- Psoriasis Types
- Psoriasis Causes
- Psoriasis Treatment
- Drug Types
What are psoriasis medications?
Psoriasis medications are used in the treatment of psoriasis, a skin condition that can also affect the eyes or joints in some people. Several classes of medications are used to treat psoriasis depending on the type, extent and stage of the disease.
Psoriasis medications are prescribed to relieve symptoms, reduce inflammation and regulate an overactive immune system. Psoriasis medications are available as topical applications, injections and oral formulations. Medications for psoriasis include:
- Ointments and creams to relieve the skin symptoms of psoriasis, smoothen the skin and reduce scale formation that characterizes psoriasis.
- Eye drops and ointments to treat eye conditions such as blepharitis and conjunctivitis that can arise from psoriasis.
- Medications to manage psoriatic arthritis, a painful condition that typically affects peripheral joints such as fingers, wrist, toes, ankles and knees.
Topical formulations with corticosteroids and vitamin D constitute the primary treatment for mild to moderate psoriasis. Topical formulations of vitamin A known as retinoids are used to treat severe skin psoriasis.
Systemic medications such as methotrexate are antimetabolites which prevent excessive skin cell growth in psoriasis. Methotrexate is also a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD), useful for treating psoriatic arthritis. DMARDs work by modifying cellular activity.
Other medications used in psoriasis treatment include immunomodulator drugs and biologic protein formulations such as monoclonal antibodies which suppress immune activity and prevent progression of the disease.
What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is an inflammatory auto-immune condition, in which the immune system attacks the skin, leading to overgrowth of skin cells known as keratinocytes. The rate of keratinocyte growth greatly outpaces its shedding, resulting in red, inflamed, flaky skin patches known as plaques. Pustules or shiny red patches form in some types of psoriasis.
Psoriasis most commonly affects skin regions such as the elbows, knees, scalp, lower back, buttock cleft and the head of the penis, but can occur all over the body. Psoriasis is a chronic condition but not contagious.
Psoriasis affects eyes in approximately 10% of patients, while it affects joints in up to 30% of patients, who may develop psoriatic arthritis. Some people may develop more than one type of psoriasis.
Types of psoriasis
The types of psoriasis include:
- Plaque psoriasis: Also known as psoriasis vulgaris, plaque psoriasis is the most common type, accounting for approximately 80% of psoriasis. Plaque psoriasis typically affects elbows, knees, scalp and lower back, but can also affect palms, feet soles, navel region and nails.
- Symptoms include: Red, raised and inflamed skin lesions with silvery, flaky scales that can cause itching, burning and bleeding.
- Guttate psoriasis: Guttate psoriasis, also known as eruptive psoriasis, is more common in children and young adults, often occurring after a respiratory infection such as strep throat. Guttate psoriasis predominantly occurs on the torso, arms and legs.
- Symptoms include: Individual, pink, scaly spots with itching that can be severe in some cases.
- Inverse psoriasis: Inverse psoriasis more often occurs in the excess folds of skin from obesity, which include armpits, groin, buttocks, and under the breasts.
- Symptoms include: Red, shiny, smooth lesions, but scaling is uncommon.
- Pustular psoriasis: Pustular psoriasis typically occurs on the palms and soles, but in rare cases it can be generalized all over the body and may require hospitalization.
- Erythrodermic psoriasis: Erythrodermic psoriasis is a rare, highly inflammatory and severe form of psoriasis which can affect the entire body. This type of psoriasis poses a high risk for infection (cellulitis) and sepsis.
- Scalp psoriasis: Scalp psoriasis affects approximately 50% of psoriasis patients. Scalp psoriasis can extend to forehead, hairline, back of the neck and behind the ears.
- Symptoms include: Redness, skin flaking, intense itching, thick scalp sores and hair loss.
- Nail psoriasis: Nail psoriasis can occur on fingernails and toenails, and affects 50% of psoriasis patients.
- Oral psoriasis: Oral psoriasis occurs in the mouth along with skin psoriasis in a few people.
- Symptoms include:
- Red patches on the tongue
- Ulcers inside the mouth
- Cracked and bleeding lip corners.
- Peeling skin on the gums
- Symptoms include:
- Napkin psoriasis: Napkin psoriasis is rare and occurs in the diaper region of children up to two years. Napkin psoriasis is usually guttate psoriasis and can be mistaken for diaper rash.
- Linear psoriasis: A rare form of psoriasis that forms in a linear distribution along what is known as Blaschko’s lines on the skin. Blaschko’s lines are normally invisible lines along which skin cells normally develop and grow.
