Treating Psoriasis with Natural Sunlight & Phototherapy

Treating Psoriasis with Natural Sunlight

Being in natural sunlight is known to benefit many people with psoriasis. The ultraviolet rays of the sun are composed of UVA and UVB rays. The UVB rays are known to be more effective at treating the symptoms of psoriasis than UVA rays. This is because UVB rays slow down the rapid rate of skin buildup and shedding in psoriasis.(1)

However, even though sunlight benefits psoriasis, you still need to take care to protect yourself and avoid getting a sunburn.

As psoriasis tends to affect light-skinned people more, they are also at a higher risk of getting a sunburn and develop other forms of cancer such as melanoma. Also, keep in mind that your doctor does not monitor natural exposure to sunlight or natural sunbathing. Furthermore, medications you might be taking for psoriasis have the potential to increase photosensitivity, increasing the risk of sunburn and skin cancer.

Treating Psoriasis with Natural Sunlight

Natural sunlight treatment for psoriasis typically begins with a 10-minute exposure to sunlight at noon. You can then increase your exposure time gradually by 30 seconds every day.(2)

Even though you want your skin to soak up the rays of the sun, but you still need to wear sunscreen. Here are some tips to ensure that you achieve the best and safest results from sunlight exposure:

  • Wear sunglasses
  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen to any areas of unaffected skin
  • You should ideally do natural sunlight therapy sessions when the sun is at its strongest, which is around noon.
  • Stay outside only for 10 minutes at a time to minimize the risk of sun damage. You can gradually increase the exposure time by 30 seconds each day, but only as long as your skin can tolerate the exposure.
  • You will find that the sunlight not only helps with the psoriasis symptoms, but it also increases the production of vitamin D in the body.

Risks of Sunlight Exposure

While you want the UVB rays, your skin is also soaking in the UVA rays that are present in sunlight. The UVA rays travel deep into the skin and are responsible for causing your skin to tan when you are out in the sun regularly. Over a period of time, too much UVA light can cause damage to your skin and lead to wrinkles, broken veins, and age spots. This phenomenon is known as photoaging.

At the same time, UVB rays can also cause problems. UVB rays are what cause sunburn when you stay in the sun for too long. A bad sunburn can trigger psoriasis and lead to a flare-up of your symptoms. Medical experts also believe that repeated sunburns increase your risk of developing skin cancer in the future.

There are many medications and supplements that make you highly sensitive to sunlight, due to which you are more susceptible to getting sunburns. This is why you should inform your doctor about any medications and supplements you are taking so that they can advise you on the best way to protect your skin before you start exposing the affected skin to sunlight.

Treating Psoriasis Using Phototherapy

Phototherapy is a treatment option for psoriasis that also makes use of artificial or natural light. During phototherapy, you absorb the UV rays into your skin either by using a special lightbox or by sunbathing outside.(3)

It has been observed that the treatment of psoriasis with an artificial UVB light source is more successful when it is administered for a specific time and on a regular schedule. This treatment can be performed either at home or in a medical setup, as well.

Some doctors also opt for treating psoriasis with UVA rays rather than UVB. UVA rays penetrate your skin more because they are shorter than UVB rays. However, UVA rays by themselves are not as effective as UVB rays in clearing up the symptoms of psoriasis. Due to this, a medication called psoralen is added to boost the effectiveness of light therapy with UVA rays. You will either be prescribed the drug for topical application, or you will take it orally in pill form. This medication helps you absorb UVA light more effectively.

There are some short term side effects of psoralen, including itching, nausea, and redness of the skin. This combination of UVA light therapy and psoralen is referred to as PUVA in short.

PUVA is often used for treating moderate to severe plaque psoriasis. PUVA is typically used when UVB therapy and other topical treatment for psoriasis do not prove successful. It has been observed that the thicker psoriasis plaques heal better with PUVA since the UVA rays get absorbed deeper into the skin. Foot and hand psoriasis is also usually treated with PUVA.

Conclusion

Natural sunlight therapy is not the only way of treating psoriasis. Before beginning any new treatment, though, you must discuss it with your doctor. If your doctor believes that a small amount of sunlight therapy can help, then they will recommend you to go out in the sun for a couple of minutes, to begin with. Your doctor will also let you know just how long you need to stay in the sun to notice any improvement in your psoriasis symptoms.

You can also discuss with your doctor about using various types of topical vitamin D ointments and creams for managing your psoriasis symptoms.

References:

  1. Søyland, E., Heier, I., Rodríguez‐Gallego, C., Mollnes, T.E., Johansen, F.E., Holven, K.B., Halvorsen, B., Aukrust, P., Jahnsen, F.L., De La Rosa Carrillo, D. and Krogstad, A.L., 2011. Sun exposure induces rapid immunological changes in skin and peripheral blood in patients with psoriasis. British Journal of Dermatology, 164(2), pp.344-355.
  2. ScienceDaily. (2019). Summer sun good for psoriasis sufferers says Gottlieb dermatologist. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130806165930.htm [Accessed 29 Oct. 2019].
  3. Zanolli, M., 2004. Phototherapy arsenal in the treatment of psoriasis. Dermatologic clinics, 22(4), pp.397-406.

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