How CBD Oil and Topicals Can Help Psoriasis
More than 8 million Americans live with psoriasis—a chronic autoimmune condition. People with psoriasis experience an overactive immune system that makes their skin cells grow too quickly, and this in turn causes red, scaly, painful patches of skin cells to build up. These plaques are ugly, itchy, and disruptive.
Psoriasis is incurable, so the only option is to treat the symptoms and find ways to cope. For those millions of people who are searching for options to help control their symptoms, CBD for psoriasis is a new source of hope.
In this post, we’ll explore an overview of Psoriasis and why it’s so tough to cope with. We’ll talk about the challenges of treating psoriasis, including with topicals. We’ll also discuss treating psoriasis with CBD, and why CBD has so much potential in this area. Finally, we’ll recommend the best CBD cream for psoriasis that we’ve tried so far.
- Overview of Psoriasis
- Challenges of Treating Psoriasis with Topicals
- Can CBD oil or cream help reduce symptoms of psoriasis?
- Is it better to use a CBD topical cream vs a CBD oil for psoriasis?
- Best CBD Cream for Psoriasis
Overview of Psoriasis
For people with psoriasis, a lifetime of itching is in store—I’m here to tell you. Right now as I sit here typing this, my skin is itching so much, I almost can’t stand it, but for me, that’s pretty normal.
Most patients with psoriasis will have it for life because it’s an incurable, chronic autoimmune disease, although there will be times when it’s better or flare-ups when it is worse. Medications are available, many of them topical and designed to soothe irritation and reduce inflammation. They are sometimes kind of helpful, but ask anyone with psoriasis: they don’t stop the problem. Nothing does.
Women have a worse problem with psoriasis overall because fluctuations in hormones can and do cause shifts in psoriasis symptoms, and this often causes women to experience flare-ups during and after pregnancy. In fact, many women experience a psoriasis flare-up just after delivery.
Psoriatic arthritis is caused by inflammation and affects about 30 percent of psoriasis patients. Elevated levels of inflammation can also cause complications such as typical arthritis, heart disease, thyroid issues, diabetes, and kidney problems in people with psoriasis. For all of these reasons, it’s important for people with psoriasis to watch cholesterol levels and maintain their weight.
There are even numerous food triggers for psoriasis patients; many people with the disorder cannot eat things like processed or junk foods, eggs, citrus, red meat, tomatoes, dairy, or alcohol without flare-ups. (This article is being written by an involuntary vegan.) In other words, psoriasis truly affects every aspect of your life.
Foods that are high in antioxidants such as fruits and vegetables may help fight oxidative stress and inflammation, so these are recommended for patients with psoriasis and other autoimmune conditions. Some patients benefit from eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids such as fatty fish like sardines and salmon which may reduce inflammation in the body. Anti-inflammatory spices such as turmeric and oils like coconut or olive are another natural option to try—but either way, you’ll be altering your diet.
The worst part about something like psoriasis, from someone who deals with it, is the mental health impact and social consequences. It can be embarrassing and stressful. Yes, I’m used to the staring and questions—and still they stress me out. And guess what? Stress makes it worse.
So, all of this should point to a few factors for you:
- Living with psoriasis isn’t easy. In fact, it sucks. It touches every part of your day, and causes tremendous quality of life issues.
- There’s no cure for psoriasis but every reason to try things that might work and won’t hurt.
- Everyone with psoriasis dreams of that day they walk outside in shorts or whatever and never have to worry about it again.
So, this is why CBD for psoriasis is now a trend: necessity.
Symptoms of Psoriasis
Symptoms and signs of psoriasis vary from person to person, but typically they include:
- Red skin patches covered with scales that are thick and silvery
- Smaller, scaly spots of skin
- Cracked, dry skin that may itch or bleed
- Burning, itching, or soreness
- Pitted, thickened, or ridged nails
- Stiff and swollen joints
Patches of psoriasis can vary from a few small spots of scaly skin that resemble dandruff to serious eruptions that cover major portions of the body. The ankles, elbows, face, knees (front and back), legs, lower back, palms, scalp, and soles of the feet are the most commonly affected areas of the body.
Most kinds of psoriasis flare up for a few weeks or months in cycles and then subside or even go into remission.
Types of Psoriasis
There are multiple kinds of psoriasis, including:
Plaque psoriasis. Plaque psoriasis is the most common type, causing dry, red, raised patches of skin covered with silvery scales called lesions. The plaques might be few or numerous; tender, itchy or both; and they typically appear on the knees, elbows, scalp, and lower back.
