A woman with darker skin looking in the mirror and applying lotion to her face.

Topical Treatments

Topical treatments – medications applied to the skin – typically are your first line of defense when treating psoriasis. Topicals slow down or normalize excessive cell reproduction and reduce inflammation caused by psoriasis.

There are several effective topical treatments for psoriasis, many of which can be purchased over the counter (OTC). However, some topicals are only available by prescription from your health care provider.

Topical Steroids

The most frequent treatment option for psoriasis is topical steroids, which are derived from the natural corticosteroid hormones produced by the adrenal glands. Corticosteroids control inflammatory responses in the body, among other important functions, making them an ideal anti-inflammatory agent to reduce swelling and redness caused by plaques. A mild topical corticosteroid may be available over the counter, but others will require a prescription from your health care provider.

There are also some newer treatment approaches available that combine topical treatment options, such as a corticosteroid with a retinoid. 

Steroids come in various strengths, ranging from very strong or “superpotent” to very weak or “least potent.”

Find out more about steroidal topicals

Topical Non-Steroids

Sometimes a topical steroid isn’t the best treatment option for you. In that case, your health care provider may prescribe a topical non-steroidal treatment. Some of the ingredients used in prescription non-steroidal topical treatments include anthralin, synthetic vitamin D3, and vitamin A. These can be used to control psoriasis plaques.

Find out more about non-steroidal topicals

Over-the-Counter Topicals

OTC topical treatments come in many different forms, including lotions, foams, tars, bath solutions, shampoos, and more. Two active ingredients, salicylic acid and coal tar, are approved by the FDA for the treatment of psoriasis and can be found in a variety of treatments. Other products may contain substances such as aloe vera, jojoba, zinc pyrithione, and capsaicin, which are used to moisturize, soothe, remove scale, or relieve itching.

Your health care provider can help determine which type of topical therapy is the best fit for you.

Find out more about OTC Topicals

Seal of Recognition Products

The National Psoriasis Foundation’s Seal of Recognition highlights OTC products and recognizes products that have been created or are intended to be non-irritating and safe for people with psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, and/or individuals living with severely sensitive skin or joint mobility limitations.

Learn more.

Your Guide to Topical Treatments

Get the facts about topical treatments for psoriasis, including who can use them, how to use them, and associated risks from the Patient Navigation Center.

Get in touch

Stay in the Know

Expert tips, can’t-miss events, and the latest news, straight to your inbox.

National Health Council Standards of ExcellenceCharity NavigatorCommunity Health Charities logo

Copyright © 1996-2024 National Psoriasis Foundation/USA

Duplication, rebroadcast, republication, or other use of content appearing on this website is prohibited without written permission of the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF).

NPF does not endorse or accept any responsibility for the content of external websites.

NPF does not endorse any specific treatments or medications for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

We use cookies to offer you a better experience and analyze our site traffic. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.