Do simple DIY household remedies work to treat psoriasis symptoms? Find out whether there are any side effects — on Not Alone with Psoriasis, a blog by Novartis — featuring dermatologist Dr Ch’ng Chin Chwen.
At First Glance: The Case for Home Remedies for Psoriasis
In the daily battle against psoriasis disease, some patients swear by home remedies. They make a strong case for simple household ingredients they can easily get their hands on, that are inexpensive to boot. Anything for immediate relief of itchy, inflamed, burning skin patches the auto-immune disease is known for.
Natural remedies are even more popular because they are widely believed to have ‘no side effects’. There are no hard and fast rules for evaluating the effectiveness of these remedies.
These remedies are not evaluated in clinical trials, and therefore findings are inconclusive to support their intended use, in this case to treat psoriasis. Just because a patient found one home remedy effective does not mean it will work on another psoriasis patient
If someone believes that a treatment will work, he or she could experience a positive effect from the belief in the treatment and not necessarily from the treatment itself; this is called the ‘placebo effect’. To make matters more complicated, psoriasis evolves over time and the expression of psoriasis symptoms changing may be falsely interpreted as a positive effect.
Reasons to Be Cautious in Using Home Remedies for Psoriasis
Firstly, since psoriasis symptoms evolve, and patients could experience the placebo effect, clinical trials are necessary to evaluate the real efficacy of home remedies. A clinical trial is essentially a research study conducted to investigate new treatments (such as new drug compounds) in human volunteers or research participants.
Before investigating new treatments with human subjects, extensive laboratory testing is done to identify promising compounds and toxicological (safety) test are conducted to determine possible risks. Only when treatments show the most promise, do they move on to clinical trials stage. This is because research on humans occur in cautious, progressive, or sequential(phased) approaches1.
Clinical trials really are extensive and laborious processes; they ensure that medicines with the most promise are effective and safe to use — to the best knowledge at the time.
Secondly, ingredients of home remedies may be studied for other purposes for nutritional values to the general population that cannot be extrapolated to psoriasis treatment. For example, just because one compound is found to be good for the skin, does not mean it can fix or correct a skin condition.
Keep in mind that psoriasis patients may experience different pharmacokinetics or pathophysiological change compared to general population. How one person processes and eliminates a compound may differ from another. That is why in a clinical trial, a compound or medicine is tested first in healthy individuals, before moving to the intended patient population.
Thirdly, a natural compound taken in high quantities or too frequently may be toxic.
For example, we all know that Vitamin A (found in carrots, spinach, and cantaloupe) is beneficial for your eyes, and a good source of anti-oxidant properties. However, too much Vitamin A can be harmful. A single large dose exceeding 200,000 mcg can cause nausea, blurry vision, and vertigo. Taking more than 10,000 mcg a day of oral Vitamin A supplements in the long term can cause bone thinning, birth defects, liver damage, etc2.
Last, but not least: certain foods may interact with your medicines to make them more or less potent than designed to be. This is particularly important to pay attention to if you are taking any supplements or natural remedies frequently and in high dosage. Always consult your doctor before embarking on a new diet or taking natural remedies — it may alter the effectiveness of your medication, or interact with your medication and give you adverse side effects, or undesirable reactions3.
Common Psoriasis Home Remedies and Practices
A. Dietary Supplements: Most are relatively safe when they’re based on normal dietary requirements or food consumption. However, be mindful of taking any supplement at a high dose or in the long-term.
1. Turmeric is a spice that has long been recognized for its medicinal properties, as well as its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It is a major source of the polyphenol, curcumin. Ingesting curcumin by itself does not lead to the associated health benefits due to its poor bioavailability, which appears to be primarily due to poor absorption, rapid metabolism, and rapid elimination.
2. Piperine, an active component of black pepper, and when combined with curcumin, has been shown to increase bioavailability by 2000%. Research suggests that curcumin can help in the management of oxidative and inflammatory conditions (including psoriasis), metabolic syndrome, arthritis, anxiety, and hyperlipidemia. Curcumin has a long-established safety record with the Allowable Daily Intake (ADI) value of curcumin is 0–3 mg/kg body weight. Several trials on healthy subjects have supported the safety and efficacy of curcumin. Despite this well-established safety, some negative side effects have been reported, such as diarrhea, headache, rash, and yellow stool4.
3. Fish oil supplements Psoriasis is less common in populations whose dietary staples include cold-water fish containing omega-3 fatty acids. But study results have been mixed as to whether fish oil supplements can reduce inflammation and improve psoriasis signs and symptoms, such as itching and scaling.