Erythrodermic psoriasis. Although it is the least common type of psoriasis, because it can cover the entire body with a peeling, red rash that can burn or itch intensely, erythrodermic psoriasis is one of the more serious varieties.
Guttate psoriasis. Guttate psoriasis is characterized by small, scaling lesions shaped like drops on the arms, legs, or trunk. Typically triggered by strep throat or some other bacterial infection, this variety of psoriasis primarily affects children and young adults.
Inverse psoriasis. Inverse psoriasis mainly affects skin folds near the breasts, groin, and buttocks, and it causes smooth patches of red skin that sweating and friction make worse. This kind of psoriasis can be triggered by fungal infections.
Nail psoriasis. Nail psoriasis can cause abnormal growth, pitting, and discoloration in fingernails and toenails. Psoriatic nails can result in onycholysis, where the nails loosen and separate from the nail bed. In severe cases of psoriasis, the nail can crumble.
Psoriatic arthritis. Psoriatic arthritis causes painful swelling in any joint, ranging from mild to severe, just like typical arthritis. Symptoms vary, and joint symptoms or nail changes may be the only signs of psoriasis. Psoriatic arthritis can progressively damage the joints—in the most serious cases, permanently.
Pustular psoriasis. Pustular psoriasis is a rare variety occurring either in widespread patches as generalized pustular psoriasis or in smaller patches on the soles of the feet or the palms of the hands. The patches themselves consist of pus-filled lesions that are clearly defined, similar to blisters.
Causes and Triggers of Psoriasis
Psoriasis, like similar skin disorders, is considered to be an immune system disorder. It triggers the skin to regenerate too quickly, and in plaque psoriasis, which is the most common type, this too-rapid cell turnover causes red, scaly patches of skin.
What causes the immune system to react this way remains unclear, although psoriasis is definitely not contagious or dangerous to others. Right now, scientists think that both environmental and genetic factors may play a role.
Triggers are an issue for people with psoriasis. In fact, many people who may be predisposed to psoriasis experience wellness and have no symptoms for years until some environmental factor triggers the disease.
Some common psoriasis triggers are:
- Skin injury, including a bug bite, a scrape or cut, a burn, or a severe sunburn
- Infections, either of the skin, or systemic such as strep throat
- Weather, particularly dry, cold conditions
- Heavy consumption of alcohol
- Rapid withdrawal of corticosteroids
- Exposure to smoke, from smoking, secondhand smoke, and wildfire
- Certain medications, including antimalarial drugs, lithium, and high blood pressure medications
Risk factors for Psoriasis
Although anyone can develop psoriasis, there are several risk factors according to the NIH. Some you can control more than others:
- Family history. Having one or more parents with psoriasis increases your risk of getting the disease because it runs in families.
- Smoking. Smoking may play a part in the development and onset of psoriasis, so your initial risk, and it may also increase the severity of psoriasis once you get it.
- Stress. High levels of stress, which can affect the immune system, can increase your risk of psoriasis.
Beyond psoriatic arthritis, complications from psoriasis include:
- Other autoimmune diseases such as sclerosis, celiac disease, and the inflammatory bowel disease called Crohn’s disease
- Eye conditions, such as blepharitis, conjunctivitis, and uveitis
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- High blood pressure
- Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions
Challenges of Treating Psoriasis
Basically, this is an ongoing war—a series of battles you fight your whole life. You look for the weapons that work best against psoriasis for your body, and you add them to your arsenal. You avoid the triggers that make it worse and hope they’re not everywhere.
Here are some of the treatment options and how they work.
Non-medicated moisturizing products for the skin and bath, such as mineral oil, body creams, moisturizers, bath bombs, and petroleum jelly may reduce the dryness and soothe affected skin from psoriatic plaques.
Medicated topicals are also available in a wide variety, and applying them directly to plaques of psoriatic skin can help reduce skin turn over and inflammation, remove built-up scale, and clear affected skin of plaques. Some common active ingredients for creams and ointments intended for psoriasis include coal tar, corticosteroids like desoximetasone (Topicort), dithranol (anthralin), vitamin D3analogues (for example, calcipotriol), fluocinonide, and retinoids. Each works a bit differently, but they all reduce inflammation and help to normalize skin cell production.
Approaches to UV light therapy such as psoralen plus ultraviolet A (PUVA) and UVB phototherapy can reduce psoriasis symptoms effectively for some people. However, you need several sessions per week, which takes time, effort, and money. Also, long-term light therapy can increase your risk of skin cancer.