- Psoriatic arthritis: Psoriatic arthritis most often occurs in people who have had psoriasis for a relatively long period. People with psoriatic arthritis have both psoriasis and arthritis, an inflammatory disease of the joint. Psoriatic arthritis usually affects hands and feet, but can also affect larger joints.
What is the main cause of psoriasis?
The exact cause of psoriasis is unclear, but research indicates that the following factors play a role in psoriasis:
- Genetic: Patients with psoriasis usually have a genetic predisposition for developing psoriasis. Genetic variations in certain cell-surface proteins known as human leukocyte antigen (HLA) are known to be associated with psoriasis.
- Immunologic: Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease in which immune cells known as T-cells in the skin become overactive, often because of an infection in another part of the body, and mistakenly attack healthy skin cells.
- Environmental: Psoriasis can be triggered by environmental factors and/or drugs that include:
Can psoriasis be cured?
Psoriasis cannot be completely cured, but appropriate treatment can help manage the symptoms, prevent flares and prolong periods of remission. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, maintaining healthy weight and avoiding psoriasis triggers can help prevent flares and reduce the intensity of symptoms.
What is the best treatment for psoriasis?
Treatment for psoriasis depends on its type, extent and severity, and the presence or absence of psoriatic arthritis. A combination of therapies may be required to effectively manage the condition.
Treatments of psoriasis may involve one or more of the following:
- Medications, both topical and systemic, based on the type of psoriasis
- Light therapy (phototherapy) using ultraviolet rays
- Photochemotherapy (PUVA) which involves use of a light-sensitive drug known as psoralen before radiation with ultraviolet rays, to enhance its effects
- Laser therapy
Simple adjunct home remedies that can help reduce scaling and soothe skin irritation include:
- Sun exposure
- Sea baths
- Oatmeal baths
- Moisturizers and salicylic acid
- Avoiding alcohol and foods that trigger a psoriasis flare-up
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Avoiding stress
What are the types of psoriasis medications?
The types of medications used depend on the type of psoriasis and whether eyes and/or joints are involved. Some medications provide symptom relief, some reduce plaque formation and inflammation, while some drugs work on the immune system to reduce its inflammatory activity.
A combination of medications may be required depending on the type of psoriasis. The types of medications used for psoriasis include the following:
- Topical corticosteroids (for the skin)
- Ophthalmic corticosteroids (for the eyes)
- Keratolytic agents
- Vitamin D analogs
- Topical retinoids
- Topical combinations
- Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors
- Phosphodiesterase-4 enzyme inhibitors
- Interleukin inhibitors
- Injectable corticosteroids
- Ophthalmic agents
How do psoriasis medications work?
Medications used to treat psoriasis work in unique ways in managing the condition and alleviating its symptoms.
Topical corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory agents which can reduce plaque formation. The strength of topical steroids and the type of formulation depend on the thickness of the plaques and their location in the body. Creams and ointments are typically used on the body, while foams and solutions may be easier to apply on scalp.
FDA-approved Topical corticosteroids used for psoriasis include:
- Triamcinolone acetonide topical (Triderm)
- Betamethasone valerate topical (Dermabet)
- Halobetasol propionate (Bryhali, Lexette, Ultravate)
Ophthalmic corticosteroids are used to treat eye inflammation caused by psoriasis. FDA approved ophthalmic corticosteroids include:
- Prednisolone acetate ophthalmic (Pred Forte, Pred Mild, Omnipred)
- Dexamethasone ophthalmic (Maxidex, Ozurdex)
Keratolytic agents cause loosening and shedding of dead skin cells and slow down skin cell growth. Removal of plaques helps corticosteroids reach the tissue underneath and improves outcome from the treatment. Keratolytic agents available over the counter as shampoos, foams, creams and gels include:
Coal tar (DHS Tar, Balnetar, Cutar, Polytar, Theraplex T): Coal tar is antibacterial and soothes itching. Coal tar is often used along with topical corticosteroids, and it also enhances the effects of phototherapy. Coal tar is particularly useful in widespread psoriasis and plaques on hairy regions of the body.
Anthralin (Dritho-Scalp, Zithranol): Anthralin based creams and shampoos are used for scalp psoriasis, though they are not a top choice because anthralin can irritate healthy skin.
