*Updated as at 29th November 2022
Most modern psoriasis treatments are available on prescription only from the doctor as they contain active, restricted, or biological altering ingredients. We wanted to answer the question: “What are the best psoriasis treatments available without a doctor’s prescription?”
The challenge here is that different countries have different restrictions on what is an over-the-counter treatment. We have tried to include over-the-counter therapies in the U.S. and Europe and any restrictions that apply to either geographical area.
Without further adieu, here are the best over-the-counter psoriasis treatments available today:
Coal has long been the single most popular treatment for all cases of psoriasis since it was first used for this purpose over 100 years ago and has been used for dermatological conditions for over 200 years. Coal tar is a thick substance and is a by-product of the process which turns coal into fuels. It is commonly used in ointments, soaps, and shampoos (some are medicated, but many are available over the counter).
How Coal Tar Works
Coal tar helps slow the growth rate of skin cells, easing inflammation that occurs as your skin reproduces its cells too quickly. Thus, it helps provide some relief from the itching and scaling of psoriasis. Coal tar stays active on your skin for 24 hours after it is applied.
Precautions When Using Coal Tar
Coal tar treatments can be messy and smelly, leaving bed sheets and clothing stained. It is also a photosensitiser, which may leave your skin irritated, red, dry, or more sensitive to UVB light. According to the international agency for cancer research, anything that contains more than 5% of coal tar is a carcinogen or, in layperson's terms, a cancer-causing agent. Due to a regulation in 2013 that listed coal tar as a carcinogen, this standard treatment is no longer available in the EU.
Where to Buy Coal Tar
Many older people will remember bathing using famous brands such as Wright's Coal Tar soap, which, although still available to purchase, no longer contains any coal tar. They claim it uses an active ingredient that mimics the effect, but I have yet to see any proof.
Although banned for sale in the EU, I have included it on this list because it’s still available as an over-the-counter remedy in the U.S. and can be found in shampoos, ointments, and soaps. You can freely purchase it if you visit the U.S., or you can try and purchase it from a U.S. store and have it shipped to the U.K. It’s not allowed to be sold in the U.K or Europe although, if you look closely, you can find products containing it being sold.
I have purchased various treatments from amazon.com that have been delivered to my door in the U.K. When choosing a product, you usually have to choose ‘Other sellers on Amazon’ and find those who will ship internationally. You will pay a bit of a premium due to the shipping charges, but getting your hands on these products is worth it.
Salicylic acid, classified as a keratolytic, helps treat psoriasis and other skin conditions. Many salicylic acid preparations are available, though some require a doctor’s prescription (such as Diprosalic®).
You may also notice that it comes in lotions, gels, soaps, and even shampoos, which require no prescription. Always check the labels since some beauty products contain a decent concentration of salicylic acid!
How Salicylic Acid Works
Salicylic acid is a powerful remedy for various skin conditions, including psoriasis. It works by making the outer layer of skin peel away or shed. On people with psoriasis, it acts as a “scale lifter”, softening dry scales and making them fall away more quickly.
Additionally, it helps make other medications work better by removing dead skin flakes. Without dead skin flakes blocking the healthy layer of skin, other topical medications are absorbed quickly and more efficiently.
Precautions When Using Salicylic Acid
Intense salicylic acid preparations may cause skin irritation, especially if left on the skin for too long. Our bodies can only absorb a small amount of salicylic acid before side effects appear. Salicylic acid may also weaken hair shafts, leading to temporary hair loss.
Here are some tips when using salicylic acid preparations:
- Strictly use only as directed on the label
- Avoid contact with eyes and other mucous membranes
- Do not use on irritated, damaged, or infected skin
- Protect other areas of your skin by applying petroleum jelly around the area to be treated
- If irritation, redness, or inflammation occurs or worsens, consult a dermatologist immediately
Though allergy to salicylic acid and salicylic acid poisoning is rare, some cases have been reported. Symptoms of salicylic acid poisoning may include diarrhoea, confusion, vomiting, nausea, rapid breathing, headache, buzzing or ringing in ears, and drowsiness.
Where to Buy Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid comes in lotions, gels, soaps, and shampoos – strong salicylic acid preparations are also available over the counter. Also, salicylic acid may be present in shampoos that treat dandruff due to its effect on dead skin cells.
