Sunlight And Psoriasis: How To Enjoy The Sun And Be Safe
Last updated: July 2019
Many people living with psoriasis find that their skin improves during the summertime when there are more hours of sunlight and they may spend additional time outdoors. The additional moisture in the air during the summer may also help as well. While being out in the sun may help improve skin for some, it is important to still practice safe sun behaviors to prevent sunburn and damaging of the skin as well as to protect against skin cancer.
Exposure to sunlight is typically recommended for people with mild to moderate cases of psoriasis that is not made worse by sun exposure.1 Too much sun may cause psoriasis to get worse or flare up, so it is important for those with psoriasis to be mindful about the amount of sun exposure they get. While (light) sun exposure may help to improve skin, it is important to always wear sun protection while outdoors. Some medications taken for psoriasis may also increase sun sensitivity and may also increase risk of skin cancer.
What are UV rays?
The sun's light has many different types of rays, but the ones that are most damaging to our skin are called ultraviolet (UV) rays. Two types of ultraviolet rays that can reach the earth's surface are UVA and UVB rays. You have probably heard of these before! A basic lesson on UVA and UVB rays is as such: UVB rays are known for the role that they play in causing sunburns and they also have a greater role in causing skin cancers compared with UVA rays. UVA rays are typically associated with skin changes such as the formation of wrinkles as they are known to penetrate the skin at a deeper level.2
Strength of the sun
The strength of the sun is assessed by the UV index. A UV index is a measure that represents the strength of the sun. The UV index is a range between 0 to 11+ 3
- Low UV index is 0-2
- Moderate UV index is 3-5
- High UV index 6-7
- Very High UV Index is 8-10
- Extreme UV index is 11+
Knowing the UV index can be helpful when planning a day out in the sun. If the UV index is higher it may be important to limit time in the direct sun and take additional precautions in protecting oneself.
Choosing a sunscreen
Have you ever sat in the drugstore staring at the aisle of sunscreen and just weren't sure where to begin? It can be overwhelming to know which type of sunscreen is best, especially when you have psoriasis and you aren't sure how certain sunscreens could affect your skin.
- Broad spectrum: The basics to remember when choosing a sunscreen are look for sunscreens that are labeled as “broad spectrum” protection. Broad spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Products that are labeled "broad spectrum" go through special testing to get that label.4 If you see a bottle that does not carry the broad spectrum label you should also see a label that indicates that product only protects against sunburn (UVB rays) and does not provide protection for skin aging and/or skin cancer.
- Sun Protection Factor: Pick a sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher as well. The SPF number represents the level of protection the sunscreen provides against UVB rays.
- Water-resistant: Often times if you are outdoors in the sun you may also be swimming, doing an activity in or by the water that may get your wet, or sweating! It is important to know that sunscreens are water-resistant and not waterproof. If you are purchasing a sunscreen that indicated it is water-resistant, it should indicate the length of time the water-resistance is good for while either swimming or sweating (ex: 40 minutes or 80 minutes).4 If you are swimming, sweating or running through a sprinkler you will need to re-apply regardless of whether or not you are using a water-resistant sunscreen or not as when you dry off with a towel you are typically rubbing off the sunscreen.
- Additional labels: Other labels you might see on sunscreens are "sensitive skin" or "hypoallergenic." Some community members have found it helpful to use a sunscreen that is labeled sensitive skin or hypoallergenic as they have found it caused less or no irritation with their psoriasis.
Remember that NO sunscreen protects you completely so check out some of our other tips for safety in the sun!
Tips for safe sun exposure
- Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going out in the sun.
- Remember to reapply sunscreen to get maximum protection. Setting a timer on a phone can help you to remember to reapply!
- Use additional layers of protection: Wear protective clothing if exposure to the sun will be unavoidable. Other protective options can include wearing a hat (wide brimmed ones are great for extra face and neck coverage), long sleeves or pants. There is also clothing available that has UV protection built in to help block out rays. Sunglasses are also a key protective barrier for your eyes. Other options for protection can include using an umbrella or tent for additional shade options if you will be outside for long hours in the sun.
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