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Medicines for psoriasis

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that typically causes red, scaly patches on the skin.
  • There is no cure, but treatments are available to help ease your symptoms.
  • Your doctor may prescribe topical, oral or injectable medicines, depending on the site and severity of your symptoms.
  • Lifestyle measures such as maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking and alcohol and reducing stress can also help.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that typically causes red, scaly patches on the skin. It is not contagious. While there is no cure, treatments are available to help ease your psoriasis symptoms.

Psoriasis occurs when there's too much inflammation in the skin. This causes rapid growth and shedding of skin cells, which build up into red and scaly patches.

The patches can appear anywhere in the body but are most common in areas such as your:

  • scalp
  • elbows
  • knees
  • abdomen
  • groin
  • between the buttocks

It often shows as red, raised skin rashes with white or silver scales but the condition can also present itself in different ways.

There are a few different types or patterns of psoriasis that can cause different symptoms. Learn more about psoriasis including causes and complications.

How is psoriasis treated?

Psoriasis has no cure, but there’s a lot you can do to ease some of the symptoms and reduce the chance of a flare-up:

If this isn’t enough to relieve your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe medicines to help.

What types of medicine are used for psoriasis?

Different types of topical medicine can be put on your skin to ease psoriasis. The aim is to reduce the inflammation.

Topical medicines

Common psoriasis medicines that you apply to your skin include:

  • corticosteroids (synthetic versions of the steroid hormone cortisol)
  • calcipotriol (similar to Vitamin D)
  • tazarotene (based on Vitamin A)
  • coal-tar based treatments

Your doctor may prescribe just one medicine, or a combination, depending on which parts of the body are affected and how severely.

Systemic (oral or injected) medicines

If you use topical medicines and your psoriasis still bothers you, your doctor might prescribe oral or injected medicines.

Oral or injected medicines work on your immune system to reduce the inflammation, and include:

  • retinoids
  • immunosuppressants
  • biologic medicines

These usually need to be prescribed by a specialist doctor, such as a dermatologist.

Ultraviolet (UV) therapy

Your doctor may also suggest UV therapy that mimics the effect of sunlight. Sometimes, your doctor will recommend combining UV therapy with a medicine that increases your skin’s sensitivity to light, to make the treatment more effective.

What are the possible side effects of medicines used for psoriasis?

All medicines can have side effects. Sometimes they are serious, but most of the time they are not. The main concerns with psoriasis skin medicines are thinning of the skin, skin irritation and skin infections. Oral psoriasis medicines carry a higher risk of side effects.

When should I see my doctor?

You should see your doctor if you have symptoms of psoriasis despite treatment. Your doctor can discuss the best treatment strategy with you.

Before taking any medicines, consider asking your doctor or pharmacist:

  • What are the side effects of your psoriasis medicines.
  • What are the benefits.
  • What should I do if I miss a dose.
  • What should I do if I experience side effects.

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Talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you feel unwell when taking your medicines. Do not stop or change your medicines without talking to your doctor.

How long will I need to be treated for psoriasis?

Psoriasis is usually a lifelong condition that flares up and down over time. You may need treatment your whole life if you have psoriasis.

Looking for more medicine information?

healthdirect’s medicines section allows you to search for medicines by brand name or active ingredient. It provides useful information about medicines such as their use, whether they are available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and product recalls.

Resources and support

  • If you are concerned about the effects of your medicine, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or other health practitioner, or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 at any time to speak to a registered nurse (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).
  • You can find out more about your medicine by reading the Consumer Medicine Information (CMI)
  • Call 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) to speak with a pharmacist who can answer your questions about medicines.
  • Psoriasis Australia has information and support for people with psoriasis in Australia and their families.
  • Watch the Australasian College of Dermatologists video Your guide to psoriasis

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2023

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