Psoriasis and sunlight

Monday, October 25, 2004
Doctor examining patient's skin

Summer may be an opportunity to take advantage of a psoriasis treatment that costs no more than your tube of sunscreen. The following are some tips if you intend heading for the beach.

Why sunlight may help
The benefit for psoriasis comes from UVB, one of the forms of ultraviolet light (UV) that comes from the sun. There are three forms: UVA, UVB and UVC. It is the UVB rays which help psoriasis.

UVB starts the tanning process and it is this reddening effect immediately after exposure to the sun that is the healing element in psoriasis. However, too much UVB is not a good thing because it burns. Even UVA is not harmless and too much of both can prematurely age the skin and increase risk of skin cancer, so you really need to take care even if you do find that sunshine helps your skin.

How do I get sunlight if I am fair-skinned?
You are the highest risk of skin cancer if you are fair or red-haired and your skin does not tan easily. Because ultraviolet light is so effective for so many psoriasis sufferers, it is often used in various artificial forms by doctors. Ultraviolet treatment with a sunlamp is often given in hospitals for plaque psoriasis (the most common type) and guttate psoriasis.

In severe cases of psoriasis, dermatologists may use a treatment known as PUVA — P for psoralens plus UVA. Psoralens are chemicals found in some plants which can make the skin respond to UVA, the least dangerous forms of UV light.

But I am too embarrassed about my appearance to strip off!
You aren't alone if you are one of those who wear polo necks, long sleeves and trousers or leggings even on the hottest summer days, never sunbathe on the beach and never venture into the water. Often the more self-conscious about your psoriasis you are and the more depressed it makes you, the worse it is actually likely to be. All in all, it means summer isn't much fun.

If you are someone whose skin might benefit from sunlight, it could well be worth taking the plunge, swallowing your pride and letting the sun get at your skin. If sun doesn't do you any good, at least you will have given it a go and can concentrate your efforts on finding cool and stylish ways to stay covered.

Should I seek my doctor’s advice before hitting the beach?
Yes. Whether sunlight, real or artificial, will help you may depend on many things, such as the type of psoriasis, your age, the treatment you may have already have had for it, etc. Check with your doctor whether it would be good to give the sun a go.

What should I do when in the sun?
Follow the common-sense tips that everybody who enjoys the sun should do:

  • Avoid being in the sun from 11am to 2pm. The general rule of thumb is that if the shadow thrown from your body is shorter than you, the sun is likely to be too hot.
  • Don’t rely on shade to protect you.
  • Find a sunscreen that is good for your skin and reapply it at regular intervals, and always after swimming.
  • Loose, dark clothes are more protective of your skin than tight, light ones.

Sunbed and sunlamps
If you want to use a sunbed or sunlamp, talk to your doctor, preferably a specialist, first. Sunbeds are not necessarily safer than the sun, although many people may mistakenly believe they are. They are only likely to be of any help if your skin also benefits from natural sunlight. It is the UVB rays that you will need to use and you have to be extremely careful to ensure these don't burn your skin.

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