You might try a systemic agent against psoriasis that resists both topical treatment and phototherapy—that’s a medication you take as a pill or injection. Only people with regular blood and liver function can handle this kind of medication, and if you might become pregnant, you should avoid it. If you ever stop taking your systemic treatment, your psoriasis will probably come back.
There are three primary systemic medications usually used to treat psoriasis: cyclosporine, methotrexate, and retinoids. Cyclosporine and methotrexate are immunosuppressant drugs that work by suppressing and regulating the unhealthy overactive immune system action. However, ulcerations are a risk for patients taking methotrexate.
Retinoids are synthetic forms of vitamin A that can help speed up the skin cell shedding and growth cycle so plaques don’t build up as much. However, retinoids can also make your skin more sensitive and can decrease in effectiveness over time.
For those that have insurance, access to a doctor to inject them, and don’t mind continuing a new therapy for the rest of their lives, biologics are a promising option. These manufactured proteins interrupt the immune overreactions that characterize psoriasis, but in a very specific way. These are very new drugs, so their long-term impact on immune function is unknown, and they must be given by a doctor in-office.
There are also newer laser systems approved to treat psoriasis on the scalp. Obviously, these are an in-office option only, too.
Alternative Therapies for Psoriasis
So, you’ve tried everything and you’re in the same boat as most people with psoriasis: you can either try systemic therapy forever—with varying levels of success and cost, by the way—or you can try something else and hope it works to improve your quality of life.
Fortunately, some research does suggest that changes in diet, skincare routine, and lifestyle can at least help relieve psoriasis symptoms.
Various research studies have found benefits in diets supplemented with fish oils, low energy diets, fasting periods, and vegetarian diets. Fish oils in particular contain Vitamin E and are rich in the two omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Some fish oils also contain vitamin A and vitamin D.
Lifestyle habits also definitely impact psoriasis—at least how severe it is. It may not cure your psoriasis to stop smoking, limit your alcohol consumption, maintain a normal weight, get regular exercise and a good night’s sleep, and manage your stress, but it will probably lessen the severity of your symptoms. (If you figure out how to do all that, please let us know how in the comments.)
Furthermore, hypnotherapy may be an effective treatment for psoriasis if you have access to it where you are and can afford it.
There are a few other alternative therapies out there that get a little less…accessible. For example, researchers have found that the Indigo naturalis plant used in traditional Chinese medicine, also called Qing dai, may be effective in treating psoriasis.
And some spas in Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Serbia, and Turkey offer ichthyotherapy, in which you sit in a pool full of “doctor fish” that eat your icky psoriatic skin. Apparently the outdoor thermal springs these doctor fish live in also have their own beneficial effect, and that’s good because you have to keep going back to the skin-eating spa. (Sorry, this one has an ick factor for us—but then so does psoriasis, so whatever works!)
Our point is this: treatments are tough, expensive, and only somewhat effective. There is plenty of room for a natural remedy that provides more relief.
Can CBD Reduce Symptoms of Psoriasis?
Given that CBD is a proven immune-modulator and anti-inflammatory, it makes sense that it would be a workable treatment option against psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that induces inflammation.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the human body is a naturally-occurring network of cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors that regulates homeostasis. Since homeostasis is a balancing act in the body and psoriasis is evidence of certain physiological processes that are out of control, achieving and maintaining homeostasis is of interest here.
One particular study highlights the role of cutaneous cannabinoids in suppressing inflammation and excess growth in the skin’s epithelial layers. Another study connects these skin layers to onset psoriasis and the functional ECS system, describing the way the skin’s cannabinoid receptors help control and balance how the skin cells proliferate.
In other words, research indicates that the layers of human skin contain a functional endocannabinoid system, and cannabinoids act to reduce inflammation along the specific psoriatic pathway in the skin. The science does support CBD as a possible treatment option for psoriasis.
Furthermore, CBD has been proven to effectively treat depression, anxiety, and related mental health issues. These are often connected to psoriasis, so CBD could have additional benefits for these users.
How CBD Oil Works to Alleviate Symptoms of Psoriasis
CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to regulate stasis in skin cells, including their immune competence, reproduction, and survival. Pathological skin diseases and conditions such as allergic dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis arise when this balance is disrupted.
The CB1 and CB2 receptors are the two primary receptors in the ECS, with CB1 receptors found all over the body and CB2 receptors found mostly in immune system cells. Both endocannabinoids naturally-occurring in the body and phytocannabinoids, which are created by the Cannabis sativa plant, bind with the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD are the most notable phytocannabinoids. THC is the intoxicating ingredient of the cannabis plant which may get its users high.
