by Stefanie Remson
Medically Reviewed by:
Bukky Aremu, APRN
by Stefanie Remson
Medically Reviewed by:
Bukky Aremu, APRN
Petroleum jellies like Vaseline are great for moisturizing and treating psoriasis. Here’s how to use it and some alternative topical treatments.
If you’re living with plaque psoriasis (PsO), you’ve likely tried a lot of different treatments. It’s also likely that many of them are topical, which means they’re applied directly to the skin.
Many over-the-counter skin products can help manage psoriasis, including Vaseline. Vaseline is a popular brand of petroleum jelly, a thick oily emollient that helps create a barrier to trap in moisture on the skin.
According to this 2017 review of research, emollients are the backbone of therapy for PsO. They’re considered valuable, first-line treatments since dry skin is so common in PsO and can add to the skin’s irritability.
Part of PsO management is maintaining even, balanced skin moisture. Using Vaseline can help keep plaques moisturized by preventing them from drying out without bogging them down with too much moisture. Moisturizing also helps treat cracked skin, which can reduce the risk of infection.
Vaseline and other petroleum jellies can be applied to the skin on top of other medicated lotions or creams to seal them into the skin more effectively. Petroleum jelly is often used as a base for medicated ointments, so it’s usually safe when used in combination with other topical treatments.
Petroleum jelly can also be used in combination with phototherapy to help replace lost moisture during these treatments.
Whether you apply it before, after, or during phototherapy treatments can be discussed with a medical professional.
Petroleum jellies like Vaseline can provide some relief for scalp PsO, too. If you find petroleum jelly to be too greasy, try applying Vaseline to damp hair at the scalp and then wrap your head in a shower cap or a towel.
This helps trap the moisture and prevents the petroleum jelly from spreading on the hair. Some people with scalp PsO apply this about an hour before washing their hair.
Others with PsO find that products specifically formulated for scalp PsO are better tolerated and applied more easily. Keep in mind that it’s important to avoid putting things on your scalp that worsen your scalp PsO. This can include chemicals, heat, and other harsh products.
If you find Vaseline or petroleum jelly to be too greasy for your skin or scalp, you can opt for lighter products or lighter oils.
Topical creams containing corticosteroids are the most common treatment for PsO. These low dose steroid creams slow down the excessive overproduction of skin cells and calm inflammation.
Topical retinoids are a treatment derived from vitamin A. They work by slowing the inflammatory process and normalizing the overproduction of skin cells.
Topical retinoids work slower than topical corticosteroids but typically have fewer side effects, which include only dryness and flaking of the skin. It’s important to note that retinoids are contraindicated (not considered safe) in pregnancy.
Vitamin D3 analogs are a synthetic form of vitamin D that is available as creams or ointments. They work by slowing skin regrowth, which in turn slows the overproduction of skin cells that leads to psoriatic plaques.
These are typically used in combination with topical corticosteroids but can also be used alone. Examples include:
Both require a prescription in the United States.
Coal tar is probably the oldest treatment available for PsO. It’s a thick, heavy oil made from the byproducts of petroleum manufacturing.
Although the mechanism of action is not well understood, it reduces scales, inflammation, and itchiness in some people. It’s often used in combination with phototherapy.
Coal tar can be found both over the counter and in prescription form. But it can be messy, stain clothes and sheets, and has an unpleasant odor.
There’s a variety of shampoos available to treat scalp PsO. These are available over the counter and also by prescription.
These require regular application and, therefore, regular hair washing, which may not be suitable for all people living with scalp PsO.
Salicylic acid treatments slough off the first layer of dead skin cells, which in turn reduces scaling. This is available both over the counter and also by prescription.
Salicylic acid is often used in combination with other treatments.
Calcineurin inhibitors are topical ointments or creams that reduce the activity of the immune system and reduce inflammation. They’re more commonly used to treat PsO on sensitive areas like the face and genitals.
These are usually used if topical corticosteroids are ineffective and may be used in combination with other therapies. Calcineurin inhibitors may cause skin tingling or burning upon application, but this side effect usually resolves with regular use.
Calcineurin inhibitors are available by prescription only.
When searching for over-the-counter topical treatments, consider looking out for The National Psoriasis Foundation’s Seal of Recognition. The purpose of the seal is to recognize products that are designed to be non-irritating and safe for people living with PsO.
Additionally, avoid thin and scented lotions, as these can make PsO worse.
Some people with PsO may find relief from using topical petroleum jelly, like Vaseline, to moisturize dry, flaky psoriatic plaques and to treat scalp PsO. If you’re looking for a convenient and inexpensive product, this may be a good option for you.
Just keep in mind that petroleum jelly may not work well for everyone. There are many options available to try if it’s not the right fit.
Medically reviewed on January 02, 2024
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About the author
Ms. Stefanie Remson MSN, APRN, FNP-BC is the CEO and founder of RheumatoidArthritisCoach.com. She is a family nurse practitioner and is a rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patient herself. She has spent her entire life serving the community as a healthcare professional and has refused to let RA slow her down. She has worked with The Arthritis Foundation, The Lupus Foundation of America, Healthline, Grace and Able, Arthritis Life, Musculo, Aila, and HopeX. You can learn more at her website and on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.