The excellent news is salicylic acid is widely available at local pharmacy stores, and only the more potent preparations require a doctor’s prescription. Salicylic acid is an effective and readily available over-the-counter treatment for psoriasis but always remember to use this treatment as directed to avoid any side effects.
Aside from being a healthy breakfast meal, oats naturally help calm and repair dry, itchy, and inflamed skin. It has been praised for generations for its ability to promote overall skin health and radiance. Oats' skin benefits are timeless and work great for all skin types.
Additionally, oatmeal bath flakes can be used as an effective over-the-counter psoriasis treatment since soaking your skin in an oatmeal bath would help relieve symptoms of psoriasis (scales, redness, and painful, rough and sore skin).
How Oatmeal Bath Flakes Work
Oatmeal bath flakes soften your skin and tame the itch, irritation, and redness caused by skin conditions (such as psoriasis) and allergies. It’s also an excellent remedy since it’s widely available and easy to make at home.
But remember that oatmeal goes by two names, depending on its purpose. When it’s used as an over-the-counter treatment for skin conditions and allergies, it’s called colloidal oatmeal. When it’s used in cosmetic products (lotions, facial masks, etc.), it’s called Avena sativa (oat) kernel meal.
Precautions When Using Oatmeal Bath Flakes
Oatmeal bath flakes are generally organic and safe to use. This is one of the reasons why many people choose oatmeal bath flakes as a psoriasis treatment. There are only a few precautions when using oatmeal bath flakes when using it as a remedy for specific skin conditions (such as psoriasis) and allergies:
- Use tepid water when preparing an oatmeal bath
- Avoid using water that’s too hot as it can draw moisture from your skin or even worsen already inflamed skin
- Bathe in oatmeal bath flakes for no more than 10 minutes (long baths may dry out your skin)
- Make sure that your oatmeal bath flakes mix well with the water and use as directed
- Avoid drying your skin by rubbing it with a towel, as this may increase irritation
Andrew Chevalier, a Herbalist, recommends making a decoction out of dried oatmeal seeds or grain for stronger oat herbal care. This can significantly increase efficiency and speed up skin recovery due to the soothing, moisturising properties of the seeds.
Where to Buy Oatmeal Bath Flakes
Oatmeal bath flakes can be bought as colloidal oatmeal, a fine powder of oats, at most pharmacies or drugstores. Please make the most out of this over-the-counter psoriasis treatment and help relieve symptoms of psoriasis by using it in your bath up to three times a day, depending on the severity of your skin irritation, redness, or dryness.
Keeping your skin lubricated daily is essential when caring for your psoriasis-affected skin. Moisturisers can help reduce psoriasis symptoms such as redness, dryness, and itching while promoting fast skin healing. This is why you need good moisturisers, which can easily be purchased at your local pharmacy or grocery store.
How Moisturisers Work
Using a moisturiser daily helps prevent and treat outbreaks of psoriasis. Dry, itchy, red, and damaged skin can be easily remedied by using moisturisers regularly since they lock in moisture and promote a faster healing rate.
Additionally, you can protect your skin more by choosing the right moisturisers:
- Fragrance-free moisturisers
- Moisturisers with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30
- Non-comedogenic moisturisers (don’t clog pores or cause blackheads)
- Heavy creams, which are better than light lotions
The purpose of moisturisers is pretty straightforward – it moisturises your skin, which is essential for people with psoriasis. You don’t need any doctor’s prescription to use them; make sure to apply as directed.
Precautions When Using Moisturisers
Moisturisers are generally safe, but some moisturisers may contain ingredients that may worsen psoriasis symptoms. That’s why checking moisturiser labels is essential before purchasing them for your skin. It would be best to avoid moisturisers containing alcohol and fragrance – even “unscented” moisturisers may contain added scents.
Additionally, you may want to follow these tips for maximum skin moisture:
- Apply moisturiser daily to treat psoriasis symptoms
- The best time to apply moisturiser would be after a shower since your skin would still be slightly damp.
