The People's Perspective on Medicine

Should You Smear Chili Oil on Your Psoriasis?

One reader found that applying Asian chili oil to psoriasis plaques relieved itching and redness. Capsaicin-containing cream might also work.

Every once in a while, a reader comes up with a home remedy that surprises us. Although we have often written about capsaicin, the essence of hot chili peppers, we’ve never imagined using chili oil any way other than its intended purpose-giving stir-fried dishes some heat.

Chili Oil as a Psoriasis Remedy:

Q. Psoriasis is an inflammatory condition, and capsaicin fights inflammation. I use chili oil on the psoriasis on my elbows. (You can find it in Asian markets, sold for cooking.)

Apply it with a cotton swab every night (not your fingers!). The itching goes away almost immediately, and the dry patch fades in about two weeks.

A. You have discovered something dermatologists have been writing about for decades (Bernstein et al, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Sept. 1986).  Topical capsaicin (the hot stuff in chili peppers) can help ease psoriasis and its itch. A recent review of botanical treatments for psoriasis confirmed this (Farahnik et al, American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, Aug. 2017). (In addition, the authors found some support for the use of Mahonia aquifolium, also known as Oregon grape holly, aloe vera and indigo.)

Chili Oil as a Source of Capsaicin:

Your method of applying capsaicin is unusual, though. Some people utilize a drugstore product such as Capzasin-HP or Zostrix, used to ease the pain of arthritis, muscle strain or shingles.

The hot oil you found in the Asian market is toasted sesame oil infused with hot peppers. We’ve never heard before of anyone using it for the itch of psoriasis. Your caution to use a swab is well taken: capsaicin on sensitive tissues such as eyes can burn for a long time.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I have tried various steroid creams, Vaseline, hemp oil, aloe vera balm/gel blah.. blah… blah. I sat on the sofa one night and my psoriasis on my knees was driving me crazy, I decided that pain was better than itch and went looking for some tiger balm. The thought was that it would burn and therefore stop the insane itching. I couldn’t find any, but I did find some olive oil with chilli’s soaking in them. I rubbed it in my knees with a bit of cloth and it stopped the itching instantly and it didn’t actually burn except a bit where the patches were rubbed raw. The next morning my knees looked much better, so I continued to rub the oil in my knees twice a day. 2 Weeks later it had gone. I have no doubt it will return, but if it does I will get the chilli oil out again.

Vacationing in California some years back, I got a bad cut on my leg. An older gentleman there insisted I dress the wound with capsaicin (he had a tincture in a little bottle)! I just couldn’t believe this would do anything but aggravate the pain, but he persisted and I finally gave in. Unbelievably, the pain subsided fairly quickly with no further problems.

I once used an over the counter pain rub that had capsaicin in it for a shoulder injury. After a few hours I decided to take a shower, the pain was worse than what I was trying to heal. When the warm water hit the area that I applied the pain rub to, I thought my skin was going to melt off. Never again used a product that had capsaicin in it.

I just had a terrible episode with Capsacin cream. I tried it for horrific nerve pain after shingles on my buttocks. (64 years old, was vaccinated four years prior and received anti-viral meds within 36 hours of first lesion). Three weeks after the breakout the lesions were healed but the nerve pain was nearly unbearable, even though I was taking hydrocodone and neurontin for it.

I rubbed on some Capsacin cream and it felt okay. Five minutes later it felt like my skin was on fire. A hot soapy bath, then a shower, and the burn continued. The first hit on an internet search said to apply vinegar, but it still burned. Finally the Capsacin website suggested vegetable oil. Crisco oil on a paper towel successfully removed the Capsacin and the tube went into the trash. The doctor doubled the Neurontin to 1800 milligrams and now the pain is nearly gone. I have serious doubts that the vaccination was helpful.

At age 80, a male, with various skin problems over these past 20 years. I have topically applied old fashioned Tabasco brand pepper sauce to skin breakouts with amazing success. It should be the old traditional red bottle of Tabasco, not the newer varieties of Tabasco. It is cheap, easy to apply with a Q-Tip to avoid transfer of product to hands and eyes….and it works for me!

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