Skin safety in the sun

Sometimes people with psoriasis are slightly embarrassed by their condition and face a dilemma during summer months. They have heard that the sun is good for their condition, yet they hesitate to reveal any more of their skin than they have to.

You aren't alone if you wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, even on the hottest summer days, and never sunbathe on the beach or venture into the water. However, this may mean that you miss out on a lot of fun during the summer. Most people feel they look their best in the summer, and when you feel good, you look good too. Often, the more self-conscious you are about your psoriasis, the more upset it might make you, which can cause stress that may actually worsen your symptoms!

So if your skin might benefit from sunlight, it could well be worth letting it be safely exposed to the sun. Whether you will be helped by sunlight - real or artificial - depends on many factors, such as the type of psoriasis, your age, and the various forms of treatment you may have tried. You should first get advice from your doctor and dermatologist about whether you should try sunlight.

You are at the highest risk of sunburn if you are fair or red-haired and your skin does not tan easily. Certain medications, such as antibiotics and retinoids (commonly taken to fight acne), may also increase the risk of sunburn.

If your skin does react well to the sun, follow these guidelines to stay safe:

  • In general, try to stay out of the hot sun between 11 am and 3 pm. However, since the angle the sun comes in at varies depending on how close you are to the equator and what time of year it is, it might make even better sense to check the power of the sun by the shadow it throws. If your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun is more likely to cause burns. If your shadow is longer than you are, the sun's rays are not as strong and are less likely to burn your skin.
  • Remember that shade does not provide 100% sunlight protection. Water, sand and concrete can all reflect the sun's rays and increase your chances of burning. It is important to note that sunlight can penetrate glass, clouds, water and thin clothing such as hosiery.
  • Use the sunscreen that best suits you and re-apply it every few hours, or more often if you go swimming or exercise, especially if you towel-dry afterwards.
  • Loose-fitting clothing provides better protection against the sun than tight clothing, and dark colors are more protective than light ones.

What about sunscreens?
Sunscreens have sun protection factors (SPF), which measure protection against UVB. The sun protection factor you need is based on your own judgment of how long you can stay in the sun without burning. For example, if you can sit out in the sun for ten minutes without burning, using sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will ideally give you 15 times more suntanning time - that is, about 150 minutes - protected against sunburn.

An SPF 15 provides high protection, but most dermatologists would recommend an even higher sun protection factor, such as SPF 30 or higher. If you burn easily, take medications which make you more sensitive to the sun, or have a history of skin cancer, you should probably use an SPF of 30 or higher. Even if you're not especially sun-sensitive, it may be worthwhile to choose an SPF of 30 or higher.

Be aware that the level of protection indicated on a product is only reached if the correct amount of sunscreen is used. Most people apply too little - usually, 1 ounce (approximately 35 mL) per use is considered optimal. If in doubt, apply a sun care product evenly and generously - better too much than not enough.

It is very important not to burn, as this can increase your risk of skin damage, skin cancer, and premature skin aging or wrinkles.

Sunbeds and sunlamps
If you want to use a sunbed or sunlamp, talk to your doctor or dermatologist first. Sunbeds are not necessarily safer than the sun, although many people mistakenly believe they are. They are likely only to be of any help if your skin also benefits from natural sunlight. It is the UVB rays that you will need to use, and you have to be extremely careful to ensure these don't burn your skin. Ask your pharmacist to give you more information and guidance on products that help protect your skin.

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