What Is the Best Shampoo for Psoriasis of the Scalp?

Shampoo to treat scalp psoriasis.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it is believed that 7.5 million people in America are suffering from psoriasis at any given time. Of these suffers, more than 3.5 million are believed to experience psoriasis outbreaks on their scalps. Known as scalp psoriasis, outbreaks that affect this region require a different treatment approach than the traditional psoriasis ointments that are easily applied to the elbows or knees.

When psoriasis appears on the scalp, it can be difficult for traditional ointments and moisturizers to adequately penetrate the skin due to the thick hair that typically covers the scalp. Similarly, these ointments can make the hair appear oily or otherwise unattractive. As a result, sufferers may not attempt to apply these ointments as frequently as needed, which only further hinders their effectiveness. To combat these downfalls, many with scalp psoriasis turn to a specially formulated shampoo that is designed to treat scalp psoriasis.

Types of Shampoos

A stroll through any pharmacy reveals a wide array of specialty shampoos. Because scalp psoriasis closely mimics the appearance of dandruff, many sufferers make the mistake of opting for a shampoo that is designed to eliminate dandruff. The problem with these shampoos is that they are generally not strong enough to combat the thick scaly patches that form on the scalp. Likewise, they are not intended to treat other side effects of scalp psoriasis-like intense itching, irritation, sensitivity, and dryness.

For best results, opt for a shampoo that is specifically formulated for the treatment of scalp psoriasis. These types of shampoos typically fall under one of three categories:

Coal Tar

Coal tar is one of the oldest remedies for treating scalp psoriasis. Derived from coal, the thick, black liquid is composed of a number of compounds that aid in decreasing the growth of skin cells. Coal tar is also effective in reducing itchiness and improving the overall condition of the scalp. To use a coal tar shampoo, it must be massaged into the scalp and left to sit for a minimum of 5 minutes. Although effective, many find the odor to be unpleasant, while those with light colored locks find that the coal tar darkens their hair. Shampooing and conditioning afterward with your usual products can help with both of these dilemmas, however.

Salicylic Acid

Shampoo to treat scalp psoriasis.

Salicylic acid has a number of uses when it comes to skincare because of its ability to aid in removing dead skin cells. It performs the same function when used as an active ingredient in a scalp psoriasis shampoo. While this type of shampoo is helpful in softening and removing scales, it does not hinder the growth of new skin cells. Similarly, some individuals may experience irritation, which can actually worsen psoriasis. If you have sensitive skin, it may be wise to skip salicylic acid based products.


In severe cases, a doctor can prescribe a shampoo that contains steroids. The steroids reduce painful inflammation and swelling associated with scalp psoriasis. Typically, this shampoo is used on a temporary basis to resolve extreme discomfort before resuming treatment with a different type of shampoo.

Scalp Psoriasis Treatment at CDCRI in San Diego

If you are uncertain of which psoriasis shampoo is best for your specific circumstances, contact the skin care professionals at California Dermatology and Clinical Research Institute for assistance. We offer clinical trials to treat scalp psoriasis. Give us a call at (760) 203-3839.