Doctor-supervised light therapy is a medically supported treatment for psoriasis. But phototherapy isn’t the same as tanning.

Psoriasis is an immune-mediated skin condition that leads to raised, itchy skin plaques. It can also affect other areas of the body such as the joints. While there’s no cure, it can be managed with proper treatment and modifications.

Many people find that sun exposure helps improve psoriasis skin. But tanning isn’t considered a traditional psoriasis treatment option.

Your overall treatment approach should focus on preserving quality of life and lowering the likelihood of flare-ups. You may need to identify psoriasis triggers and avoid them to lessen your chances of flare-ups.

It’s important to work with a doctor or another healthcare professional to develop the best psoriasis treatment plan for you. That may include:

  • topical medications
  • light therapy
  • oral medications
  • injected medications

In particular, light therapy somewhat mimics the benefits of sun exposure on psoriasis skin. It uses ultraviolet rays under doctor supervision to help improve psoriasis.

If you and a doctor determine phototherapy might be a good addition to your psoriasis treatment plan, here’s what you should know.

Ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) light can help manage your psoriasis. Many kinds of light therapy are available, including targeted and whole-body treatments.

These treatments slow overactive T cells and reduce flare-ups. A 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 ultraviolet light that comes naturally from sunlight to treat psoriasis. Aim to spend at least 5 to 10 minutes in the midday sun daily. Don’t stay out for very long, though. Too much sun exposure can also cause psoriasis to flare up.

Observe how your skin tolerates sunlight. Some psoriasis treatments may make you more sensitive to sunlight. Be careful not to overexpose your skin.

People living with psoriasis are generally advised to apply fragrance-free, mineral-based sunscreens to their entire body. This helps lower the risk of skin cancer, especially considering certain psoriasis medications can increase the risk of skin cancer.

However, some people should avoid applying sunscreen directly on skin that’s affected by psoriasis. For those people, wearing ultraviolet protection factor clothing may be recommended. Ask a doctor for individualized sun protection guidelines.

UVB phototherapy

This therapy exposes you to UVB light for short periods of time in a controlled environment. This type of light therapy uses limited wavelengths to decrease the risk of sunburn and skin damage.

Different types of UVB therapy can be used to target a specific area or the whole body. Your psoriasis may get worse before it improves with this therapy. You can receive treatment at a doctor’s office or at home.

The light from this therapy can cause the treated skin to tan or darken. If you have skin of color, it can also cause dark spots on your skin to become more noticeable.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) advises that people speak with a dermatologist if they want to avoid skin darkening from this treatment.

PUVA treatment

For psoralen UVA (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 overproduction of skin cells related to psoriasis.

This type of light therapy is typically used for people with more widespread psoriasis.

PUVA treatment is typically not recommended for long-term use. Your skin may become itchy or irritated at first with this method. Moisturizers can help relieve these side effects. This treatment can also cause nausea and headache.

Laser treatment

A healthcare professional may prescribe administering high levels of UVB light via a laser to treat specific areas affected by psoriasis. You may receive a course of laser treatment over several days, weeks, or months.

Each type of light or laser therapy has its own benefits and side effects. You can work with a healthcare professional to choose the best option for you.

The benefits of tanning beds are not clear.

Tanning beds may help improve psoriasis, but they’re known to cause significant sun damage and cancer. As a result, many medical groups actively discourage the use of tanning beds.

The National Psoriasis Foundation 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.

In addition, the AAD opposes using tanning beds because prolonged or frequent exposure to sunlamp radiation could lead to skin cancer.

Some people are also at risk of developing tanning addiction.

Still, some research suggests that indoor tanning beds may help psoriasis.

A 2015 study concluded that indoor tanning beds may be useful in treating dermatologic conditions for people who cannot access light therapy that a doctor prescribes and manages. The study encourages doctors to provide guidelines for this practice, as many try it anyway.

If you’re considering indoor tanning, consult with a healthcare professional about the risks beforehand. Also, consider asking about phototherapy, which is a much safer, more effective option.

When compared with phototherapy, exposure to natural sunlight or tanning comes with many risks.

Indoor tanning is not as effective as phototherapy. It also increases the risk of melanoma by 59%, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.

Some topical psoriasis medications, including coal tar and tazarotene, can also increase your risk of sunburn. This can make tanning especially harmful.

Oral psoriasis medications can also increase the risk of skin burns. Immunosuppressive drugs, such as biologics, which lower immune system activity, can also increase the risk of skin cancer.

Prescription phototherapy is done under medical supervision to ensure safety and monitor for side effects such as skin damage and sunburn.

Taking steps to tan or increase sun exposure without medical supervision can increase your risk of unwanted side effects and long-term complications.

Tanning isn’t considered a safe or effective treatment for psoriasis. However, some healthcare professionals may prescribe supervised phototherapy. Light therapy is different from traditional tanning or prolonged sun exposure.

It’s best to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the best course of action for treating your psoriasis. Together, you can develop a treatment plan that best suits your lifestyle and needs.