Vitamin D analogs
Vitamin D analogs are synthetic vitamin D formulations which inhibit immune cell activity on the skin and regulate skin cell production. Vitamin D analogs are available as ointments which can be used on the face and foams and solutions for the scalp. FDA-approved vitamin D analogs for plaque psoriasis include:
A combination Vitamin D analog with corticosteroid is:
Retinoids are compounds derived from vitamin A. Retinoids modulate the growth of epithelial cells, a type of cell on the skin surface. Retinoids may be a choice for use in the face, but it should not be used by pregnant women. An example of topical retinoid used for psoriasis is:
Topical corticosteroid/retinoid combination drug approved by FDA for plaque psoriasis is:
- Halobetasol propionate/tazarotene (Duobrii)
Antimetabolites are synthetic protein molecules which interfere with cell metabolism and DNA replication in cells. Antimetabolites inhibit the rapid proliferation of skin cells in psoriasis. The FDA-approved antimetabolite prescribed for psoriasis, which is also a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) used for treating psoriatic arthritis, is:
- Methotrexate (Trexall, Otrexup)
Immunomodulators help reduce skin cell growth in psoriasis and inhibit progression of psoriatic arthritis by suppressing immune activity. Immunomodulators prescribed for psoriasis include:
- Tacrolimus Topical (Protopic) used off-label for psoriasis
- Cyclosporine (Sandimmune, Neoral, Gengraf) FDA-approved for psoriasis
Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors
TNF inhibitors are biologic drugs which neutralize the activity of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-A), an inflammatory protein (cytokine) produced by T cells. TNF inhibitors are useful in reducing skin inflammation in psoriasis as well as joint inflammation from psoriatic arthritis. FDA-approved TNF inhibitors used for plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis include:
Phosphodiesterase-4 (PDE4) enzyme inhibitors
The mechanism of phosphodiesterase-4 enzyme (PDE4) inhibitors in psoriasis is not fully understood. Inhibition of PDE4 enzyme’s activity has been effective in reducing inflammation. The FDA-approved PDE4 inhibitor for active psoriatic arthritis and moderate to severe plaque psoriasis is:
Interleukin inhibitors are lab-produced protein molecules known as monoclonal antibodies which block the activity of interleukins. Interleukins are a group of cytokines which play an important role in inflammation in autoimmune diseases. Each type of monoclonal antibodies targets a specific interleukin to prevent inflammation in psoriasis.
FDA has approved the following Interleukin inhibitors for moderate to severe plaque psoriasis and active psoriatic arthritis in patients who are candidates for systemic therapy or phototherapy:
- Secukinumab (Cosentyx)
- Ixekizumab (Taltz)
- Brodalumab (Siliq)
- Ustekinumab (Stelara)
- Risankizumab-rzaa (Skyrizi)
- Guselkumab (Tremfya)
- Tildrakizumab-asmn (Ilumya)
The injectable corticosteroid approved by FDA for administration into plaques and psoriatic nails is:
- Triamcinolone (Kenalog, Aristospan)
Ophthalmic formulations are used to moisturize and reduce irritation in the eyes from psoriasis. Many brands of over-the-counter eye-moisturizing agents are available such as:
- Artificial tears (Tears Naturale Forte, Bion Tears, Murine Tears)
- Please visit our medication section of each drug within its class for more detailed information.
- If your prescription medication isn’t on this list, remember to look on MedicineNet.com drug information or discuss with your healthcare provider and pharmacist.
- It is important to discuss all the drugs you take with your doctor and understand their effects, possible side effects and interaction with each other.
- Never stop taking your medication and never change your dose or frequency without consulting with your doctor.
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Related Disease Conditions
Psoriasis is a long-term skin condition that may cause large plaques of red, raised skin, flakes of dry skin, and skin scales. There are several types of psoriasis, including psoriasis vulgaris, guttate psoriasis, inverse psoriasis, and pustular psoriasis. Symptoms vary depending on the type of psoriasis the patient has. Treatment of psoriasis may include creams, lotions, oral medications, injections and infusions of biologics, and light therapy. There is no cure for psoriasis.
Eczema refers to skin inflammation. There are many different types of eczema that produce symptoms and signs that range from oozing blisters to crusty plaques of skin. Treatment varies depending upon the type of eczema the person has.
Psoriatic arthritis is a disease that causes skin and joint inflammation. Symptoms and signs include painful, stiff, and swollen joints, tendinitis, and organ inflammation. Treatment involves anti-inflammatory medications and exercise.
Is Eczema Contagious?
Eczema is a skin condition characterized by inflamed, rough skin patches that occasionally produce fluid-filled bumps that may ooze. There is no cure for eczema, though eczema may be treated with moisturization, eczema cream, and topical steroids.