Cannabinoids such as CBD are anti-inflammatories, and are therefore a potential treatment for a range of skin diseases. Cannabinoids, especially THC, are also immunosuppressive and reduce cytokines. Cytokines cause inflammation and rapid skin cell development, and psoriasis itself is an immunosuppressive disorder, making cannabinoids and THC of particular interest to psoriasis sufferers.
Another study found that cannabinoids inhibit psoriasis lesions, also called keratinocytes, from growing as rapidly. In addition, research indicates that the way the ECS moderates interactions between the CNS and the immune system suggests cannabinoids as a psoriasis treatment. In fact, a range of science suggests that cannabinoid products might be used to treat various skin diseases such as eczema, acne, and even skin cancer, along with psoriasis.
The Pros and Cons of CBD Oil for Psoriasis
Studies have found that CBD has health benefits for those with psoriasis.
Topical steroids are among the primary traditional medications for psoriasis, and long-term use of them can and often does result in changes in pigmentation, thinning of the skin, easy bruising, stretch marks, dilated blood vessels, and redness. You might switch to oral steroids to avoid those issues, but using them long-term can cause acne, bone fractures, cataracts, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, increased risk of infections, liver damage, obesity, osteoporosis, and poor wound healing.
CBD, on the other hand, has minimal side effects, including tiredness, diarrhea, and changes in appetite or weight. According to the World Health Organization, CBD is also non-addictive. Across the United States, where state laws permit it, the 2018 Farm Bill has made CBD legal at the federal level, and you can buy CBD products without a prescription.
There is more than one kind of psoriasis, and the less common varieties have been studied less—especially in the context of CBD.
The United States (US) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved CBD for treating epilepsy. For this reason, there is no standard dosage of CBD for treating psoriasis.
CBD may inhibit Cytochrome P450 enzymes which metabolize steroids. This could make it less effective to use CBD and steroid medications together.
Again, related to the lack of regulation of CBD products, some are not adequately or accurately labeled. This alone can present a trigger danger for someone with psoriasis.
CBD vs Other Alternative Psoriasis Treatments
There are other potential natural remedies for psoriasis, which may be more or less effective depending on the patient and the situation:
- Some have used dead sea bath salts to treat psoriasis.
- Turmeric has proven anti-inflammatory properties, although they are limited.
Compared to steroids, CBD has no adverse reactions and minimal side effects. And in contrast to turmeric and dead sea salt or even light therapy, CBD produces a suite of benefits to relieve related ailments such as depression and psoriatic arthritis.
Is it better to use a CBD topical cream vs a CBD oil for psoriasis?
Since flare-ups of psoriasis can be triggered by many things, like illness, stress, and external factors like allergies, it’s not always easy to know which form of CBD might provide the most relief during an episode. Here are some things to consider.
The skin on the face is delicate and sensitive, not to mention prone to acne. If you’re experiencing psoriasis on the face and want to treat it topically, consider a CBD product specifically formulated for the face. Or, this might be a time to try CBD oil.
The same type of question arises when the issue is psoriasis of the scalp, which can be itchy and uncomfortable like dandruff, even though those products are often not right for the problem. You need to care for your hair, but the pain and burning are the more immediate problem. You want either CBD products that will soothe the scalp, or at least not irritate it, or a CBD oil to take orally.
When stress is triggering psoriasis flare-ups, aim for the right kind of CBD for managing your relaxation. Many users find CBD oil helps as a preventative and then use a CBD vape for acute issues. For psoriasis patients triggered by immune issues, CBD oil or CBD edibles are often similarly the best preventative strategy.
CBD comes in many forms, including:
- capsules and softgels
- edibles, such as beverages, candy, gummies, snacks, and other foods
- oils and tinctures
- topicals, such as balms, creams, lotions, and more (What is CBD lotion and cream? Learn more in our full post)
Which type of CBD is best for psoriasis? There is no one answer—find what works for you personally.
Remember, before you start anything new for psoriasis (or any health condition), you should talk to your doctor or other healthcare provider. Although CBD is widely understood to be safe, the industry is poorly regulated. Look for third-party testing results, and remember that if you substitute CBD for some other medication, that may have an impact on your health.
How to Choose the Right CBD for Psoriasis
Beyond everything else that we’ve said, there are a few more things to consider. First, there are three basic types of CBD oils:
Full-spectrum CBD oil uses all the natural components found in cannabis plants including hemp plants. This means natural essential oils, terpenes, flavonoids, and fatty acids as well as cannabinoids will all be in that CBD product, including trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Together, the active phytonutrients produce the entourage effect, a synergistic suite of therapeutic benefits.
