By Dr. Mercola
For people who don't have it, psoriasis may seem like a minor condition that may be slightly unsightly and mildly irritating. In reality, however, this can be a long-term skin condition, evidenced by patches of skin anywhere on your body that can be not just scaly and irritated but swollen and painful. It can also lead to other, more serious problems.
Today, about 7.5 million people in the U.S. suffer from this chronic condition, caused by cell buildup that is not just on the surface but goes deeper, often bringing joint pain from psoriatic arthritis. Further, asthma, diabetes, heart disease and even depression have been traced back to psoriasis.
Conventional treatments for psoriasis, depending on the type and severity, range from topical, over-the-counter creams and ointments, as well as oral medications in intravenous, pill or liquid form. These include biologic response modifiers, methotrexate, cyclosporine, retinoids and others, each with its own set of side effects.
Interestingly, fully half of those who've tried these remedies report not having any kind of success. Further, Emedicine addresses photochemotherapy, known as PUVA (psoralen and ultraviolet A radiation), a common technique used on psoriasis patients and an example of the type of side effects people can experience:
"According to the AAD (American Academy of Dermatology) guidelines, PUVA can result in long remissions, but long-term use of PUVA in Caucasians may increase the risk of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and possibly malignant melanoma."1
It's expensive for psoriasis sufferers to get treatment. In 2013, for instance, the annual U.S. cost of psoriasis was around $112 billion.2 According to Psoriasis.org,3 this condition can go up to $135 billion. Psoriasis can develop at any time, usually between the ages of 30 and 50, and can be influenced by your immune system, your genes, the environment you live in, and maybe all of these factors combined.
Here's where research shows the effectiveness of aloe vera for psoriasis to be a safer and even more effective protocol than established therapies. In 2012, a university study4 found that aloe vera gel had an 81 percent effectiveness rate for easing psoriasis symptoms.
Types of Psoriasis
It may be helpful to know there are generally five types of psoriasis, some milder than others. The types are:
• Inverse psoriasis — Early detection is key to get to the bottom of the inflammation, which is important to prevent worsening joint damage. Lesions look smooth and shiny and are typically found in armpits, groin area, buttocks, under breasts and on skin folds around genitals.
• Erythrodermic psoriasis — Because this type is inflammatory, it can impact the rest of your body, turning it to a bright red color. Some say it's due to an imbalance in your body's chemistry. It can peel off, be painful and itchy, cause edema due to fluid retention, and lead to unregulated body temperatures.
Other possible causes, though, are many and varied: Stopped treatment, use of systematic cortisone or steroids, severe sunburn, stress, an infection, an allergy medication resulting in Koebner phenomenon (a tendency for psoriasis to appear where there's been an injury).
• Plaque psoriasis — By far the most common of all the psoriasis types, this one is evidenced by red, scaly, raised and inflamed lesions that sometimes appear white or silvery, usually on sufferers' knees, elbows, scalp and lower back.
• Guttate psoriasis — This type is often detected in children or young adults, characterized by small red dots on the skin as opposed to crusty patches. Triggers include skin injuries, sunburn, bacterial or viral upper respiratory infections, excessive alcohol consumption or prescription medications.
• Pustular psoriasis — As the name suggests, this type may cause small white blisters containing pus, often surrounded by red skin, usually appearing in the same areas depending on the individual, such as on their hands and feet or covering their entire body.
Aloe Vera: An Old/New Remedy to Treat Skin Conditions
Aloe vera is a succulent plant that thrives in tropical areas of the world and has been used for millennia for its soothing qualities, especially for skin conditions such as burns, rashes, cuts and scrapes. Proponents of the medicinal uses of the plant used trade routes such as the spice trails crossing Africa, India and the Middle East, and South America upward as far north as the southern U.S. Scientists count more than 500 species of this unique plant with spiky, variegated leaves. Aloe plants are made up of four layers:5
- Rind, the tough, protective layer
- Sap, a layer of bitter fluid which helps protect the plant from animals
- Mucilage (gel) in the inner part of the leaf
- Inner gel
It's the gel that contains most of the healing compounds, including essential amino acids your body needs but can't manufacture, antioxidants, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and many lesser-known but vital compounds. Perhaps most importantly, the wound healing stems from the fact that aloe vera is antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal, antibiotic and antibacterial, and that's just the short list.
Because the gel is an adaptogen, aloe vera also has plant sterols and other phenolic compounds to help your body deal with stress, whether it's physical, emotional or environmental.
Using Aloe Vera for Psoriasis and Other Skin Problems
Part of the discomfort from psoriasis is that skin can crack, which, pain-wise, could be described as rivaling a dozen paper cuts all in one place. But a 2015 review of several studies6 produced evidence that aloe vera exhibits benefits for this painful malady, and other skin conditions, as well. Among them:
- Wound healing — Properties related to a compound called glucomannan help accelerate wound healing and skin cell growth.