Studies suggest that fish oil delivered intravenously can decrease the severity of the symptoms of some types of psoriasis. But fish oil taken orally doesn't seem to have the same benefit.
Side effects of high-dose fish oil supplements can include a fishy aftertaste, heartburn and nausea. Fish oil affects blood clotting, so if you're taking blood-thinning medication, talk with your doctor before trying it5.
B. Skin Care Options: Typically, most natural home remedies involve topical regimes, where systemic absorption is minimal. If you are using any creams or products containing steroids, please consult your doctor. Side effects may occur due to long term usage and/or involve large surface areas of the application area.
1. Apple cider vinegar: used by ancient cultures as a disinfectant; may help relieve psoriasis scalp itch. You can buy a bottle of organic apple cider vinegar at the grocery store and apply it to your scalp several times a week.
Some people report that diluting vinegar with water at a 1-to-1 ratio helps prevent burning sensation. Others say they need to rinse their skin once the solution has dried to prevent irritation.
Skip this remedy if your scalp skin is cracked or bleeding. If you have open wounds, vinegar may irritate your skin and cause a burning sensation. If it works for you, you should see results within a few weeks6.
Some data supports vinegar use in acute paronychia (bacterial or fungal nail infection); warm water with vinegar compresses to soak the affected digit may provide relief7.
2. Aloe Vera: a natural product frequently employed in cosmetology. Despite various indications for its use, controlled trials are needed to determine its real efficacy. Its anti-inflammatory and moisturising properties improves skin integrity and decreases erythema (important for psoriasis lesions)8.
Aloe plant gel can be applied to the skin up to three times a day. Research shows it can reduce redness and scaling associated with psoriasis. Look for creams containing 0.5% aloe9.
3. Oats: one of nature’s best skin soothers. There is no scientific evidence to support the use of oats to relieve psoriasis symptoms. But many individuals with psoriasis report that applying an oat paste or taking a bath in oats relieves their itchy skin and reduces redness10.
Studies have shown that colloidal oatmeal binds to the skin and provides a protective barrier against irritants. It also holds moisture against the skin, allowing it to act as an emollient which can relieve the itch of dry skin11.
Temporary Relief of Psoriasis
To sum up, it is important to recognise that home remedies are used to relieve symptoms of psoriasis, such as redness and itching.
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If you enjoyed this article, read Biologic Treatment For Psoriasis: 4 Tips You Should Know
Dr Ch’ng obtained his specialty training from the Royal College of Physicians in London. Subsequently, he obtained his Advanced Masters in Dermatology from the National University of Malaysia. He was previously the Head of Dermatology of the State of Pahang and Hospital Sungai Buloh.
His call to dermatology started way before he even contemplated doing medicine. His father suffered from severe psoriasis, and was in and out of hospital a lot in the late 1970s. His father’s condition made him see that skin disease is not just an aesthetic problem, as it can cause the patient and the entire family so much grief. His practice today reaffirms his belief, with many patients expressing deep relief and gratitude after their treatment.
Place of Practice
Dr. Ch'ng is a NSR registered consultant dermatologist. She graduated as a gold medalist from Univeristy Malaya in 2006. She obtained Membership of the Royal Colleges of Physician of the United Kingdom in 2010 and joined dermatology team in University Malaya in the same year. She completed Advanced Master in Dermatology (UKM) in 2014 and a visiting fellowship in Cutaneous Laser Surgery in Mahidol University (Thailand) in 2017. Her special interest include acne, psoriasis, urticaria, contact dermatitis/eczema and procedural dermatology.
Dr. Ch'ng started her instagram account @cccskindoc providing free skin care tips and education to public. She believes everyone deserves up-to-date and accurate information on skin care to embrace the skin that he or she is in.
Place of Practice
Dr Khor graduated from National University of Malaysia (UKM), Kuala Lumpur in 2002. He obtained his Internal Medicine specialty training from the Royal College of Physicians of London in 2007 and further subspecialized in Dermatology by obtaining his Advanced Master in Dermatology from UKM in 2013. Dr Khor served as the Head of Dermatology service for Perlis from 2013 to 2015 before transferring back to Penang. Currently, he is the Deputy Head of Department of Dermatology in Hospital Pulau Pinang. He is also a visiting consultant dermatologist at KPJ Penang Specialist Hospital and Northern Skin Specialist Clinic.
Dr Khor is active in academic activities, performing as an honorary lecturer for Allianze University College of Medical Sciences and Penang Medical College. He is active in research as well with the publication of original papers in dermatological journals and serves as a reviewer for Malaysian Journal of Dermatology. His dedication to the profession earned him Excellent Service Award from the Ministry of Health in 2009 and 2017.
Place of Practice