Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system produces too many skin cells. Artificial or natural UVB rays may help reduce some symptoms, but a person should be careful to avoid sunburn.

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In psoriasis, the skin cells accumulate on the surface of your skin. As the skin cells shed, they form red welts that are thick and raised and may have silvery scales. The welts can be painful or itchy.

Common medications include anti-inflammatories and immunosuppressants. It may also be possible to see some improvement in the symptoms from exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, UVA and UVB.

UVB rays are more effective at treating psoriasis symptoms because they slow the rapid rate of skin growth and shedding.

But this doesn’t mean that tanning for hours in the sun can cure your psoriasis. There are risks. Most importantly, you should always still take precautions to avoid sunburn.

If you don’t already have a diagnosis of psoriasis, you should see a doctor if you develop what looks like scales on your skin, nails, or, less commonly, around the genitals.

Psoriasis tends to be pink or red on those with light or fair skin tones and the scale silvery white. On medium skin tones, it can appear salmon-colored and silvery-white scale. On darker skin tones, psoriasis could look violet and the scale gray.

For children with psoriasis, it tends to show up first on the scalp. It’s also common for psoriasis to affect their nails. Symptoms include raised patches of skin that are often red and covered with whitish-silvery scales, dry and cracked skin, itchiness, soreness, and a burning sensation.

Learn more about psoriasis symptoms.

The sun’s ultraviolet rays are made up of UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays can help slow the rapid rate of skin growth and shedding. This means exposure to the sun may clear psoriasis symptoms in some cases. It also makes your body produce more vitamin D.

But you should take care to protect yourself from sunburn. Psoriasis predominantly affects light-skinned people. They’re at a greater risk for sunburn and dangerous forms of cancer like melanoma.

Natural sunbathing is not monitored in a medical setting like phototherapy. And medications you may be taking can increase photosensitivity. This can heighten your risk of sunburn and skin cancer.

About 30 minutes of exposure at noon may be a good start for people with mild psoriasis. People with more severe symptoms may want to start with less and increase their exposure time slowly.

But you should consult with your doctor before attempting this. Some people’s skin may start to burn within 5-10 minutes of exposure.

For this reason, you should also still wear sunscreen with at least 30 or greater SPF, even when you want your skin to soak up the sun’s rays.

Phototherapy is a treatment for psoriasis that uses natural or synthetic lights. You absorb the ultraviolet rays through your skin as you sunbathe outside or by using a special light box.

Treatment with an artificial UVB source is most successful when administered for a set time on a regular schedule. Treatment can be done in a medical setting or at home.

Your doctor may choose to treat your psoriasis with UVA rays instead of UVB. UVA rays are shorter than UVB and penetrate your skin more deeply. Because UVA rays are not as effective in clearing the signs of psoriasis, a medication called psoralen is added to the light therapy to increase effectiveness.

You’ll take an oral form of the drug or use a topical prescription on the affected skin before your UVA treatment to help your skin absorb the light. Short-term side effects include nausea, itching, and redness of the skin. This combination treatment is generally abbreviated as PUVA.

PUVA is used to treat moderate to severe plaque psoriasis. It may be used when topical treatments and UVB therapy have not been successful. Thicker psoriasis plaques respond well to PUVA because it’s absorbed deeper in the skin. Hand and foot psoriasis are often treated with PUVA therapy.

Vitamin D can help reduce inflammation throughout your body. The nutrient, as well as the UV rays from light exposure, can help clear or prevent psoriasis plaques.

Sunlight triggers your body to make the nutrient which is beneficial to strong bones and immune function. Vitamin D is a nutrient found in a few foods naturally.

Research has indicated that there’s an association between psoriasis and low vitamin D, though it’s not clear how the vitamin is involved in the psoriasis disease process.

Still, it may be helpful to eat foods containing vitamin D along with some controlled sun exposure. These foods include:

  • fortified milk and orange juice
  • fortified margarine and yogurt
  • salmon
  • tuna
  • egg yolks
  • Swiss cheese

Sun therapy and diet are not the only ways to treat psoriasis. But you can talk with your doctor about the following options if you think extra vitamin D could benefit you:

  • more natural sunlight exposure phototherapy
  • topical vitamin D ointments
  • a diet with extra vitamin D

If you practice sun exposure, remember to limit your time in the sun and wear sunscreen.