as possible.
Below are the best shampoos for scalp psoriasis, all available on Amazon. But if using an over-the-counter shampoo isn't doing enough to alleviate the psoriasis on your scalp, speak with your dermatologist to discuss short-term topical steroids and other treatment options.
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1. Doctor's Pick
"One of my favorite OTC shampoos is T/Gel, which contains coal tar," says Dr. Yates. This is a popular drugstore product among people with inflammatory scalp conditions, and it received the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) Seal of Recognition, meaning it's intended to be nonirritating and safe for people with psoriasis. Coal tar helps alleviate itching and reduce buildup on the scalp, so it's also helpful for treating things like dandruff.
Do be aware that coal tar can temporarily discolor lighter-colored hair, and it also poses the risk of staining skin or clothing. For best results, leave this shampoo in your hair for a few minutes before rinsing it out throughly.
2. A Shampoo With A Higher Concentration Of Coal Tar
Another NPF-approved shampoo, MG217 Psoriasis Medicated Conditioning Shampoo contains a higher concentration of coal tar than Neutrogena T/Gel (3% compared to T/Gel's 0.5%), so it's a bit more heavy duty. Use it to help relieve itching, redness, and flaking on your scalp. If you find that your OTC psoriasis shampoos are too drying, you can alternate them with a non-medicated shampoo every other time you wash your hair (like one of these gentle, fragrance-free options).
3. A Shampoo With Salicylic Acid
This medicated shampoo from Dermarest (yes, it also has the NPF seal) contains the other known effective ingredient for treating scalp psoriasis: salicylic acid, which works by removing scalp buildup and can thereby help relieve redness and itching. It comes with a matching conditioner, too, both for under $15 on Amazon.
4. A Shampoo With Apple Cider Vinegar
If you prefer milder ingredients to the more heavy-duty options above (or want another shampoo to alternate with your coal tar/salicylic acid shampoo), try Aveeno's Scalp Soothing Apple Cider Vinegar Blend Shampoo. In addition to the clarifying apple cider vinegar, it contains skin-soothing oats, and has a fresh, pleasant scent, unlike most medicated shampoos. That said, if your skin has a known sensitivity to fragrance, this may not be the best choice for you.
If your scalp is super dry, that can exacerbate itching and irritation, which is why Dr. Yates says it's fine to use soothing oils to replenish moisture on your scalp. For example, apply this 100% pure coconut oil as a leave-in treatment. Not only will it restore moisture to your hair and scalp, which may be dry from your medicated shampoos, but it can also be used all over your body.
Dr. William Yates, M.D. F.A.C.S., a board-certified hair loss expert based in Chicago, IL.