As the weather finally begins to warm up in the UK, but for those of us with skin conditions, summer sunshine brings with it a list of additional anxieties.
When my psoriasis patches were at their worst, I used to dread switching from the hidden comfort of full length trousers and long sleeves to shorts and strappy tops. I'd often spend friends summer weddings sweltering in a long sleeved dress or casually draped cashmere cardigan, just to avoid the embarrassing questions about red patches on my skin.
Sunshine itself seemed to help my skin for the most part. I often dreamed of moving somewhere warm so that I could at least spend six months of the year psoriasis free. But even that wasn't always a guarantee. I remember one holiday in Egypt where my patches only seemed to raise and turn increasingly red and inflamed. I came home with my skin looking worse than when I'd left!
So, when it comes to skin conditions and sunshine, what's the story?
Do Not Burn
It goes without saying, but whether your skin responds positively or negatively to sunshine, it's absolutely vital not to burn.
Sunburn is an inflammatory reaction to ultraviolet radiation damage in the skins outer layers. Whilst the immediate effect can be incredibly painful and uncomfortable, the danger goes far beyond short-term discomfort. Repeated sunburn plays a clear role in developing melanoma (skin cancer) so it's absolutely vital we take care when exposing our skin to sunshine.
The first signs of sunburn include reddening of the skin, skin that's hot or painful to touch, and skin which might even peel or blister after a couple of days. Cool showers, drinking lots of water, ice packs and soothing aloe vera can all help treat the symptoms of sunburn, but prevention is always better than cure.
Susceptibility to burning varies based on a number of factors, including skin-tone, the UV index (which changes depending on where you live) and the number of hours you spend outdoors.
Benefits of Sunshine and Vit D
Whilst the drawbacks of sunshine are repeatedly highlighted, the benefits can sometimes be overlooked. Sunshine exposure has been shown to fight off depression, boost immunity, reduce stress and improve sleep.
Careful exposure to sunshine has been proven to increase our levels of happiness. Triggered by sunlight that goes in through our eyes, sunshine cues special areas in the retina, which in turn kickstarts the release of serotonin (the happiness chemical in our brain).
Known as the 'sunshine vitamin', vitamin D is produced in our skin in direct response to sunlight and vitamin D plays several important roles, most notably regulating calcium in our body and facilitating a normal immune system.
Calcium absorption is crucial for normal growth and development of bones and teeth and reducing the risk of osteoporosis and multiple sclerosis.
Sunshine and Psoriasis
If you suffer from psoriasis, you might have been offered UV treatment to heal skin. Research suggests that UV rays have immunosuppressive effects, which can help reduce psoriasis symptoms.
Ultraviolet (UV) phototherapy is a highly effective treatment for psoriasis. Administered under strict hospital conditions by dermatology departments, UV phototherapy is used in one of two forms: UVB or PUVA.
- UVB (ultraviolet B) uses short-wave UVB light
- PUVA (psoralen + ultraviolet A) uses a plant-derived photo-sensitiser (psoralen) with long-wave UVA light
The majority of psoriasis sufferers find a warmer climate and gentle exposure to sunshine can decrease psoriasis plaques and improve the condition, but slowly and gradually increasing your time in the sun is vital, since burning skin can have the opposite effect.
Psoriasis and Vitamin D
Whilst a vitamin D deficiency is not in itself responsible for causing psoriasis, a lack of this sunshine vitamin might impair our ability to keep skin healthy. A 2011 study shows that vitamin D exposure can strengthen the immune system, and topically applied vitamin D can help to thin psoriasis plaques.
My Vitamin D Cream is a fantastic option if you're looking to boost vitamin D. Suitable for use on the face, hands or any part of the body regularly exposed to sunshine, it will help the skin to better absorb and better metabolise vitamin D.
Psoriasis and the Dead Sea
It's been known for centuries that people with skin conditions, including psoriasis, can benefit from bathing in the Dead Sea in eastern Israel. The water here is ten times as salty as the ocean, but it isn't just the salt water that's cited as being beneficial for skin complaints.
The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, more than four hundred metres below sea level. The haze at this level helps to filter out the shorter of the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which are the most damaging to the skin. The rays that are left are the peak effective wavelength of ultraviolet for treating psoriasis.
Covid restrictions are making travel virtually impossible at the moment (April 2021) but when holidays can resume, you might like to consider a trip to Israel, with Scandinavian doctors even prescribing the Dead Sea as an effective treatment for psoriasis.
If a trip to the Dead Sea is out of the question, you might want to experiment with using Dead Sea Salts in the bath, or as a scrub if your skin can cope with exfoliation. Begin by buying a small tub, but If they're a product you'd like to use regularly, you might like to order a gigantic bag like this one which will save you money in the long run.
Sunshine and Eczema
When it comes to eczema and sunshine, skin does not always respond quite as favourably to UV light. If you suffer from severe eczema, too much sun exposure can actually worsen the condition. Overheating can lead to excess sweating, resulting in a flare. In some cases, though, gentle exposure to sunshine can improve the appearance of your skin.
Sun protection is often an important concern for eczema sufferers. Especially for parents who have worries about protecting children’s young skin from excessive UV exposure. If your eczema does not respond well to sunshine, staying out of direct sunlight between 11am and 3pm is advised. Wearing a loose kaftan or shirt can protect sensitive skin, whilst a sun hat or baseball cap can protect facial eczema.
Sunshine and Rosacea
Rosacea is the skin condition which seems to least enjoy exposure to sunshine. Sunlight is the most common thing to trigger rosacea, according to a survey by the National Rosacea Society. It's also linked to the visible blood vessels (telangiectasia) and severe redness often associated with the condition.
On a longer term basis, sunlight also weakens skin support structures (collagen and elastin) potentially leading to worsening of rosacea by preventing proper lymphatic drainage.
Opting for a formula with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide may help reduce the risk for irritation.
When it comes to skin conditions, most of us find applying synthetic chemicals can aggravate psoriasis, rosacea and eczema. There are some wonderful, natural sunscreens on the market which can be less problematic for sensitive skin types.
- Never ever burn. This can worsen all skin conditions
- If your skin is sensitive to sunshine, stay out of the strongest rays 11am-3pm
- Choose a natural sunscreen and a high factor if needed
- Gentle exposure to sunshine can be beneficial, build up tolerance slowly
- Consider a trip to the Dead Sea (or dead sea salt) if you suffer from psoriasis