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7 Ways to Safely Remove Your Psoriasis Scales

Managing Psoriasis

November 22, 2023

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Photography by Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

Photography by Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

by Elizabeth Pratt


Medically Reviewed by:

Raechele Cochran Gathers, MD


by Elizabeth Pratt


Medically Reviewed by:

Raechele Cochran Gathers, MD


From prescription medications to natural oils, there are several common methods to remove psoriasis scales.

Anyone with psoriasis may develop scales on their skin. In people with lighter skin tones, the scales may appear silvery white. In people with darker skin tones, the scales may be brown or gray in appearance.

These scales may itch or burn, and some people can find them bothersome.

If psoriasis scales are bothering you, there are many options to remove them safely. And treating psoriasis properly can clear your skin while reducing pain and redness and lowering your chances of health complications.

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1. Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are the number one prescribed treatment for psoriasis. They can help clear psoriasis and reduce scaling while also reducing redness, itching, and swelling.

The strength of corticosteroids varies from very mild options (which can be purchased over the counter) to stronger ones, requiring a prescription.

Many people see results quickly when applying a corticosteroid twice a day. In some people, it may clear the psoriasis flare entirely.

When using corticosteroids, you should follow the directions your dermatologist provided. Only apply them to the parts of the body they recommend.

Using a strong corticosteroid on the face or groin can lead to side effects like thinning skin and stretch marks.

Other side effects may include spider veins and acne-like breakouts.

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2. Coal tar

Coal tar is an ingredient found in many treatments for psoriasis. Some of these can be purchased without a prescription.

You can find coal tar in:

  • shampoos
  • bath solutions
  • ointments
  • foams

Coal tar can help restore a smooth appearance to the skin and may be used for patches of psoriasis that are difficult to treat, like on the palms or soles.

Coal tar is effective in treating scale and plaque-type psoriasis as well as scalp psoriasis

It’s safe to use long-term, but people who are nursing or pregnant may need to consider other options. This is because research on the effects of coal tar on fetuses or breastfed infants is currently limited.

Possible side effects of coal tar include:

  • worsening of psoriasis
  • rash
  • acne-like breakouts
  • skin irritation
  • staining of the skin, light-colored hair, or clothing
  • causing hair to be dry and brittle when used on the scalp
  • sensitivity to the sun or tanning beds, making it easier to burn

Coal tar may be used on its own or with other treatments.

3. Synthetic vitamin D3

Synthetic vitamin D3 can be applied directly to psoriasis. It can remove scales as well as flatten thick patches of psoriasis by slowing the rapid growth of skin cells. It can also be used to treat nail and scalp psoriasis.

In some people, synthetic vitamin D can clear psoriasis entirely. The majority of people will notice an improvement after 2 weeks of use. 

Possible side effects may include:

  • dryness
  • redness
  • peeling
  • burning
  • itching
  • irritated skin
  • swelling

Typically, these side effects will stop with continued use.

Synthetic vitamin D can be used with a corticosteroid for psoriasis that’s more difficult to treat. Combining these two medications is more effective than using each medication alone.

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4. Tazarotene

Tazarotene is a synthetic form of vitamin A, also known as a retinoid. It can:

  • decrease the amount of scales
  • reduce thick patches of psoriasis
  • lessen redness and swelling

Tazarotene is often prescribed alongside a corticosteroid. This can help reduce the irritation that can sometimes occur when using a retinoid on its own.

Using both corticosteroids and tazarotene together can give you a longer remission time than using only tazarotene by itself.

Most people who use tazarotene have a 50% reduction in their psoriasis symptoms. Some people who use it may experience a complete clearing of their psoriasis that can last for up to 3 months.

While tazarotene is safe for most people, pregnant people should not use it due to the risk of birth defects.

This medication can also increase your risk of sunburn, so it’s important to practice sun safety and wear long sleeves and pants when on this medication. 

Tazarotene’s most common side effect is irritated skin. This can occur on areas of skin with psoriasis as well as the skin nearby. To manage this, you can first apply petroleum jelly to the skin surrounding your psorasis and then apply the tazarotene.

5. Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a form of keratolytic. These are also known as peeling agents or scale lifters. It helps the outer layer of skin shed and softens and removes psoriasis scales. 

It’s both an anti-inflammatory as well as an exfoliant.

As well as removing scales, salicylic acid can also help reduce redness and thickening of the skin due to psoriasis.

Strong concentrations of salicylic acid may cause skin irritation if left on for too long. If used over large areas of skin, your body may absorb too much salicylic acid.

If you’re not sure how much salicylic acid to use or you’re worried about complications, ask your doctor or dermatologist for advice.

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6. Bath solutions

For some people, adding different solutions to a bath can be helpful in removing psoriasis scales. This may also help relieve feeling itchy.

Additions to bath water include:

  • oils
  • Epsom salts
  • oatmeal
  • Dead Sea salts

The National Psoriasis Foundation advises soaking in the bath for 15 minutes and then applying a moisturizer right after getting out of the bath.

7. Cream, oil, and moisturizer

If the appearance of your psoriasis scales is bothering you, you can always reduce the look of the scales without actually removing them.

Moisturizers, ointments, and even baby oil applied to the psoriasis scales can change the reflective properties of the scales. This makes it harder to see them.

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The takeaway

If you want to remove your psoriasis scales, it’s important to do so in a safe way. Treating your psoriasis properly can help clear your skin as well as reduce the chances of complications.

Corticosteroids, coal tar, synthetic vitamin D, tazarotene, salicylic acid, bath solutions, and creams, lotions, and moisturizers are all options to safely remove or minimize the appearance of scales.

If you have any questions about how to safely remove the scales on your skin, reach out to a dermatologist.

Medically reviewed on November 22, 2023

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About the author

Elizabeth Pratt

Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist based in Australia. She has a master’s degree in health communication and has worked across all forms of media. Her work has appeared in a variety of outlets like the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Huffington Post, Fox News, Salon, The Sydney Morning Herald, Escape, and Theravive. When she’s not writing stories, you’ll find her in her yellow armchair, planning her next trip. Connect with her on Twitter.

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