Although some sunlight can do psoriasis good, it’s important to protect your skin from sunburns.
Fortunately, there are ways to keep psoriasis flares at bay during summer months so that you can enjoy yourself all season long.
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Embrace the Humidity
Ever wonder why your psoriasis feels better in the summer? It has to do with the air. While humidity can wreak havoc on your hair, it’s good for your skin because the extra moisture makes psoriasis patches less prone to cracking, says Abby Jacobson, a senior medical director at Ortho Dermatologics who is based in Lititz, Pennsylvania
On extra hot and humid days, though, you may not want to stray too far from air-conditioning. When you’re overheated and sweaty, you’re more likely to experience a flare, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF). On the flip side, too much air-conditioning can dry out skin, so be sure to moisturize frequently if you are often in air-conditioned buildings and cars.
Schedule Time in the Sun
Although it’s not a substitute for medical-grade light therapy, some people do find that a little sun exposure helps soothe their psoriasis, says Delphine J. Lee, MD, PhD, chief of dermatology and residency program director at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California. Ultraviolet B is present in natural sunlight and is an effective treatment for psoriasis, says the NPF. Sunlight also helps the body create vitamin D, which may play a role in psoriasis. Research suggests that people with psoriasis often have lower than normal levels of vitamin D.
Using sunlight to treat psoriasis is not recommended for everyone, however. Be sure to talk to your dermatologist to formulate a sunscreen plan and figure out a time limit.
Shield Yourself From Sunburn
Sunburns are technically an injury to the skin, explains Jacobson. And for some people, psoriasis forms at the site of an injury, a response known as the Koebner phenomenon. Exposure to UV radiation from the sun is also associated with skin cancer, including melanoma. Though it’s not fully understood why, research suggests that people with psoriasis run a higher risk of developing melanoma compared with the general population.
To guard your skin against sun damage, apply an ounce (about a shot glass’s worth) of high-SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen to exposed areas of your face and body a half hour before you go outside, and reapply every two hours. It’s also a good idea to put on a hat to protect your scalp, wear a rash guard or swim shirt at the pool or beach, and cover up with lightweight, loose clothing if you’ll be out in the sun for a prolonged period of time.
Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize
While humidity is good for your psoriasis, many aspects of summer, like air-conditioning and chlorine, can lead to dry skin. If you know this will be an issue, compensate by applying extra moisturizer.
In the case of chlorine, shower after swimming to minimize any potential irritation; then, to lock in moisture, apply an ointment or cream (free of chemicals, fragrances, or dyes) within three minutes of showering, Dr. Lee advises. Ointments and creams are thicker in consistency than lotions, which makes them better. “Lotions tend to have a high water content, which may evaporate rapidly, and then, as a result, be more drying in the end,” Lee explains. And showering or rinsing off before swimming can help, too: If the skin is already wet, it is less likely to absorb chlorinated or irritating water.
Take a Dip in the Ocean
Soaking in water helps rehydrate dry, flaky lesions on skin, notes Lee, but splashing in the ocean may be even more beneficial than lounging in the tub. Although more research is needed to evaluate the possible benefits of sea salt on psoriasis, there’s definitely something about salt water that helps soothe psoriasis. Some studies have found, for example, that water from the Dead Sea can be helpful for psoriasis and may also enhance the transmission of UV light therapy.
Though you may not be traveling to the Dead Sea any time soon, a trek to the beach on your next day off may help ease your irritation. Swimming in ordinary salt water can be beneficial by removing dead skin and improving the look of psoriasis, according to the NPF. Salt water can be drying, though, so it’s a good idea to rinse off and moisturize after swimming.
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Cut Down on Alcohol
Summer is prime time to indulge in a cocktail — or two — at happy hour. But if you have psoriasis, you may want to limit how much you drink, Jacobson says. And that’s especially true with cocktails that include added sugar, which can lead to a psoriasis flare, notes Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Even moderate drinking can reduce your response to psoriasis treatments, and alcohol can have dangerous side effects when combined with certain psoriasis medications. Research also suggests that excessive alcohol consumption may contribute to systemic inflammation and exacerbate other conditions known to occur in people with psoriasis, including cardiovascular disease and depression.
If you have psoriasis and would like to enjoy a sunset cocktail, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends a limit of one drink per day for women and two for men.
Additional reporting by Julia Califano.
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