I'm writing this blog post from my sun lounger in 25c sunshine. That in itself is pretty incredible considering it's April in Manchester! My sky news app has just pinged to tell me this is officially the hottest April day on record. Yep, we're having a mini heatwave here in England which is sadly due to end by the weekend, so I'm making the most of the sunny weather - my skin absolutely loves the sunshine. We've also been asked lots via the Live Chat on the website today whether sun exposure is recommended for skin conditions, so I wanted to explain things further.
You've probably heard lots of conflicting advice when it comes to exposing your skin to sunny rays. Whilst we're constantly being warned about the dangers of skin cancer, Doctors are prescribing UV treatment to heal certain skin conditions such as psoriasis.
Speaking personally, my psoriasis always responded well to sunshine. Your body is designed to get the vitamin D it needs by producing it when your bare skin is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is brilliant for reducing inflammation and balancing the body's immune system response. I took this vitamin D supplement as part of my healing process (I healed in winter) and continue to take it throughout each winter to ensure I'm getting adequate levels. It's a fantastic 1-a-day formulation by Wild Nutrition and I'd highly recommend it. I tried the medicated cream 'Dovonex' for a number of months too. It's Calcitriol based (which means a form of Vitamin D), but it's a synthetic variety of the vitamin and the cream didn't have much of an effect on me. Ironically the side effects can include red skin and itching - which most of us are trying to eliminate!
My skin has always loved sunshine. I should say I'm talking gradual and long term sun exposure here. A weeks holiday in Egypt would often kick start the healing process, but back in chilly, wet England that progress would rather dramatically stop. So much so I often thought about moving somewhere hot just to keep my skin clear. During times when I've lived in the sun for weeks on end my skin felt much smoother and naturally healed. Have you experienced that too and considered moving countries to heal your skin? During the short week I'd spend on holiday, the eagerness to expose my skin to sunshine would often result in me getting burned and that can have the opposite effect of actually making psoriasis worse.
WHY DOES SUNSHINE HELP PSORIASIS?
So why is it vitamin D, or sunshine specifically, can prove so beneficial for our skin? The sun’s ultraviolet rays are made up of UVA and UVB rays. It's thought that UVB rays are more effective at treating psoriasis symptoms because they slow the rapid rate of skin growth and shedding. UVB rays are also more dangerous and tanning salons these days have had to limit the strength of UVB tubes in their sunbeds - this is why you might not find regular tanning beds work as effectively as natural sunlight to clear psoriasis. Here is why natural sun exposure is thought to help psoriasis;
- UVB exposure from the sun can slow down the rapid growth of the skin cells, which is one of the main symptoms of psoriasis
- The sun not only helps clear psoriasis symptoms in some cases, but also it makes your body produce more vitamin D
- Vitamin D can help lower inflammation throughout the body - there is often underlying inflammation associated with psoriasis
- Vitamin D helps protect the skin and balance the skin's immune response, it is essential for people with psoriasis to get enough sunlight
- Sunshine can improve our mood. It sounds simplistic but how good does it feel waking up to blue skies and sunshine? Reducing stress can help eliminate psoriasis
- When it's warm we naturally eat lighter meals and drink more water, both of which can benefit skin
It's the powerful combination of Vitamin D, slowing the rapid cell regeneration, proper hydration and stress reduction that I believe can be so wonderful when it comes to healing psoriasis. That said, sunshine is most definitely not the answer for everybody. I speak to lots of clients in Malaysia, India and Australia where sunshine is pretty much on tap - yet they still struggle with flares even in summer. For me it's the important holistic (whole-listic) approach. Seeing the body as a whole and treating it with everything at your disposal - lifestyle change / diet / natural salt water & sunshine.
SUNSHINE AT THE DEAD SEA
The combination of sun exposure and the minerals of the dead sea in Israel can prove incredibly beneficial for psoriasis patients. So much so that in Germany, Austria and Denmark health care funds will often cover the cost of patients seeking treatment at the Dead Sea. Dead Sea and Epsom Salt baths can be used to improve skin conditions such as psoriasis. Our Epsom Salt scrub offers a gentle combination of mineral salts, coconut oil and calendula - which not only smells divine but feels great on the skin too.
UVB treatment is being offered more and more these days as a treatment for psoriasis. I've met a number of clients on our retreats who have seen great results from it. It's important to point out that I don't believe UV treatment alone is enough, sure it might clear your skin short term, but unless you target the underlying problem through diet and lifestyle change, those patches and spots are going to creep back. Sometimes disappointingly fast. The other downside of UV treatment is how time consuming it can be. Patients are often expected to attend hospital two or three times a week. Depending on travel time etc that can be a big chunk of expectation and time out of your working day. There are also the side effects such as an increased risk of skin cancer to consider. Speak with your Doctor or dermatologist who will help you better understand the treatment.
NATURAL SUN EXPOSURE TIPS
- Gradual and gentle safe exposure. I understand the temptation to go and lie flat out in the back garden when the sun comes out or jump straight on the sunlounger on holiday, but even in England those rays can get really strong. It's important to build up sun exposure gradually
- Seek shade when the sun is particularly strong, it's important not to burn to avoid doing any further damage
- Some psoriasis medications, especially topical creams and ointments, might make the skin more sensitive to light. This could increase the risk of sunburn and skin damage. Check the listed side effects or speak to your Doctor
- Advice suggests using a sunscreen at all times to protect your skin. Sunscreen actually creates a barrier preventing absorption of vitamin D. That said, I advocate balance so limited direct exposure is great, but balance that with using a chemical free sunscreen - there are so many chemicals in regular sun protection, I like the brand Shade All which you can find on Amazon (just 4 natural ingredients)
It's also important to say that your psoriasis patches might look very red whilst lying out in the sun and / or immediately afterwards and even for a day or two post sun exposure. The skin around my patches used to look very red and inflamed but that would calm significantly after a day or two. Aloe Vera is really great for cooling skin and if you haven't yet checked out our Calm Balm to keep skin hydrated you really should as I know you will absolutely love it!
If your skin loves the sunshine and you feel you could benefit from more sunlight at this time of year, why not consider our Hvar retreat on May 8th?
How do you find your skin responds to sunshine? I'd love to hear from you. Post in the comments below.