If you have psoriasis, you probably already know that it can mean trouble for your scalp.
The thick, red, scaly skin patches (aka plaques) caused by psoriasis commonly show up on areas like the elbows and knees. But on your scalp, psoriasis can mean serious itchiness and flaking along with the pain, irritation, and skin buildup you’re already dealing with.
If you notice flaking on your scalp, a good first step is to try a scientifically formulated dandruff shampoo to help. While psoriasis and dandruff have different root causes, you could be experiencing dandruff. If a dandruff shampoo doesn't help with your flakes, it's best to see a dermatologist to get prescribed a treatment for psoriasis.
Thankfully, the right shampoo and scalp care can control dandruff flakes, lessen irritation, and nourish your skin for a healthier scalp. But not all scalp care products are created equal. If you’re in the market for a new regimen to treat the symptoms of scalp psoriasis, here are 4 key qualities to look for:
1. It contains salicylic acid
Salicylic acid is a proven ingredient for treating both dandruff and psoriasis. It’s best known as the active ingredient in drugstore treatments for acne, but actually has a long history in traditional medicine going back thousands of years.
Salicylic acid is found naturally in some plants and in especially high concentrations in willow bark, which has long been used to reduce fevers and relieve pain. (These traditional uses helped lead to the development of aspirin!)
Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid, making it oil-soluble and able to penetrate deeply into the skin, where it helps to dissolve buildup, remove irritants, and unclog pores. It also acts as a skin soother, relieving pain and itching.
People with dandruff tend to have unhealthy buildup on their scalps. The buildup typically includes layers of dead skin cells, too much of a natural skin oil called sebum, and a fungus called Malassezia, which is a natural part of the skin’s microbiome that grows out of control in scalps with dandruff.
The deep pore penetration and oil-dissolving power of salicylic acid means it can effectively remove this buildup. Salicylic acid also helps treat symptoms of psoriasis as it works to soften and loosen unhealthy skin growth and promote exfoliation. This makes it effective at gradually removing calluses, warts, pimples, and psoriasis plaques, and promoting healthy skin regeneration.
2. It includes coconut oil
Coconut oil is another ingredient known to help with symptoms of both psoriasis and dandruff. Aside from having a lovely tropical fragrance, coconut oil has gained popularity in skin and hair care (not to mention healthy diets) because of its unique fat content.
Unrefined coconut oil is rich in medium chain triglycerides, or MCTs. The MCTs in coconut oil have anti-microbial properties that can help reduce Malassezia on the scalp.
Research has also been shown that coconut oil has anti-inflammatory properties that can help relieve pain and discomfort of both psoriasis and dandruff, while reducing the irritation that leads to flaking and itching.
Finally, coconut oil is a powerful moisturizer that is known to soften rough psoriasis plaques. It can help skin retain moisture so it stays hydrated, by creating a protective barrier that prevents transepidermal water loss. When the scalp is damaged by psoriasis, the outer layer allows more moisture to be lost, leading to a dry scalp and increasing irritation. Coconut oil helps keep the scalp moisturized and nourished.
3. It includes stress-soothing ingredients
Almost everyone could use less stress in their lives. But reducing stress is especially important if you’re struggling with psoriasis - it is known to be a potential factor in flare-ups. Anything you can do to reduce your stress levels - from listening to music, to getting enough sleep to exercising to meditation - should benefit your overall health.
But how can your scalp care help? There are several essential oils that research shows are effective at reducing psychological stress. Aromatherapy with lavender oil has been shown to ease the stress of heart surgery patients, reducing their anxiety, pain, and heart rate. Students who watched a stressful video and people undergoing cancer treatment have also been shown to have lower amounts of stress-related chemicals in their bodies after aromatherapy treatment with lavender essential oil than control groups who didn’t get the treatment.
Besides being proven to help people relax, the scent of lavender is just lovely and enjoyable to almost everyone - another reason it’s become so popular in natural household and personal care products.
4. It's free of unsafe ingredients
It’s not enough for your treatment to contain the right ingredients to stop dandruff flakes, relieve your itchy scalp, and soothe other symptoms of psoriasis. Your scalp shampoo also needs to avoid any ingredients that can do you harm - like sulfates, parabens, dyes, and artificial fragrances.
...if you’re already dealing with sensitive skin, the last thing you want are harsh chemicals in your products that can increase irritation or cause other health issues.
Ingredients like sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, methylparaben, propylparaben, and others are commonly found in commercial soaps, shampoos, and conditioners. They’re a cheap way to create a foamy lather, help keep products shelf-stable, and make cosmetics smell nice. However, they can also be harsh and over-drying to the skin, and may pose other risks to your health.
The bottom line is: if you’re already dealing with sensitive skin, the last thing you want are harsh chemicals in your products that can increase irritation or cause other health issues.
Get scalp care that's safe, science-based, & spa-quality
Look for scalp care products that use proven ingredients to help you banish flaking and soothe your scalp. Pair it with nourishing and calming ingredients like coconut oil, to improve the appearance of a dry, rough scalp. If a scientifically formulated dandruff shampoo isn't helping with your flakes, it's best to talk to a doctor to help find the right treatment.