Go to AAD Home
Donate For AAD Members Search

Go to AAD Home

Psoriasis treatment: A retinoid you apply to the skin

A retinoid is a synthetic form of vitamin A. There are different types used to treat the skin. The retinoid applied to the skin to treat psoriasis is called tazarotene (tah-zare-oh-teen).

Why dermatologists prescribe tazarotene to treat psoriasis

When applied to the skin, tazarotene can:

  • Slow rapidly growing skin cells

  • Reduce thick psoriasis

  • Decrease scale

  • Lessen redness and swelling

  • Treat nail psoriasis

Dermatologists often prescribe tazarotene along with a corticosteroid that you apply to the skin. Using both can reduce the skin irritation that is common when using only a retinoid. The combination can also give you longer-lasting results and a longer remission (time without psoriasis) than may be possible when using only tazarotene.

Protect yourself from the sun

While using tazarotene, protect your skin from the sun by wearing sun-protective clothing, such as pants and long sleeves.

young man leaning on lamppost

Safety and effectiveness

  • Tazarotene is considered a safe treatment for many people who have psoriasis.

  • Women who are pregnant, however, should NOT use tazarotene because it can cause birth defects.

  • Tazarotene can effectively reduce skin thickness and scale.

  • When used to treat nail psoriasis, it can reduce nail thickness, treat crumbling nails, and help restore normal nail growth.

  • A few patients see complete clearing when using only tazarotene.

  • Patients who clear while using tazarotene tend to have a remission that can last up to three months.

  • Most patients, however, have about a 50% reduction in psoriasis.

  • To improve results, your dermatologist may prescribe a corticosteroid that you also apply to the psoriasis. 

  • To improve your results from tazarotene, your dermatologist may prescribe a light treatment called UVB. If this is an option for you, your dermatologist will take precautions when combining these treatments. This includes prescribing less UVB exposure.

How to use

Most patients apply a thin layer of medicine once a day to the psoriasis, rubbing it in completely. It is important to use:

  • The amount prescribed—not less or more

  • Tazarotene for only as long as prescribed

Possible side effects

The most common side effect is irritated skin. Both the skin with psoriasis and the nearby skin can become irritated.  When tazarotene irritates the skin, it can cause one or more of the following: redness, peeling, dryness, itching, or a burning sensation.  If your skin becomes irritated, dermatologists recommend that you:

  1. First, apply petroleum jelly the skin around the psoriasis.

  2. Apply the tazarotene to the psoriasis.

Tazarotene can also make you more sensitive to the sun and increase your risk of sunburn. Wearing pants and long sleeves can help protect your skin from the sun.

What to discuss with your dermatologist

If you still have irritated skin after using petroleum jelly, tell your dermatologist. Other techniques can reduce irritated skin, including:

  • Prescribing a second psoriasis medicine, which can make both treatments more effective while reducing irritation

  • Changing how often you apply tazarotene

  • Reducing the amount of tazarotene

You should also tell your dermatologist about any other side effects.

Getty Images

Cordoro KM. “Management of childhood psoriasis.” Adv Dermatol. 2008;24:125-69.

Menter A, Korman NJ, et al. “Guidelines of care for the management of psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Section 3. Guidelines of care for the management and treatment of psoriasis with topical therapies.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2009 Apr;60:643-59.

Weinstein GD, John Y. M. Koo JYM, et al. “Tazarotene cream in the treatment of psoriasis: Two multicenter, double-blind, randomized, vehicle-controlled studies of the safety and efficacy of tazarotene creams 0.05% and 0.1% applied once daily for 12 weeks. J Am Acad Dermatol 2003 May;48:760-7.