Psoriasis, or more specifically plaque psoriasis, is an inflammatory skin condition that causes the skin to become thick, red, and scaly. These patches, also called plaques, can be itchy and painful.
There is some anecdotal evidence that tea tree oil may be helpful in managing symptoms of psoriasis, especially in the scalp.
What is psoriasis?
Psoriasis is a common skin condition with symptoms that can be mild or severe.
Psoriasis is a life-long autoimmune condition. It occurs when skin cells grow too fast and the body does not shed them quickly enough.
Apart from red, itchy plaque and thickened skin, people with the condition may experience thickened nails, swollen or stiff joints, or dry, cracked skin. Some people may also experience a burning sensation on the skin.
Sometimes the symptoms improve, and at other times they may increase – this is known as a flare.
Stress, infection, or injury can all cause psoriasis to flare up. These events are known as triggers and are different for everyone – what triggers one person’s psoriasis may not affect another person with the same condition.
There is no cure for psoriasis, but there are some ways of alleviating the symptoms.
What is tea tree oil?
Tea tree oil is a yellow-colored essential oil that comes from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia, also known as the tea tree plant. The plant grows in Australia, where the oil has been used for nearly 100 years to treat minor wounds and skin issues.
Tea tree oil is readily available as an essential oil and is found in a wide range of skin care and other products.
Possible health benefits
Tea tree oil has been in use for many years. Anecdotal evidence gathered over this time suggests that it is safe, but few studies have confirmed either the effectiveness or safety of tea tree oil.
Early studies, however, do suggest that tea tree oil has antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties. Because of these properties, people use tea tree oil to alleviate many minor skin irritations.
Some of these conditions are:
- Infected skin wounds
- Athletes foot or other fungal infection
How to use tea tree oil for psoriasis
Tea tree oil has been used for nearly 100 years to treat skin issues.
Tea tree oil is an essential oil, and it is important to take care when using it. It is best to dilute the oil before use to reduce the risk of a bad reaction.
Some suggestions for using tea tree oil for psoriasis include:
- Mixing the oil with water, applying it to the skin with a cotton ball, leaving it overnight, and washing it off in the morning
- Diluting tea tree oil with olive oil or another carrier oil, applying it to affected areas, allowing it to dry, and then it washing off
- Adding a few drops of tea tree oil to a bathtub and bathing in lukewarm water
- Adding one part of tea tree oil with 10 parts of shampoo
Some people have reported allergic reactions to tea tree oil. These reactions may include severe rashes, redness, irritation, swelling, and burning. If a person experiences any adverse reactions, they should stop using the oil.
Risks and precautions
A person should never drink tea tree oil. Swallowing tea tree oil has been linked to:
- Stomach upset, including diarrhea, vomiting, and stomachache
- Blood cell abnormalities
- Severe rash
Some people should be particularly cautious about using tea tree oil.
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women
- People who are taking vancomycin
- People who have linear IgA disease
- Boys before the onset of puberty, due to increased risk of growth of breast tissue
- Those with a known allergy to tea tree oil or the plant that it comes from
No studies have looked at how effective tea tree oil is for psoriasis. Tea tree oil does carry a risk of side effects, so anyone using this oil should be careful. Also, due to the potential complications with certain medical conditions, anyone thinking of using tea tree oil should inform their doctor first.
Other natural remedies for psoriasis
Some people use other common herbal remedies to manage the symptoms of psoriasis.
Aloe vera in a cream may be used to treat psoriasis.
Aloe vera: A person with this condition can apply a cream containing at least 0.5 percent aloe to the skin up to three times a day. It may help to reduce scaling and redness associated with psoriatic lesions.
Apple cider vinegar:This may help to reduce the itch associated with psoriasis on the scalp. It should be used with caution, as it can cause burning or irritation, especially if the skin is cracked or open.
Capsaicin: This is the chemical that makes hot peppers spicy. Creams containing capsaicin may help reduce psoriasis-associated discomfort, redness, and scaling.
Epsom salts: Adding Epsom salts to a bath can soothe irritated and itchy skin, and may help to reduce some of the scaling found in psoriasis. Most people tolerate this remedy well.
Turmeric: Available in over-the-counter supplements, turmeric may reduce psoriatic flares by affecting the immune system. It can also be added as a spice to food as a seasoning.
Medical treatments for psoriasis
Most people need medication to control the symptoms of psoriasis. Options include topical creams, light therapy, and systemic medications.
Topical medications: These are creams and ointments, which people apply directly to the affected skin. The most commonly prescribed topical medications are a class of powerful anti-inflammatory drugs, known as corticosteroids.
However, people using these creams for a long time may find their symptoms get worse, making other medications necessary. Other types of medications include synthetic vitamin D creams, topical retinoids, and calcineurin inhibitors, such as Protopic or Elidel.
Light therapy: Mild exposure to natural sunlight or artificial ultraviolet A (UVA) or ultraviolet B (UVB) light can ease symptoms.
Systemic medications: People with severe cases of psoriasis may take these drugs by mouth or by injection. Most of these medications alter the immune system, helping to reduce inflammation and production of skin cells. There is a risk of serious side effects.
In order to ensure the best treatment, a person with this condition should always keep their doctor informed about their symptoms.
People can improve their comfort levels and the appearance of affected skin by taking measures at home.
Some examples of home-care include:
Bathing frequently: This can help remove dead and inflamed skin, and it may also help to reduce the scaly appearance of psoriatic plaques. Adding Epsom salts to the water can also help to manage scaly skin, but it is important to avoid hot water and harsh soaps. After bathing, a person should apply heavy moisturizer while their skin is still moist.
Exposure to sunlight: Exposure to small amounts of sunlight can help improve symptoms. However, too much sunlight can trigger or worsen a flare-up of psoriatic symptoms, so it is best to speak with a doctor before beginning a light therapy regiment. People with this condition should apply sunscreen to any skin that is not affected by psoriasis.
Be aware of triggers: Finally, people should keep track of what triggers their psoriatic symptoms and avoid them if possible. Keeping a journal of symptoms and possible triggers can help to pinpoint what causes psoriatic flares.
Anyone using tea tree oil or other natural remedies for psoriasis should talk to their doctor, as some of them can cause an allergic reaction. Some of these remedies may also be dangerous if they interact with other medications or medical conditions. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also consult their doctor.