Tea tree oil can be a useful treatment for psoriasis. [Photo: Bigstock]

Q&A: Essential oils for psoriasis?

10 November, 2016

Q — I suffer from psoriasis and am interested in using essential oils to help relive my symptoms. Can you recommend what I should use?


A — Psoriasis is a long-term autoimmune skin condition and, so far, conventional medicine has no real cure to offer. It can be managed through a variety of methods and symptoms can be helped through several alternative treatments including the use of essential oils.

With this condition there is an over-production of skin cells, usually on areas of the body such as shins, elbows, lower back or scalp. These silvery-coloured, scaly layers of itchy dry skin are known as plaques. Although relatively common, the symptoms and the course of the disease vary greatly from person to person.

In the UK and northern Europe around 1-2% of the population has psoriasis. The condition can wax and wane often disappearing or reappearing for reasons that are hard to fathom. There is a hereditary factor for psoriasis, although it can also be aggravated by stress or trauma. Symptoms can be alleviated by sea/salt water and sunshine (but also some cases can be made worse by exposure to sun).

It may take more than one approach to find relief and we would always recommend some kind of constitutional treatment − diet, investigation of allergies, stress reduction, etc − to help get to the root of the problem.

Essential oils, which are the natural oils from plants obtained by distillation, can be part of a multifaceted approach.

Applied topically (always well diluted in a base oil) they also have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties which may be helpful in skin healing. So while essential oils will not cure psoriasis they can reduce dryness and itching, reduce stress, promote healing and enhance a sense of well-being. When inhaled they can have a profound effect on the mind and emotions.

There is surprisingly little research into the use of essential oils to treat psoriasis so recommendations are often based on a mixture of what research is available and practitioner experience. The most common oils used for psoriasis include:

Lavender A calming oil with anti-inflammatory properties, lavender can help soothe the skin while also promoting new skin growth and healing. Lavender is also an antibacterial and antiseptic that can help alleviate burning and itching.  In addition to relieving inflammation the linalool and linalyl aldehyde in lavender also have an analgesic effect that helps to reduce pain.

Chamomile It’s anti-inflammatory properties makes it useful for soothing problem, allergic or sensitive skin, or problem hair and a sensitive or allergic scalp. For skin problems like eczema it has been found to be as effective as hydrocortisone.

Frankincense With antiseptic, antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, frankincense can help provide relief for stubborn psoriasis patches. It can also help repair cells, stimulate the immune system and balance hormones.

Myrrh Like frankincense myrrh is a tree resin with anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.  It is a good choice for healing the chapped, flaky and cracked skin of psoriasis patches.

Geranium Antibacterial properties help protect the skin from infection and geranium and it is also good for improving circulation. Geranium is also great for softening and protecting skin. It is an uplifting oil that can also help with low moods and stress.

Bergamot has a soothing effect on dry, itchy skin and can help improve the appearance of scars.

Helichrysum, also known as immortelle, is a fantastic, naturally regenerative oil that’s also cooling and soothing for the skin. It’s antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties help heal scars and skin eruptions. Deeply de-stressing and uplifting, it’s perfect to help relieve stress, nervous exhaustion and depression.

Tea tree is found widely in commercial skin products. Its antiseptic properties are why you will often find it in shampoos for scalp psoriasis. There is some evidence for its effectiveness as an antipsoriatic.

Cedarwood A combination of antiseptic and astringent properties means that it’s good for balancing oily skin and hair, and helping to heal infections and skin eruptions. Has an uplifting aroma that makes it excellent in the treatment of nervous tension, anxiety, and stress.

If you are new to essential oils try using bergamot, cedarwood, helichrysum, lavender sandalwood are all good choices to begin with. For a basic moisturising and medicinal blend try choosing any three of these and then add two drops each to 20ml of a light vegetable oils base such as apricot kernel or coconut oil, and massage into the affected areas twice daily or as needed.

Don’t forget your base oils

You should always use essential oils well diluted and this is especially true if your skin is damaged or you have a skin condition like eczema or psoriasis. The right choice of base oil can add an important healing component to the essential oil blend. Consider the following:

Coconut oil is light and emollient and has anti-inflammatory properties that may help ease psoriasis pain. It can help moisturise the skin and scales. Raw, unrefined, unbleached organic coconut oil is best and adds a pleasant coconut aroma to aromatherapy blends.

Calendula macerated oil made by infusing marigold flowers into another oil like sunflower. The result is a rich golden herbal oil with recognised healing properties. Calendula is a popular choice, especially for sensitive and dry skin due to its ability to quickly soothe irritated skin and repair skin tissue. It is a good choice as a base to help control the symptoms of psoriasis and other related skin diseases. Studies have demonstrated its anti-inflammatory benefits.

Argan oil High levels of antioxidant vitamin E and essential fatty acids make argan a soothing oil for all skin types, as well as for hair and nails. It’s of benefit in psoriasis because it’s both anti-inflammatory and antiseptic.

Apricot seed oil is a light cold-pressed oil, rich in rich in gamma linoleic acid, or GLA, which helps skin to maintain its moisture balance. Light enough to leave no greasy residue. There is laboratory evidence that it can help control the growth of skin cells in psoriasis.

Black seed oil is anti-microbial, warming and can help to soothe any inflammation while also speeding up the skin’s healing process. It is a useful moisturiser and is reputed to help reduce scale thickness.

Neem oil contains anti-inflammatory compounds to ease eczema and psoriasis, while its skin softening properties can improve the appearance of scaly, dry skin. One research report suggested that nimbidin, one of the components found in neem oil, has anti-inflammatory properties comparable to standard drugs like phenylbutazone (a non-steroidal treatment) or prednisolone (a steroid treatment).

Castor oil is a heavier oil that provides a barrier for skin. It is a natural emollient and also works to soften skin. Look for cold pressed castor oil and use daily.