Prescription topical non-steroid treatment

Prescription topicals – medications applied to the skin – are usually the first line of defense in treating psoriasis. Prescription topicals slow down or normalize excessive cell growth and reduce inflammation associated with psoriasis. They may or may not include steroids.

Many psoriasis treatments require special precautions before and during pregnancy. It is important to consult with your doctor to verify your psoriasis treatments are safe for pregnancy and nursing.

Here are some of the more common prescription topicals that do not contain steroids.

Dovonex (calcipotriene)

Calcipotriene is a form of synthetic vitamin D3 that is formulated to slow skin cell growth, flatten lesions and remove scale. It also can be used to treat psoriasis on the scalp and nails.

The most common side effect of calcipotriene is skin irritation, stinging and burning. Less common side effects include dry skin, peeling, rash, dermatitis and worsening of psoriasis.

Taclonex (calcipotriene and betamethasone dipropionate)

Calcipotriene combined with the steroid betamethasone dipropionate, slows skin cell growth, flattens lesions, removes scale and reduces itch and inflammation. Do not apply to the face, armpits, groin or other skin folds because of the sensitivity of skin on these parts of the body.

Common side effects include itching, rash, skin thinning and burning. Less common side effects include redness of the skin, folliculitis, skin irritation, worsening of psoriasis, skin color changes and swollen fine blood vessels at the application site.

Tazorec (tazarotene)

Tazarotene is a vitamin A derivative, topical retinoid used to slow skin cell growth. It is normal for psoriasis plaques to become very red before clearing when using tazarotene. The redness is often intense in color, but it is generally not painful. 

The most common side effects are skin irritation, dry skin and increased susceptibility to sunburn. Use a sunscreen and wear sun-protective clothing when using tazarotene. Check with your doctor if you experience discomfort, burning, itching or stinging.

Vectical (calcitriol)

Calcitriol is a naturally occurring active form of Vitamin D3.  Studies have shown that it can help control excessive skin cell production. Calcitriol can be applied to most places on the body except for the face, lips and eyes.

The most common side effects are excessive calcium in urine, itching and skin discomfort. There is an increased chance of skin tumors due to sensitivity to light. An extremely uncommon side effect is that changes in the limits of calcium metabolism may occur. If this does happen, treatment should be stopped until the levels of calcium return to normal.

Zithranol-RR (anthralin)

Anthralin is the synthetic substitute for chrysarobin, a substance found in Goa powder made from the bark of the South American araroba tree. Anthralin is used to reduce the rapid growth of skin cells associated with plaque psoriasis.

There are no known long-term side effects to using anthralin. It may cause skin irritation and can stain light-colored hair as well as unaffected skin, clothing and bed linens.

Learn more about topical treatments

NPF’s educational booklet will help to break down your treatment options, possible risks and what you need to know before starting a topical treatment.

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Last updated  by the National Psoriasis Foundation.