Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Medications applied directly to the skin are the first course of treatment options. The main topical treatments are corticosteroids, vitamin D-3 derivatives, coal tar, anthralin, or retinoids. For more detailed information on each medication, see Understanding Psoriasis Medications. Generic drug names are listed below with examples of brands in parentheses.
Vitamin D: Calcipotriene (Dovonex) is a form of vitamin D-3 and slows the production of excess skin cells. It is used in the treatment of moderate psoriasis. This cream, ointment, or solution
is applied to the skin two times a day. Calcipotriene combined with the betamethasone dipropionate (Taclonex) flattens lesions, removes scale, and reduces inflammation and is available as an ointment. The suspension form of this medication (Taclonex) is used to treat psoriasis on the scalp. The ointment or suspension is applied once daily to affected areas. Do not apply the medication to normal areas that do not have psoriasis.
Calcitriol ointment (Silkis) contains calcitriol, which binds to the vitamin D receptors on skin cells and reduces the excessive production of skin cells, which helps to improve psoriasis. Calcitriol ointment should be applied to the affected areas of skin twice a day.
Coal Tar: Coal tar (DHS Tar, Doak Tar, Theraplex T) contains literally thousands of different substances that are extracted from the coal carbonization process. Coal tar is applied topically and is available as shampoo, bath oil, ointment, cream, gel, lotion, ointment, paste, and other types of preparations. The tar decreases itching and slows the production of excess skin cells.
Corticosteroids: Clobetasol (Temovate), fluocinolone (Synalar), and betamethasone (Diprolene) are commonly prescribed corticosteroids. These creams or ointments are usually applied twice a day, but the dose depends on the severity of the psoriasis.
Tree Bark Extract: Anthralin (Dithranol, Anthra-Derm, Drithocreme) is considered to be one of the most effective antipsoriatic agents available. It does have potential to cause skin irritation and staining of clothing and skin. Apply the cream, ointment, or paste sparingly to the patches on the skin. On the scalp, rub into affected areas. Avoid the forehead, eyes, and any skin that does not have patches. Do not apply excessive quantities.
Topical retinoid: Tazarotene (Tazorac) is a topical retinoid that is available as a gel or cream. Tazarotene reduces the size of the patches and the redness of the skin. This medicine is sometimes combined with corticosteroids to decrease skin irritation and to increase effectiveness. Tazarotene is particularly useful for psoriasis of the scalp. Apply a thin film to the affected skin every day or as instructed. Dry skin before using this medicine. Irritation may occur when applied to damp skin. Wash hands after application. Do not cover with a bandage.