Topical treatments

Most patients attribute their rashes to other causes prior to diagnosis. This can leave them feeling frustrated and confused. It is important to see your GP if you notice any signs of psoriasis so you can start treatment earlier and maintain your normal life.

Treatment typically starts from the outside then works inwards. The first step is usually topical treatments, and is likely to be given by your GP. Topical treatments include creams, ointments and lotions that are applied directly to your skin.

They are usually the first treatment used for psoriasis and are typically given when psoriasis is mild. These treatments slow down the growth of skin cells, and reduce the redness and swelling (inflammation) associated with psoriasis. A wide range of topical psoriasis treatments are available, some of which can be purchased directly from the pharmacy while others are available by prescription only. Topical treatments include:

  • salicylic acid
  • steroids
  • vitamin D analogues (such as calcipotriol)
  • vitamin A analogues (such as tazarotene)
  • coal tar extracts
  • anthralins (such as dithranol)

and a combination of any of these agents.

If topical treatments fail, your GP will probably refer you to a dermatologist who is specially trained to treat psoriasis. They may try other topical creams and ointments or combinations to see how you respond to treatment.

Failure of topical treatments often leaves patients feeling frustrated and depressed. It is important to remember that this is not uncommon. If you have tried multiple topical treatments and you haven’t seen a difference, you may wish to talk to your GP or dermatologist about trying a different type of treatment.

Your GP or dermatologist can prescribe a range of topical treatments. Depending on the type of topical treatment, you may expect to see a difference in a few weeks. Your progress will be monitored every few weeks by your doctor. It is important to tell your GP or dermatologist if you are using any other treatments or dietary supplements as these may interfere with how the prescribed treatment works.

Tips for using topical treatment

  • Read the Consumer Medicine Information leaflet provided with your topical treatments to ensure you understand exactly how much you should use.
  • Apply only to affected areas if possible to avoid irritating unaffected skin.
  • When using multiple topical treatments, ask your doctor which order to apply them.
  • Do not overuse topical steroid treatments as they can be absorbed into the body.

Consult your GP or dermatologist if you experience any unusual discomfort.

Side effects

Topical treatments are the mildest of the treatments available for psoriasis, which is why they are generally tried first. However, there are a large number of topical treatments and these vary in strength. The side effects depend on which one you are using and how strong it is. Speak to your doctor or read the Consumer Medicine Information leaflet that comes with your prescription for further information on side effects specific to your treatment.

NZ-HUMD-2014-3(1)k TAPS PP8490