Scholars believe psoriasis to have been included among the various skin conditions called tzaraath (translated as leprosy) in the Hebrew Bible, a condition imposed as a punishment for slander. The person was deemed "impure" (see tumah and taharah) during their afflicted phase and is ultimately treated by the kohen. However, it is more likely that this confusion arose from the use of the same Greek term for both conditions. The Greeks used the term lepra (λεπρα) for scaly skin conditions. They used the term psora to describe itchy skin conditions. It became known as Willan's lepra in the late 18th century when English dermatologists Robert Willan and Thomas Bateman differentiated it from other skin diseases. Leprosy, they said, is distinguished by the regular, circular form of patches, while psoriasis is always irregular. Willan identified two categories: leprosa graecorum and psora leprosa.
Psoriasis is thought to have first been described in Ancient Rome by Cornelius Celsus. The British dermatologist Thomas Bateman described a possible link between psoriasis and arthritic symptoms in 1813.
The history of psoriasis is littered with treatments of dubious effectiveness and high toxicity. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Fowler's solution, which contains a poisonous and carcinogenic arsenic compound, was used by dermatologists as a treatment for psoriasis. Mercury was also used for psoriasis treatment during this time period. Sulfur, iodine, and phenol were also commonly used treatments for psoriasis during this era when it was incorrectly believed that psoriasis was an infectious disease. Coal tars were widely used with ultraviolet light irradiation as a topical treatment approach in the early 1900s. During the same time period, psoriatic arthritis cases were treated with intravenously administered gold preparations in the same manner as rheumatoid arthritis.