Broad-spectrum CBD oil is a version of full-spectrum CBD oil with all traces of THC removed.
CBD isolates contain only isolated cannabidiol and are extracted down from the rest. You can be sure nothing is in there except the CBD and whatever it is suspended in (along with whatever they’ve added intentionally, of course—just no extra cannabinoids or terpenes).
Which is best for you depends on preference and on a few other factors:
- Is CBD legal where you are? If so, does it matter if there are trace amounts of THC in it?
- Is it a high-quality product? Is it derived from organic hemp and non-GMO?
- Does the brand get good online reviews? Do they use CO2 extraction?
- Can you easily access third-party lab analyses and batch testing reports which certify the quality of the CBD product?
- Have you talked to a doctor, dermatologist, or, if you have psoriatic arthritis, a rheumatologist about using CBD?
Best CBD Cream for Treatment of Psoriasis
It is not specifically formulated for psoriasis; in fact, I’m not sure anyone makes a CBD topical for psoriasis, but my favorite product for this is Spruce Full Spectrum CBD Cream. Most people will like this high-quality CBD topical. If you have eczema, it is the absolute best option out there, and you can read about it here.
I think it’s just as good for psoriasis, and, until I find something better, it’s my go-to for my problem patches. (You call it keratinocyte proliferation, I call them horrifying skin shingles, tomato, tomahto. Whatever.)
I’ve had problem skin including psoriasis since I was a child. It is itchy, it burns, and it is extremely embarrassing. My worst areas for this out of control, itchy cell growth are my ankles, forearms, and when things really suck, my face. (Thanks, Universe.) Depending on the situation any number of things can trigger me.
I take Benadryl a lot because skin allergies set me off, and I use all kinds of topicals including steroid creams all day long.
I am allergic to anything you can think of, including the grass in my yard and all the animals around me, including our pets. My skin allergies are the absolute worst. If anything touches my skin, it itches, and a bite or scratch inevitably causes swelling—as you saw above, this kind of injury to the skin is a trigger for psoriasis.
I also get it on my nails which are ridged and peel off often. Fun.
Most of the topicals I have used over the years have been steroid-based. My skin is showing it, and I bruise like a grape. Despite that, the topicals barely seem to work anymore. This was what led me to try CBD.
My goal was just to see if the effects of CBD would help and if a CBD salve or topical in particular would have a specific impact. I wasn’t looking for a silver bullet; in my experience, there just aren’t any right now. But I wanted to see if I could reduce my need for other treatment options which were not working as well anymore and feel better overall. Fewer embarrassing, red patches, less itching, and more therapeutic effects from a topical application is really all I want.
Every two-ounce jar of Spruce topical cream has 300mg of CBD. You can trust what’s in there because the results from third-party lab testing are right there on the site for every single batch. Go check it out! There is no extra bacteria, pesticides, heavy metals, toxins, or whatever else that shouldn’t be in that Spruce cream, verified.
Looking to treat psoriasis, I tried more than one product. A few balms left my skin feeling too greasy and like I couldn’t breathe, which was worse in the long-run. One felt inexplicably gritty. A few labels told me right off the bat that what was in the jar would probably be irritating, so I didn’t even try them.
For whatever reason, Spruce CBD cream was the one that soothed and didn’t set off the psoriasis, just like with the eczema. It has a creamy, rich, velvety feel to it. It soothes these awful, scaly stacks of skin, which is how they feel sometimes, but it’s really not greasy at all.
The smell is delicate—very light. You really don’t notice it much, and it has the benefit of not smelling like medicine or like that horrible coal tar (gross). Along with hemp-sourced, full-spectrum CBD extract, the cream has mineral oil, glycerin, petroleum, and lanolin, and the cream itself is smooth and silky, not slimy or oily. You get all of those nourishing and protective benefits but without that nasty feeling like with a balm.
I loved this fast-acting, soothing CBD cream. I am not cured of my skin issues, of course, but I felt this product was worth adding and has improved the condition for sure. You get a safe enough product for easy, all-day use with maximum strength style results.
It’s also worth looking into additional CBD products such as a CBD soap that won’t be extra dying on your skin. Here are our recommendations on the best CBD soap to try.
The Bottom Line: CBD Oil for Psoriasis
The research seems to clearly indicate that CBD skin care holds promise for psoriasis sufferers, not to mention people with other skin conditions. But more than that, it feels promising to me after trying it!
As always, CBD may be an option worth considering, but do your own research and check in with a dermatology professional you trust first. And when you do give it a try, let us know what happened with your psoriasis.