Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that develops when skin cells grow too rapidly. The National Psoriasis Foundation estimates that as many as 125 million people worldwide suffer from it. People with psoriasis have seen a marked improvement in the skin condition after exposure to the sun. Because of its unattractive appearance, many who have the skin disorder are embarrassed to sunbathe and have looked for discreet alternatives.
The most common type, plaque psoriasis, presents as raised, red patches of skin covered with silvery white scales. The second most common type, guttate psoriasis, appears as small red dots. Since the early 1900’s artificial UV rays have been used in the treatment of plaque, and also for guttate psoriasis that is widespread or is unresponsive to topical treatment. In 1981 the exact wavelength of UV light that benefits people with psoriasis was discovered. Since then, this treatment has been used by medical professionals treating the disorder.
UVA is the kind of light source commonly used in commercial tanning beds. Sun beds using only UVA light have proven ineffective in treatment of the disorder unless, used in conjunction with a light-sensitizing medication called Psoralen. The National Psoriasis Foundations states: “This process, called PUVA, slows down excessive skin cell growth and can clear psoriasis symptoms for varying periods of time,” Most practicing dermatologists discourage psoriasis patients from going to tanning salons to treat the disorder because they tend to use higher concentrates of UVA light.
Treatment involves sitting under a sun bed equipped with a UVB light source. Sun bed treatment for psoriasis is generally administered in a medical setting at least three to five times per week. The duration of treatment is usually eight to 10 weeks. A dermatologist will be able to determine if this treatment should be done alone or in conjunction with other topical therapies. Having this treatment under the care of a doctor creates a controlled atmosphere, which ensures that the proper dosage is received
Side Effects and Contraindications
During the course of treatment, the disorder may worsen before it improves. The skin may become red and itchy because of the exposure to the UV light. Steven Feldman, Associate Professor of Dermatology and Pathology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, states: “There are some risks of causing photo toxicity, but the sunburn reactions of UVB typically are not severe. Chronic adverse effects include photo aging, so the face should not be treated if there is no psoriasis there. Skin cancer is another potential risk. If a patient has already had skin cancer, alternative therapies should be considered, but even so, the risks of UVB are probably still small.”
If it is preferable to manage treatment at home, ask your dermatologist about a suitable UVB sun bed that can be purchased for use in the home. Most practicing dermatologists discourage psoriasis patients from using the commercial sun beds typically used in tanning salons because they tend to use higher concentrates of UVA light. The National Foundation commented, “Some view this method as a last resort if patients do not have access to light therapy. Consult your dermatologist before going to a tanning bed to treat your psoriasis.” In many cases a dermatologist will be able to work out a treatment plan so you can enjoy convenient, safe, and effective treatment in the comfort of your own home.