Psoriasis often improves in summer, when you're getting more sun. But with so much skin on display, you may be more worried about your appearance than you were in winter. Here's how to keep your skin looking its best in shorts and swimsuit weather.
Soak Up Some Rays—Safely
Many people notice that their psoriasis gets better when exposed to sunlight, but that's not true for everyone. If you've had a bad reaction to sunlight or phototherapy in the past, sunning may not be for you.
If you've had good results, it's still important not to overdo it. Even a mild sunburn can make psoriasis worse. Plus, getting too much sun increases your risk of skin cancer.
To minimize the risk, start out sunning for only 5 to 10 minutes daily. Gradually increase your sun time in 30-second increments until you reach the target recommended by your doctor. Ideally, all areas of skin affected by psoriasis should get equal time in the sun.
When you're deliberately taking in sunshine for your psoriasis, don't apply sunscreen to the affected areas, but do apply it to other exposed skin. Any other time you're in the sun, slather sunscreen on all exposed areas. Choose a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above. Reapply every two hours and after sweating heavily or swimming.
One caveat: Some medications used to treat psoriasis make the skin extra-sensitive to sunlight. These include psoralen, tazarotene, coal tar, pimecrolimus (Elidel), and tacrolimus (Protopic). If you're taking one of these medications, check with your doctor before going out in the sun.
5 Tips for No-Sweat Skin Care
To reduce your risk of a summer psoriasis flare, try these five tips:
1. Stay cool. Sweating can irritate your skin and make psoriasis worse. When the mercury climbs, keep your cool under air-conditioning or a fan. If that isn't possible, gently dab away the sweat with a cool, damp cloth or an unscented wipe.
2. Moisturize well. Air conditioning has a downside: It dries out your skin, which can aggravate psoriasis. To counter dryness, slather on moisturizer after your shower or bath. Choose a fragrance-free ointment or heavy cream.
3. Follow pool rules. Swimming with psoriasis is usually fine unless you have open sores that are oozing or infected. But the chlorine in pools can dry and irritate skin that's already over-dry from psoriasis. To minimize this problem, rinse off promptly after getting out of the pool. Then smooth on moisturizer.
4. Fight off bites. Bug bites can trigger the Koebner phenomenon—psoriasis that forms at the site of a minor skin injury. To avoid bites, wear long sleeves and long pants in bug-infested areas. If you use insect repellent, choose one with a low percentage of DEET, the active ingredient in most insect repellents. As little as 4.75% DEET can provide 90 minutes of protection. Don't apply insect repellent to open sores or irritated skin.
5. Shave with care. All that uncovered skin often means extra attention to shaving. Razor nicks can set off the Koebner phenomenon, so be careful. Thoroughly wet the area first, shave in the direction the hairs grow, and don't repeat strokes. If shaving is very difficult, consider asking your doctor about laser hair removal.
No matter what the season, to help your skin look its best, seek appropriate psoriasis treatment and stick with it. You'll feel more confident in summer clothes—and less like hiding under layers of hot fabric.