Herbal Treatments for Psoriasis: Alternatives to Medical Therapy for a Common Skin Condition

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Dermatologists revel in the red glow they elicit from their psoriasis patients by prescribing psoralen-containing drugs and administering ultraviolet light. The technique is not new; it was pioneered by Egyptian physicians who rubbed psoralen-containing plants on reddened, scaly skin and instructed their patients to sit in the sun.

In addition to PUVA therapy, modern psoriasis management includes a multitude of topical gels, creams, and ointments, as well as systemic retinoids, antimetabolites, immunomodulators, and immunosuppressants.

Since many of these treatments are associated with significant adverse effects, some people (especially those with milder disease) prefer more “natural” approaches.

Herbalists believe that psoriasis is linked to toxins that reach the skin when bowel or kidney function is sluggish or when stress overwhelms the body’s ability to eliminate metabolites. Therefore, in addition to herbs that address psoriasis directly, recommendations from herbalists often include formulas that cleanse toxins from the system, reduce stress and stabilize immune function.

Herbs for External Use in the Treatment of Psoriasis

  • Aloe vera: Apply in gel form. Reduces inflammation.
  • Cayenne (capsaicin) cream: Relieves pain when applied repeatedly. There may be a period of unpleasant burning following the first several applications; this usually subsides. Do not apply to broken skin.

  • Chamomile: Apply as a cream. Soothing and anti-inflammatory. People with allergy to ragweed should avoid chamomile.
  • Lavender: Mix equal parts essential oil with olive oil and apply liberally, or add two ounces of lavender herb to one quart water, allow to stand overnight, and bathe affected areas. Analgesic and anti-inflammatory.
  • Mix equal parts of essential oils of lavender, bergamot, St. John’s wort, and comfrey oil. Apply liberally. Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and moisturizing.
  • Licorice root: Apply as a cream or extract. Soothing; may potentiate effects of topical corticosteroids.
  • Yarrow: Add two ounces of the herb to one quart boiling water, simmer 10 – 15 minutes, and add to bath water. Astringent and soothing.
  • Oatmeal: Place two handfuls in a cheesecloth bag, place in bathwater. Relieves itching.
  • Almond oil: Apply cream after using other herbs. Soothing and pleasantly aromatic.

Herbs to Take Internally for Psoriasis

  • Berberine (barberry, Oregon grape, goldenseal): Use capsules, teas, or tinctures. Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and reputedly prevents toxin formation in the bowel.
  • Dong quai: Capsules taken at the beginning of an outbreak will reduce inflammation.
  • Milk thistle: Taken as a tea, tincture, or capsules. Anti-inflammatory; supports liver metabolism.
  • Psoralea, bishop’s weed, or Angelica: Taken as capsules, tincture, or tea. Contain psoralens; when combined with UV light, inhibits skin cell division. (Will sensitize the skin to UV light and increase the likelihood of sunburn).
  • Purslane: Eat fresh or lightly steamed. Contains high quantities of vitamins A, C and E, as well as selenium and alpha-linolenic acid, all of which support skin health.

Dietary Advice for Treating Psoriasis

  • Eat one to two servings of cold-water fish daily (herring, mackerel, sardines, salmon, etc.). Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may help to reduce the frequency and severity of psoriasis outbreaks. If mercury is a concern, supplements will suffice, but make sure of product quality and freshness.
  • Include foods that contain psoralens: citrus fruits, celery, figs, parsnips, carrots, and fennel.
  • Take a complete vitamin B supplement daily (along with folic acid), especially if taking prescription medications for psoriasis.
  • Eat fiber-rich foods to bind dietary toxins and prevent their absorption.
  • Eat plenty of grains and raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid alcohol, which can dilate vessels in skin and worsen psoriasis.

Psoriasis—and its medical treatment—can cause significant disability. Adding herbal agents to one’s treatment protocol may help to reduce the need for potent prescription drugs.