Psoriasis occurs when your immune system triggers inflammation and produces skin cells much faster than normal. Instead of new cells coming to the surface every 28-30 days, you produce skin cells every three to four days. The result is red welts, silvery scales, potential pain, and itching.
You may have psoriasis due to genetics. Stress, certain infections, medications, and skin injuries -- including scrapes and bug bites -- can turn the psoriasis gene on. A severe sunburn can also trigger the disease to become active.
This doesn’t mean you should avoid the sun altogether if you have psoriasis, because moderate exposure to natural sunlight can be a healing treatment.
Healing potential of sunlight
Sunlight can resolve many cases of psoriasis, at least temporarily. Some people find their symptoms come close to disappearing during the summer months in warm, sunny climates.
The reason why sunlight is powerful is due to its UVB rays. Sunlight is composed of ultraviolet light, consisting of UVA and UVB rays. The UVB rays slow the rapid rate of skin growth that appears as psoriasis.
Ultraviolet light is so powerful in easing psoriasis symptoms that it’s used in phototherapy. If you don’t live in a sunny climate, a special light box emits the healing rays. Although UVB is the effective wavelength for psoriasis treatment, UVA may be prescribed for phototherapy in combination with medications called psoralens. These medications, applied topically or taken orally, sensitize your skin to the UVA treatment so it works better.
The National Psoriasis Foundation warns against using conventional tanning beds for psoriasis treatment. The wavelengths in these beds contain more UVA than UVB, which increases your risk for photoaging and skin cancer. The UVA rays alone are less effective in easing psoriasis plaques, too.
The right amount of sun
A weekend at the beach is unlikely to clear up psoriasis, because you need long-term exposure. Too much sun, however, can cause a sunburn and result in injury and aggravation of psoriasis.
Increase your sun exposure levels slowly. That way your skin benefits from exposure to the ultraviolet light, but adapts to the effects of the sun gradually. Start with just 10 minutes at a strong, sunny point of the day, such as noon or 1pm. Gradually increase your exposure by 30-60 seconds a day.
Wear sunscreen and sunglasses to protect yourself from harmful rays that can age you and cause a burn. If you take medications or have a condition that makes you especially sensitive to the sun, clear sun therapy with Dr. Fromowitz before heading outside.
Vitamin D bonus
Exposure to sunlight triggers your body’s natural ability to manufacture vitamin D. Vitamin D reduces inflammation throughout your body, and along with the light exposure, may help ease your psoriasis plaques. While you can find vitamin D in a few foods, including fortified milks, tuna, and egg yolks, the sun remains one of the surest sources.
If you suffer from psoriasis, talk to Dr. Fromowitz about safe sunbathing to help ease your symptoms. He can advise you on how to use sunlight, along with other therapies, to reduce the appearance of plaques.