Is Tanning a Safe Way to Treat Psoriasis?

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on January 29, 2018Written by Natalie Silver on April 7, 2016

Is it safe?

You may be considering different treatment options for psoriasis. One option is light therapy. Doctor-supervised light therapy is a medically supported treatment for psoriasis.

Another possible treatment option is using an indoor tanning bed on your own. However, most doctors advise against using indoor tanning beds. This is because of their serious side effects. They emit more UVA light than UVB light, which is more beneficial for psoriasis.

What is psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a skin condition caused by the immune system. The immune system attacks the skin cells and causes them to turn over faster than normal.

In people without psoriasis, skin cell turnover takes a few weeks. In people with psoriasis, this process happens over the course of a few days. This rapid turnover causes patches of raised, red skin to appear.

While psoriasis isn’t curable, it can be managed. More than 7.5 million people in the United States have psoriasis, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). It’s commonly diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 30.

There are several types of psoriasis, including:

Plaque psoriasis

This type causes red bumps or silvery scales on the skin’s surface. It’s the most common form of psoriasis. About 80 percent of people with psoriasis have plaque psoriasis, according to the AAD.

Guttate psoriasis

Guttate psoriasis causes small, dot-like lesions to appear on the body. Children and young adults most often get this form. The National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) estimates it affects about 10 percent of people with psoriasis.

Inverse psoriasis

Inverse psoriasis causes red lesions to appear in the folds of your skin. You can have this type of psoriasis and other types at the same time.

Pustular psoriasis

Pustular psoriasis results in blisters surrounded by red skin. It occurs mostly on the hands or feet.

Erythrodermic psoriasis

Erythrodermic psoriasis is the most severe form of psoriasis. It appears as a red rash all over the body. It can develop from uncontrolled or unmanaged plaque psoriasis. About 3 percent of people with psoriasis develop this type, according to the NPF.

What causes psoriasis?

It isn’t clear why some people get psoriasis and others don’t. Many researchers believe that genetics plays a role.

Psoriasis outbreaks happen for a variety of reasons. There’s generally a “trigger” that causes symptoms to develop. These can include:

  • alcohol consumption
  • cold weather
  • illness, such as strep throat
  • certain medications
  • stress
  • skin injury
  • smoking
  • trauma

How is psoriasis treated?

Treatment focuses on preserving quality of life and reducing the likelihood of flare-ups. Your doctor will work with you to develop the best treatment method for you.

Topical creams, light therapy, and oral medications are all methods to consider. You may also need to identify psoriasis triggers and avoid them to lessen your chances of flare-ups.

Understanding light therapy

Ultraviolet A (UVA) and B (UVB) light can help control your psoriasis. There are many kinds of light therapy available, including targeted and whole-body treatments. These treatments slow overactive T cells and reduce flare-ups. Your doctor can help you decide whether this method is right for you.

Some types of light therapy include:

Natural sunlight therapy

You can use the UV light that comes naturally from sunlight to treat psoriasis. It’s recommended that you spend at least 5 to 10 minutes in the midday sun each day. Don’t stay out for very long, though. Too much sun exposure can also cause your psoriasis to flare-up.

Observe how your skin tolerates it. Wear sunscreen on the parts of your body that are unaffected by psoriasis. Be careful not to overexpose your skin.

UVB phototherapy

This therapy exposes you to UVB light for concentrated periods of time in a controlled environment. Depending on the light, UVB therapy can be used to target a specific area or the whole body. It removes most UVA light, reducing the burning and cancerous effects that natural sunlight would bring.

Your psoriasis may get worse before it improves with this therapy. You can receive treatment at your doctor’s office or at home.

PUVA treatment

For PUVA treatment, the medication psoralen is used alongside UVA light therapy. Psoralen can be taken orally or topically. The combination of psoralen with UVA light slows the growth of skin cells.

Your skin may become itchy or irritated at first with this method. Moisturizers can relieve these side effects.

Laser treatment

High levels of UVB light can be administered by a laser to treat specific areas affected by psoriasis. You may receive a course of laser treatment over several days, weeks, or months.

What about tanning beds?

You may wonder if indoor tanning beds can treat psoriasis. This has been a topic of discussion among the psoriasis community. However, the benefits of tanning beds aren’t clear. This practice is actively discouraged by many medical groups because it carries an increased risk for skin cancer.

The NPF discourages the use of indoor tanning beds for a variety of reasons. One is that tanning beds generally emit more UVA light than UVB light. UVA light without medication, such as psoralen, is relatively ineffective at treating psoriasis.

Still, some research suggests that indoor tanning beds can help psoriasis. One study concluded that indoor tanning beds may be useful in treating dermatologic conditions for people who are unable to access light therapy prescribed and managed by a doctor. The study encourages doctors to provide guidelines for this practice, as many people try it anyway.

Speaking with your doctor

Light therapy is one method for treating psoriasis, but it isn’t the only option. Work with your doctor to determine the best course of action for treating your psoriasis. Together, you can develop a treatment plan that best suits your lifestyle needs. If you’re considering indoor tanning, speak with your doctor about the risks ahead of time.

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