- Skin hydration — Keeping skin irritations moist and hydrated always feels better, and aloe vera gel does that. One study7 showed it to be effective even when applying it only once. However, continuous use tends to lessen its hydrating effects.
- Inflammation reduction — A 2008 study,8 while not focusing specifically on aloe vera's role in treating psoriasis, showed the gel to be more effective than a placebo in treating skin conditions, including UV-induced erythema or skin reddening due to the dilation of blood vessels.
- Collagen production — Studies show aloe vera helps your skin stay firm and elastic by making more collagen.
Medical News Today9 observes that while you can purchase aloe vera gel at most health food stores and pharmacies, it's just as easy and effective to buy a plant. If you opt for a commercial formula, make sure you're getting a quality product. Lawsuits have been filed against mega corporations such as Target and Walmart because some of their private label aloe vera products were found to contain zero aloe vera.
If you grow your own, you'll always have fresh aloe vera on hand when cuts, scrapes or even psoriasis flare-ups occur. Simply snap or cut off a small portion of a leaf and slice through one edge to expose the gel inside, like opening a book. The gel can be applied directly to the area of skin that's affected as many as three times a day.
If you're looking for a topical aloe vera cream to buy, some experts recommend a 0.5 percent aloe content, but if using the actual gel from the plant full strength provides benefits with no problems, why someone would advise using such a small concentration of aloe vera is a mystery. It's an indication that many health care advocates believe adding a fraction (or even less) of the natural ingredient to an expensive topical cream is beneficial, but that's true only for the sellers, not the buyers.
Precautions Regarding Aloe Vera
Reportedly, aloe vera capsules or tablets can be dangerous due to such side effects as diarrhea, stomach pains or cramps and even liver damage, AloePlant.info10 warns. In addition, there's a risk for either miscarriage or birth defects for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, children under 12, people with liver issues (as it can affect your blood sugar levels), or those preparing to undergo surgery. And according to Healthline, some people are quite allergic to aloe vera:
"You should do a patch test on a small, discreet area of skin and wait to see if you have any kind of negative reaction before applying aloe vera as a treatment to your psoriasis. Topical aloe vera is safe for most people with psoriasis to use, except those with an allergy to it.
If you experience an allergic reaction to aloe vera gel, discontinue use immediately and watch the area to make sure that the hives or inflammation subsides. Certain people might be at more risk for an allergic reaction to aloe vera than others. This includes people who are allergic to plants in the Liliaceae family (garlic, onions and tulips)."11
Other Natural Psoriasis Remedies
Cold, dry weather may trigger an outbreak. By optimally hydrating your skin you may help to reduce your symptoms. Also hydrate from the inside out by drinking enough water so your urine is light straw color, and consume high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fats. Your best sources for omega-3s are marine-based fats like krill oil or fish oil. Plant-based omega-3 sources will NOT provide the clinical benefit you need to reduce inflammation and swelling in your skin.
Also reduce your exposure to harsh soaps and avoid drying out your skin with excessive bathing. Use a very mild soap when cleansing your skin, especially in the winter, to avoid stripping your skin of moisture.
Avoiding grains and sugars will help normalize your insulin levels and reduce inflammatory conditions, including inflammation in your skin. You may not realize it, but the health and quality of your skin are strongly linked to the health of your gut. Read more about improving your gut health in my previous article, "The Importance of Microbial Diversity in Gut Health and Disease."
Aside from these tips, Medical News Today12 also lists a number of other traditional and homeopathic treatment strategies for psoriasis, some of which may be helpful in conjunction with aloe vera:
Capsaicin eases psoriasis pain by blocking pain receptors13
Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids may help block inflammation and ease pain and swelling
Oats added to a bath or by making it into a paste may ease symptoms
Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) cream may ease psoriasis skin irritation, but should only be used topically14
Epsom salts in a warm bath may help reduce joint pain and inflammation due to its magnesium content
Turmeric reportedly alters gene expression, easing psoriasis symptoms, when added to food or supplements15
Ginger may help ease inflamed joints,16 even for osteoarthritis and possibly psoriasis
Apple cider vinegar at a 1-to-1 ratio may be helpful for treating dry patches on your scalp due to psoriasis
Style Craze addresses the importance of diet in relation to quelling the symptoms of psoriasis:
"Apart from using aloe vera as a natural treatment for psoriasis, it is important that you keep a check on your diet. Following a diet that balances your body's pH levels can help immensely in alleviating the symptoms of this skin condition. Managing your body's pH balance by making adjustments to your eating and drinking habits can have a very positive effect on the health of your skin. This also helps in the treatment of psoriasis."17
Another study suggests that using aloe vera in combination with coconut oil and or olive oil may be solid approaches for treating psoriasis, as coconut oil is both an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent, as well as an emollient.18
Aloe vera oil, on the other hand, can be used as an essential oil, and may have benefits as a massage oil to alleviate pain and inflammation, as well as for aromatherapy and other skincare treatments. There's evidence that, combined with bitter melon, diabetes symptoms may help lower blood glucose levels.