Atopic Dermatitis vs Psoriasis
Psoriasis and atopic dermatitis are common, long-term skin diseases. Both are noncontagious. Because both the rashes look somewhat similar, the diagnosis may be difficult at the first glance, and a biopsy of the skin remains the last resort. However, certain things that can help differentiate between the two before the doctor orders a biopsy.
How to Get Rid of Psoriasis Quickly
Although psoriasis is incurable, it responds to topical and systemic treatments. Topical treatments that may be effective to treat mild psoriasis include creams, lotions, and sprays.
Scalp Psoriasis (Psoriasis of the Scalp)
Scalp psoriasis causes red, raised, scaly patches that may extend from the scalp to the forehead and the back of the neck and ears. Symptoms and signs include itching, hair loss, flaking, silvery scales, and red plaques. Treatment includes topical medicated shampoos, creams, gels, oils, ointments, and soaps, medications, and light therapy.
What Is the Main Cause of Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a non-contagious skin disease in which the skin cells grow in numbers faster than normal, producing rashes on the body. Normally, the cells on the surface of the skin are shed as new cells grow beneath. In psoriasis, the swift build-up of skin cells collects on the surface of the skin as scales or plaques. The exact cause of psoriasis is not completely understood. It appears to involve an interplay between a person’s genes, immune system and environment.
Is Psoriasis Contagious?
Psoriasis is an incurable skin disease that causes reddish patches of skin topped with a thick layer of dry silvery scales. Psoriasis cannot spread and is not contagious.
Atopic Dermatitis vs. Eczema
Atopic dermatitis and eczema both refer to skin conditions. Atopic dermatitis is a cause of eczema, which refers to skin conditions that cause inflammation and irritation. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Eczema is not a condition in itself, but a description for a group of skin diseases that cause skin inflammation and irritation.
What Is the Difference Between Eczema and Psoriasis?
Allergies and skin reactions trigger eczema. Psoriasis isn't triggered by allergies. Signs and symptoms of eczema include skin redness, swelling, and itching while psoriasis symptoms and signs include thick, red, itchy, and scaly patches of skin.
What Is the Best Treatment for Psoriasis?
Psoriasis is an incurable chronic autoimmune disorder of the skin that causes patches of thick, flaky, scaly skin, mostly around the scalp, knees, and elbows, though any skin surface may be involved. Some people experience only small patches while others have red, inflamed skin and think scaly patches all over the body. The exact cause of psoriasis is not clear, but it isn’t contagious.
How Do You Stop Psoriasis From Stress?
Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disease that can be passed down (hereditary) to you from your parents or grandparents. Stress is a common factor that can trigger your psoriasis. Psoriasis has a stronger association with psychiatric disorders than other skin diseases. Stress worsens psoriasis by triggering a complex network of signals between the endocrine (hormones), nervous and immune systems.
What Is the Main Cause of Eczema?
Though the exact cause of eczema is unknown, doctors suspect that it occurs due to an overactive immune system that responds aggressively when exposed to triggers.
Can You Get Rid of Eczema?
Eczema may be persistent and difficult to treat. A combination of various treatment modalities may be required to treat eczema and control flare-ups.
What Is the Best Treatment for Eczema?
Learn what medical treatments can help ease your eczema symptoms and signs and speed up your recovery.
Treatment & Diagnosis
- Psoriasis FAQs
- Eczema FAQs
- A Breakthrough Treatment for Eczema
- Eczema: Dry Hands May Be Sign of Eczema
- Arthritis: Reports from 2003 Arthritis Meeting
- Psoriasis, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis Share One Gene
- Psoriasis Drugs Strike Immune Targets (Raptiva, Enbrel)
- Can Eczema Be Painful?
- Can You Get Gout in Your Back?
- How Do You Get Psoriasis?
- Can Psoriasis Be Caused by Allergy?
- Is It Eczema or Psoriasis?
- Is Eczema Hereditary?
- What Are the Triggers of Psoriasis?
- Eczema Medical Treatment and Home Remedies
- Psoriasis PUVA Therapy Can Increase Melanoma Risk
Medications & Supplements
- gotu kola
- fluocinolone (eczema) oil - topical, Derma-Smoothe/FS
- Diprolene Lotion (betamethasone dipropionate)
- Wynzora (calcipotriene and betamethasone dipropionate)
- salicylic acid topical
- Trianex (triamcinolone acetonide)
- DesOwen (desonide)
- anthralin (for scalp only) - topical, Dritho-Scalp
- Siliq (brodalumab) Injection
Prevention & Wellness
Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration
You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.