Everything You Need to Know About Psoriasis of the Scalp Treatments

An expert weighs in.

If you spend as much time vegging out in front of the TV as we do (hey, times are stressful!), you’ve probably come across more than your fair share of drug and pharmaceutical commercials. One such ubiquitous spot advertises for relief from psoriasis, a common skin disorder said to affect almost 7.5 million Americans. Curiously enough, it’s also a disease that’s been gaining traction in the media, due to more and more celebrities speaking up about their struggles with the condition.

Psoriasis is an auto-immune disorder that shows up as a scaly, raised rash on skin, and is typically found on the elbows, torso, knees, palms, soles of the feet and the scalp. It is usually treated with topical steroids on the body, but for scalp rashes, some people have turned to look for specific kinds of psoriasis of the scalp treatments to get relief.

We spoke with Unilever R&D expert Leon van Gorkom for more insight into this chronic skin condition, and whether or not a shampoo for psoriasis is really the most effective form of treatment there is. Read on:

What Is Psoriasis—and How to Spot It

Psoriasis is a hyper-proliferation of your skin cells, which means that your skin grows too quickly. It’s usually genetic, and is also an immune response. The rash-like, raised area almost always it always has redness around it and has elevated scales. While it’s not necessarily the itchiest of skin issues, psoraisis can definitely get you scratching.

Furthermore, psoriasis can be everywhere on your body, or it can be in one spot. It can spread. Nowadays, people normally use topical steroids prescribed by doctors. But you always have to be careful with the long-term use of steroids, because they can thin your skin.

How to Spot Scalp Psoriasis

Sometimes not easy for an individual to determine what he or she has. Is it a dry scalp? Is it psoriasis? Dandruff? Seborrheic dermatitis? We don’t know at first. And I don’t recommend self-diagnosis, but the first thing to do if you see flakes is to buy an anti-dandruff shampoo with pyrithione zinc, like Dove Dermacare Dryness & Itch Relief Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and Conditioner. If you don’t see improvements, after a considerable time of use—say two or three weeks—go see your doctor.

Specifically, psoriasis is more pronounced than dandruff; it feels dry, scaly and lumpy. It comes in patches. Alternatively, dandruff is not raised—it’s just flakes. Seborrheic dermatitis, which is a form of eczema, is also scaly, but the flakes tend to be oily and yellow.

Psoriasis of the Scalp Treatments

Since psoriasis is a medical condition, there are two clear active ingredients that are cleared by the FDA for the treatment of psoriasis on your scalp: salicylic acid and cold tar. Nobody these days uses cold tar in treatments anymore because of the smell, but loads of formulas are laced with salicylic acid

And yes, that’s the same salicylic acid that’s beloved for treating acne and reducing pore size. Here, though, salicylic acid breaks the bonds between the individual skin cells and turns them into flakes. So the flakes become smaller, and they come off in smaller parts.

It’s also the same salicylic acid that you treat dandruff with, but don’t think salicylic acid is as effective in treating dandruff as, for example, pyrithione zinc. The same active ingredient can have different benefits for different diseases.


Keep in mind these are available over the counter. If you have a severe case of psoriasis on your scalp, it’s important to visit your doctor to be prescribed a topical steroid. OTC drugs are not necessarily efficient. Your doctor might recommend the use of shampoo as a first step. If you see improvements, that’s great, but if you don’t see improvements, then he or she might recommend a topical steroid, usually in the form of a cream.

Prev Article
Next Article

Stay inspired

Sign up to the newsletter and get exclusive hair care tips and tricks.
Hair Quiz
All Things Hair
All Things Hair US
Hey! I'm Athena, your personal Hair Assistant. Got a question about your hair?
Chat with All Things Hair in Messenger