Sunshine for Psoriasis: Friend or Foe?

By | July 21, 2022

Sunshine can be extremely helpful for psoriasis, but it’s important to be aware of how much sun exposure you get.

Some people with psoriasis — an autoimmune skin disease that causes a rash with itchy and scaly patches — find that their patches are almost nonexistent in warm summer months. That’s because ultraviolet (UV) light produced by the sun can actually improve skin’s appearance for those with psoriasis.

In fact, some dermatologists use UV phototherapy as a treatment for psoriasis. But the key is finding balance.

Here’s everything you need to know about the connection between sunshine and psoriasis, including the pros and cons of sun exposure.

Pros

Sunshine can be highly beneficial in helping psoriasis. Natural UV light exposure can reduce inflammation and scaling in mild to moderate psoriasis. UVB wavelengths in UV light stimulate the production of vitamin D in the skin, which is essential for skin health.

Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with psoriasis, but the exact effect isn’t entirely clear. Still, vitamin D is often used as a popular therapy for psoriasis.

While vitamin D levels can be managed by taking supplements or increasing the intake of vitamin D-rich foods, like fortified dairy, orange juice, salmon, and tuna, sun exposure is one of the best and easiest ways to receive it.

In warmer months, most people get all the vitamin D they need from the sun. But in colder months, our bodies make less vitamin D, which means it might be necessary to take supplements or eat fortified foods.

Cons

While UVB wavelengths have proven benefits for the skin, UVA wavelengths — also found in UV light — aren’t as effective in treating psoriasis.

Phototherapy for psoriasis uses UVB wavelengths since they provide maximum benefits. Plus, natural sunlight isn’t as effective as targeted UVB phototherapy, which exposes the skin to an artificial UVB light source for a specific length of time at regular intervals.

Sun exposure also comes with the risk of sunburn, which can aggravate sensitive skin in people with psoriasis. UVA wavelengths in particular can cause typical signs of photoaging, such as wrinkles, broken veins, sagging skin, and age spots.

Severe sunburn may also increase your risk of developing melanoma, which is a type of skin cancer.

Sometimes, a bad sunburn can actually form new psoriasis patches in burnt areas. People at the highest risk for sunburns are those who are fair and don’t tan easily. Those receiving phototherapy are also advised to limit their natural sun exposure since it can make skin more sensitive.

Some people might experience a psoriasis flare from warm weather or activities in warm weather, so it’s important to be mindful of any triggers.

Certain medications, such as tazarotene and coal tar cream, can make you more susceptible to sunburns as well. These are both popular topical medications used to treat psoriasis.

Some antibiotics, antifungals, antihistamines, diuretics, and other medications can increase sun sensitivity, too.

What’s too much sun?

Before sunbathing, check with your doctor that sun exposure will be safe for your skin. For example, more severe forms of psoriasis might not benefit from being in the sun.

It’s also important to consider the strength of the sun, since stronger sun makes your skin burn more quickly. You can usually determine your level of sun sensitivity by your skin tone, hair, and eyes.

While there’s no set rule or number as to how much sun is too much sun, be aware of your sun exposure and things that might contribute to sun sensitivity, like medications or how much exposure you already had.

These tips can help keep you safe during sun exposure:

  • Wear a fragrance-free sunblock with SPF 30 or higher.
  • Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day (usually 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.).
  • Put on a hat and sunglasses.
  • Don’t forget sunscreen on your lips.
  • Moisturize your skin after sun exposure.
  • Protect the soles of your feet.

How to soothe sunburn

It’s no secret that a bad sunburn can be miserable. Sunburns can cause blisters, peeling, and in extreme situations, sun poisoning or third-degree burns. Not to mention, they can be extremely painful.

Luckily, there are numerous solutions to soothe a sunburn. Here are a few to consider:

  • Take a cool bath with soothing oatmeal.
  • Apply aloe vera or soy moisturizer.
  • Use aspirin or ibuprofen as needed to reduce swelling and discomfort.
  • Drink extra water.
  • Don’t pop skin blisters. (Let them heal naturally instead.)
  • Wear clothing that covers your skin when outdoors.

The takeaway

Sunshine and psoriasis have a complicated relationship. Sun exposure can be extremely helpful in both reducing and treating psoriasis, but it does come with a few caveats.

While psoriasis has no cure, getting in the sun might be helpful for managing the condition, as long as it’s approved and recommended by your doctor.

Taking precautions when getting sun exposure can help protect your skin and reduce your risk of sunburn, which can actually increase psoriasis patches and put you in danger of other complications, like aging skin or even skin cancer.

Keep a high SPF sunblock handy and don’t forget your hat and sunglasses when you go outside.

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