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.

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

But phototherapy isn’t the same as tanning. Here’s what to know.

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 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 control 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. 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 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 should 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 who have 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

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.

Each type of light or laser therapy has its own benefits and side effects. Work with a doctor to choose the best option for you.

The benefits of tanning beds aren’t clear. Tanning beds may help improve psoriasis, but they’re known to cause significant sun damage as well as cancer. As a result, the use of tanning beds is actively discouraged by many medical groups.

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 the use of tanning beds because prolonged or frequent exposure to radiation from sun lamps 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 are unable to access light therapy prescribed and managed by a doctor. The study encourages doctors to provide guidelines for this practice, as many try it anyway.

If you’re considering indoor tanning, speak with a doctor about the risks ahead of time. Ask 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 isn’t as effective as phototherapy. It also increases the risk of melanoma by 59%.

Some topical psoriasis medications, including coal tar and tazarotene, can also increase your risk of sunburn.

Certain oral medications, such as soriatane and methotrexate, can also increase the risk of skin burns as well as skin cancer.

Other 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.

Light therapy is one method for treating psoriasis, but it isn’t the only option. Work with a doctor 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.