- Shower with lukewarm water for less than 10 minutes (longer and hotter showers can dry out your skin)
- Use moisturisers as directed on the label
- Reapplying moisturiser isn’t harmful at all
- Make applying moisturiser to your skin a habit
Moisturisers are the easiest to find over-the-counter psoriasis treatment in this article. You can buy moisturisers – a wide variety of brands and types – at your local pharmacy, grocery store, and beauty stores. Not to mention that there are a lot of affordable moisturisers out there!
Please remember to take a look at the ingredients before purchasing a moisturiser. It wouldn’t hurt to check, but it will hurt your skin if you buy the wrong moisturiser!
Studies have also shown that poor sleep may increase stress hormones that worsen psoriasis symptoms. Additionally, you may experience severe itching that would affect your sleeping patterns. That’s one of the reasons why you need adequate sleep every night to improve not just your skin health but also your overall health!
Unlike the other psoriasis treatments in this article, sleep isn’t bought over the counter. But it doesn’t mean it’s not an effective treatment for symptoms of psoriasis. Sleep plays a big part in your skin health – don’t underestimate it!
How Sleep Works
Adults need at least 6 hours of sleep a night (12 hours being the maximum) to function properly, stay healthy, and keep inflammation at bay. Without enough sleep, you will experience many symptoms, such as weakness, nausea, headaches, acne, loss of focus, and many more.
Your body regenerates the most during sleep and constantly lacking sleep is a bad idea, especially if you have psoriasis – this can increase the odds of chronic inflammation and other negative symptoms. A busy person or not, going to bed earlier would be a good idea for your health.
What Lack of Sleep Can Do to Your Body
Getting enough sleep is good for your skin. We know there may be times when getting enough sleep is impossible – especially if your work demands a lot of time. To motivate you to get as much sleep as possible, we’ll let you know the potential effects of lack of sleep on your body.
Below are some of the adverse effects of inadequate sleep:
- Worsens existing skin conditions (including psoriasis symptoms)
- May increase skin sensitivity, acne breakouts, allergies, irritation, and dryness
- Makes your skin look dull, affecting its natural beauty due to collagen and hyaluronic acid breakdown
- Immune-related skin problems may worsen
- Slows down metabolic processes
- Repairing tissues and regenerating cells drastically slow down
- Promotes poor water balance
- May lead to puffy eye bags, under-eye circles, and wrinkles
- Accelerates the ageing process
- Cell repair slows down
- Oxygen and nutrients flow less to your skin and organs
Sleep is free and essential to your health. It makes no sense to deprive yourself of sleep since it dramatically affects your psoriasis symptoms and overall health. Do your best to have a good night’s sleep every night – trust us, you’ll notice the difference in your skin, health, and daily work performance.
Narrowband UVB phototherapy
Narrowband phototherapy has long been used as a primary treatment for many skin conditions, including psoriasis. It is now one of the most common forms of phototherapy to treat skin conditions. Narrowband phototherapy is a more modern version of traditional phototherapy and is now used in hospitals worldwide.
How does phototherapy Work
Despite many studies, it is impossible to say precisely how this treatment works. Much like psoriasis itself, there are many unknown factors that science has yet to work out. Studies have shown that, in essence, phototherapy stops the overproduction of skin cells, one of the significant symptoms of psoriasis. It is believed to suppress the body’s immune system, thus reducing the inflamed patches that psoriasis causes.
Precautions When Using Phototherapy
As this treatment involves exposure to UVB radiation, it can result in burning, just like overexposure to sunlight. Longer-term exposure to UVB radiation can cause skin cancers and premature ageing. In theory, less UV exposure occurs because a patient is only exposed to a very narrow wavelength of light. Although the real risk is not yet fully known, much research suggests it is much less risky than PUVA phototherapy.
More information can be found on this site.
Some essential safety tips must be followed when using Narrowband phototherapy.
- Avoid burning your skin by overexposure
- Do not use if you are taking any medication that makes you photosensitive
- Always moisturise after a treatment to prevent your skin from drying out.
- Seek guidance from your doctor before starting treatment at home
Where to Buy a Narrowband UVB Phototherapy Device
In The EU, this product is regulated but can be purchased over the counter. This is different to North America, where an at-home device requires a doctor’s prescription for you to buy locally.
Please remember to research before purchasing any product over the internet and look for reviews for known retailers and manufacturers.
Care Lamps sell a medically certified device, the Derma UVB.