Keratolytics and emollients and their role in the therapy of psoriasis: a systematic review

Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2015 Mar;5(1):1-18. doi: 10.1007/s13555-015-0068-3. Epub 2015 Jan 21.


Introduction: Psoriasis is a common chronic disease with significant impairment in quality of life. As there is no cure, it often requires lifelong disease control to minimize the development of skin lesions and to relieve symptoms. The aim of this publication is to systematically review the role of currently used emollients and keratolytics in the treatment of psoriasis.

Methods: A systematic literature search was conducted in Medline via PubMed regarding reviews, meta-analyses, and trials published from January 1983 to December 2013 dealing with topical administration of emollients and keratolytics in patients with psoriasis. A subsequent search in EMBASE regarding clinical trials published from 1983 to 2013 was performed to complement the findings.

Results: A total of 60 publications met the inclusion criteria for full-text evaluation. While current reviews, meta-analyses, and guidelines state that adjuvant therapy with emollients and keratolytics should be an obligatory part in the therapy of psoriasis to facilitate descaling and/or penetration enhancement, comprehensive trials on these agents are missing, with the exception of combination products containing salicylic acid and corticosteroids. In the mentioned trials, addition of salicylic acid was beneficial in inducing a more rapid onset of action as well as a reduction of severity parameters and the area affected. However, its use has substantial limitations in young children, in patients with renal/hepatic impairment, with widespread psoriasis, those undergoing phototherapy, or those concomitantly treated with calcipotriene/systemic salicylates.

Conclusion: In view of these shortcomings, there is a need for well-designed studies on suitable keratolytic alternatives to salicylic acid offering an indisputable positive benefit-risk ratio.