Psoriasis and Sun Risks

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 17, 2023
3 min read

When you have psoriasis, your symptoms can be better at certain times and worse at others. When things are bad, you may have thick, silvery scales on your skin and dry, itchy red patches that can hurt. There's no cure for psoriasis, but some things can help keep your skin cells from growing too fast and forming scales and patches.

One of those things is natural sunlight. In some cases, being in the sun for short periods of time can help a lot. Some people even notice their scales and patches disappear in warm climates during the summer.

This is because the sun gives off a kind of light called ultraviolet (UV) light. There are two types: UVA and UVB. UVA light by itself doesn't do much to ease psoriasis symptoms, but UVB light can slow down the growth of your skin cells, which helps with scaling and inflammation. UVB also helps your body make vitamin D, which is good for your skin and bones.

Sunlight is only one way to get UVB exposure. You can use artificial sources at home or in your doctor's office. That's called phototherapy.

UVA light goes deep into your skin. This is why your skin tans if you're in the sun regularly. Too much UVA over time can damage your skin and cause things like wrinkles, age spots, and broken veins. This is called photoaging.

UVB light can cause problems, too. It's the reason you get a sunburn when you're out in the sun too long. A bad sunburn can trigger psoriasis, and experts think repeated sunburns can raise your risk of skin cancer in the future, especially if you're young.

Certain medications and supplements can make you unusually sensitive to sunlight and more likely to get sunburns. Tell your doctor about anything you take so they can help you decide on the best way to protect your skin.

Talk with your doctor before trying any new treatment, including sunlight. If they think a small amount could be helpful, they may recommend that you go out in the sun for a few minutes without sunscreen and then put some on. Or they might suggest that you use a sunscreen with a higher protection and stay outside longer.

Even if you didn’t have psoriasis, it would be smart to protect your skin from the sun’s damaging UVA and UVB rays. With psoriasis, you have an extra reason to do so, since sunburn can make it worse. Dermatologists recommend doing these things:

  • Avoid being outside during the sun’s peak hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses that have UV protection, and cover up in light fabrics like cotton that are cool, especially in pale colors.
  • Wear sunscreen every day that’s “broad-spectrum” with an SPF of at least 30.

Because you have psoriasis, you may want to try a fragrance-free sunscreen that’s made for sensitive skin. And you can put the sunscreen on in areas where you have psoriasis.