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Psoriasis can be a frustrating disease to manage, but there’s lots your doctor can do to help clear your skin of those telltale scaly, red patches and other psoriasis symptoms it causes. While medication plays a critical role in keeping psoriasis flares at bay, there’s also lots you can do at home to reduce the severity of the psoriasis and ease your symptoms. Here’s the scoop on seven DIY solutions that skin pros say really help.
Exposure to UV light is mostly discouraged in dermatology, since too much can be associated with the development of skin cancer. But because UV light has an anti-inflammatory effect in psoriasis, this “phototherapy” is very efficacious in reducing psoriasis symptoms, says Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. (That’s why psoriasis flares tend to improve for patients during the summer months.) Be sure not to go overboard with unprotected sun exposure though: “Just 10 minutes of ambient UV exposure three times a week, not during the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., can really help,” Dr. Gohara says.
People with psoriasis have long flocked to Israel’s Dead Sea, where the water is 10 times as salty as the ocean and rich in healing minerals like magnesium. A few studies have confirmed the Dead Sea’s ability to help alleviate psoriasis symptoms. You don’t have to visit the Middle East to reap the benefits of saltwater, though. A long soak in any briny body of water may help remove scales and ease psoriasis itching, says Dr. Gohara. You can soothe your skin at home as well by adding Dead Sea salts (available in stores and online) or magnesium-based Epsom salt to warm (not hot) bath water and soaking for 15 to 20 minutes. According to dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, both have soothing and anti-inflammatory properties that make them useful in treating psoriasis.
Oats are one of Mother Nature’s best skin soothers. Soaking in an oatmeal bath can calm the itch and ease the inflammation of psoriasis, says Dr. Zeichner. He recommends using rapid-cook oats instead of the steel-cut variety: “They’ll soften much quicker in water.” Rather not float with oats? Try applying an oat paste to affected patches of skin.
Coal tar has been used for centuries to treat psoriasis for good reason: It can slow the rapid growth of skin cells, as well as reduce the inflammation, itching, and scaling they cause, says Dr. Gohara. Your doctor may recommend prescription-strength tar preparations, but there are also milder tar products (like shampoos, such as Neutrogena T-Gel) available OTC that you can safely use all over the body.
About one-quarter of people with psoriasis are also sensitive to gluten, a complex protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. And because the inflammation associated with these conditions is similar, researchers are examining the role a gluten-free diet might play in treating psoriasis for people who are gluten sensitive. So far, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation, the findings show promise. In one study that tracked 33 people with psoriasis and gluten sensitivity, nearly three-quarters of those who followed a gluten-free diet for three months saw a nearly 50% improvement in their psoriasis symptoms. Once they returned to their original diets, their psoriasis rebounded to its previous severity. While more research is needed to confirm these findings, it may be helpful to ask your doctor to screen you for the antibody—anti-gliadin or AGA—that identifies gluten sensitivity. And avoid these sneaky foods that seem gluten-free but aren't.
This yellow powder is best known for its use as a spice to flavor foods, especially curry. But curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is also being widely investigated for the health benefits it confers as a result of its powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Some people report that turmeric dramatically improves their psoriasis, and a review of nine studies showed significant improvement in the severity of skin diseases, including psoriasis. Turmeric may also amp up the benefits of traditional treatments. In one study that had psoriasis sufferers add a daily 3,000 mg dose of curcumin to the topical steroids they were already using, researchers saw a near 50% improvement in the severity of symptoms after three months—likely because the curcumin boosted the anti-inflammatory benefits of the steroids.
If you want to try turmeric, you can take it in pill or supplement form, or add it to your food. According to the NPF, the FDA considers 1.5 to 3 grams a day to be safe, but check with your doctor first that it won’t interfere with any medications you may be taking.
Topical use of medical marijuana, which is legal in more than half of America, is increasingly recommended for skin conditions, including psoriasis. The products won’t get you high (they don’t contain enough THC, which gives marijuana its psychoactive properties), but studies show that topical cannabis can help ease the symptoms of psoriasis by regulating the immune system and managing overactive skin cells. These benefits lie in the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis, Jeanette Jacknin, MD, a dermatologist based in Encinitas, California, explained in an American Academy of Dermatology news release. She reports that no negative side effects have been associated with topical cannabis, aside from a rash, which could be from another ingredient in the product rather than the cannabis itself. To avoid reactions, test the product a small area of skin prior to use.
Before using topical cannabis, it’s also important to check with your doctor, do your homework to be sure the product comes from a reputable source, and familiarize yourself with the medical marijuana laws in your state and to abide by them.
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