Original Research

Adherence to Topical Treatment Can Improve Treatment-Resistant Moderate Psoriasis

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Most patients with psoriasis have limited disease that should be manageable with topical treatment. However, psoriasis often is resistant to topical treatment. The aim of our study was to determine if patients using psoriasis-resistant topical treatments can be effectively treated with topicals under conditions promoting adherence. During this open-label, randomized, single-center clinical study, 12 patients with moderate psoriasis that previously failed topical treatment were selected and treated with desoximetasone spray 0.25% for 2 weeks. Six patients were randomized to receive twice-daily telephone call reminders to further encourage good adherence. Disease severity was assessed by the visual analog scale for pruritus, psoriasis area and severity index (PASI), total lesion severity score (TLSS), and investigator global assessment (IGA). At the end of the study, most patients improved in most scores. Therefore, apparent resistance to topical treatment often is due to poor adherence and can be overcome, at least over the short term.

Practice Points

  • Most patients with psoriasis are good candidates for topical treatment.
  • Topical treatment of psoriasis often is ineffective.
  • Topical treatment of psoriasis can be rapidly effective, even in patients who reported disease that was resistant to topical treatment.



High-potency topical corticosteroids are first-line treatments for psoriasis, but many patients report that they are ineffective or lose effectiveness over time.1-5 The mechanism underlying the lack or loss of activity is not well characterized but may be due to poor adherence to treatment. Adherence to topical treatment is poor in the short run and even worse in the long run.6,7 We evaluated 12 patients with psoriasis resistant to topical corticosteroids to determine if they would respond to topical corticosteroids under conditions designed to promote adherence to treatment.


This open-label, randomized, single-center clinical study recruited 12 patients with plaque psoriasis that previously failed treatment with topical corticosteroids and other therapies (Table). We stratified disease by body surface area: mild (<3%), moderate (3%–10%), and severe (>10%). Inclusion criteria included adult patients with plaque psoriasis amenable to topical corticosteroid therapy, ability to comply with requirements of the study, and a history of failed topical corticosteroid treatment (Figure). Patients were excluded if they were pregnant, breastfeeding, had conditions that would affect adherence or potentially bias results (eg, dementia, Alzheimer disease), had a history of allergy or sensitivity to corticosteroids, and had a history of drug hypersensitivity.

Psoriasis recalcitrant to topical treatment may be a treatment adherence problem. This patient was enrolled in the study and treated with desoximetasone spray 0.25% twice daily for 14 days.

All patients received desoximetasone spray 0.25% twice daily for 14 days. At the baseline visit, 6 patients were randomly selected to also receive a twice-daily reminder telephone call. Study visits occurred frequently—at baseline and on days 3, 7, and 14—to further assure good adherence to the treatment regimen.

During visits, disease severity was scored using the visual analog scale for pruritus, psoriasis area and severity index (PASI), total lesion severity score (TLSS), and investigator global assessment (IGA). Descriptive statistics were used to report the outcomes for each patient.

The study was designed to assess the number of topical treatment–resistant patients who would improve with topical treatment but was not designed or powered to test if the telephone call reminders increased adherence.


All patients completed the study; 10 of 12 patients (83.3%) had previously used topical clobetasol and it failed (Table). At the 2-week end-of-study visit, most patients improved on all measures. Patients who received telephone call reminders improved more than patients who did not. All 12 patients (100%) reported relief of itching; 11 of 12 (91.7%) had an improved PASI; 10 of 12 (83.3%) had an improved TLSS; and 7 of 12 (58.3%) had an improved IGA (eTables 1 and 2).


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