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Topical Applications

Emollients: creams, lotions, ointments, foams and sprays

An emollient is an ingredient found in topical applications to soften and soothe skin. They are valuable and inexpensive treatment options for many individuals with mild to moderate psoriasis. When psoriasis is more severe, topicals are likely to be combined with oral medications, phototherapy, or biologics.

Emollients relieve symptoms of dryness and irritation while assisting in managing overgrowth and the shedding of skin cells that occurs with psoriasis. It can help soften plaques and cracks, enhance the skin’s ability to hold water and create a barrier that protects skin from bacteria and other irritants. As a result, this improves the skin’s barrier function and relieves inflammation. Emollients can be found in many different forms such as creams, lotions, ointments, foams, sprays, gels and shampoos and can be used directly on your skin.

Humectant and occlusive agents are the two key ingredients in a moisturizing product. The combination of ingredients determines the use and consistency of a product. Humectant enhances the skin’s ability to hold water and an occlusive agent slows water loss by creating a protective barrier on the skin’s surface.  These ingredients can feel thick and sticky, so manufacturers combine them with other substances to improve their ability to spread and penetrate the skin. Thicker products are often a good choice for people with psoriasis as they can prevent dryness but it’s best to consult with a physician to determine the ideal course of treatment.

When choosing a moisturizer for psoriasis, you may also want to consider the smell, ease of use, and the ingredients in the product. Hypoallergenic products (a product containing fewer allergy-producing substances) are commonly used as they less likely to irritate the skin. Some fragrances and chemicals found in moisturizers could further aggravate skin instead of relieving symptoms so it may be best to look for a fragrance-free lotion.

Creams The skin absorbs creams quickly and they are less greasy than ointments, making them ideal for daytime use.
Lotion Lotions are typically thinner than creams and ointments, making them easy to spread but less moisturizing than thicker products.
Ointments Ointments are typically thick and greasy, giving the skin long-lasting hydration. They are suitable for nighttime use but may be too oily for daytime use.
Foams / sprays / shampoos Some foam treatments combine both topical corticosteroids (which reduces inflammation) and vitamin D medications. Foams are sprayed on the skin or scalp and rubbed in afterward.

Last updated November, 2021.


This Site was designed for educational purposes only and not for the purpose of rendering medical advice. Individual variances in psoriasis cases require the consultation of a physician to make sound medical decisions. The information presented on this website is not intended to replace the counsel of your physician. It is important to see your doctor before altering anything in your treatment plan. The Canadian Psoriasis Network does not endorse any medications, products, equipment or treatments for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Any of the information contained within the Canadian Psoriasis Network’s Site is not presented as a substitute for informed medical advice. Visitors to this site should not engage in self-diagnosis nor act on information contained in the Site without seeking specific advice on the particular matters which are of concern to them from qualified health professionals and advisors. Some of the information contained in the Site has been provided from external sources. While efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy, currency, and reliability of the content, the Canadian Psoriasis Network accepts no responsibility in that regard. Please refer to our Terms of Use for further details.

This resource was made possible through support from:

LEO Pharma