But not every dermatology clinic has high-powered lasers. And for many people, just getting to the dermatologist as often as phototherapy requires can be a logistical nightmare. Given the financial and time commitment involved, you might wonder whether you can go the do-it-yourself route with a tanning bed.
The Appeal of Tanning Beds
â€œMany people can't access clinic-based phototherapy because of cost, distance, or other inconvenience issues,â€ says Steve Feldman, MD, PhD, a dermatology professor at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. â€œWhile tanning beds aren't entirely safe, the alternatives, such as systemic medications like methotrexate or cyclosporine, may be worse in certain cases.â€
Tanning beds may be a good option if you canâ€™t get to a dermatologist for phototherapy, but theyâ€™re not a risk-free alternative. So itâ€™s important to weigh their advantages and disadvantages.
Safety Issues Surrounding Tanning Beds
In contrast to phototherapy in a medical setting, tanning beds may be more affordable and have more convenient hours. But the first question you need to answer is: What kind of UV light are they offering? Most tanning beds deliver only UVA light, which does not treat psoriasis, so you need a tanning bed that provides both UVB and UVA light.
The next issue is how much light youâ€™re being exposed to. The main advantage of phototherapy under a dermatologistâ€™s supervision is that the doctor can completely control how much light you are receiving, says dermatologist Marian Northington, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The UVB light and the machines that provide it have been tested and calibrated to maximize treatment success, whereas tanning beds have not. â€œClinic-based phototherapy also has considerable data to support its efficacy and safety,â€ emphasizes Dr. Feldman.
Moreover, skin cancer is a risk with any light therapy, but that risk is greater with a tanning bed than with lasers or UVB machines at a medical office. Unlike dermatologist-prescribed phototherapy, which is targeted to just areas with psoriasis, a tanning bed exposes your entire body to UV rays. This means your risks for skin cancer and cataracts are elevated, says Dr. Northington.
â€œUltraviolet light does damage the skin," Feldman says. "It makes the skin look old and leathery with excess exposure.â€ Because of that, you don't want to bake in a tanning bed for a moment longer than necessary to control your psoriasis. However, thatâ€™s a judgment call thatâ€™s hard for you to make on your own. Without your dermatologistâ€™s assistance, it could be easy to overdo the tanning bed experience.
â€œPsoriasis is a chronic, severe disease for some people,â€ says Northington. â€œYou donâ€™t want to get into a tanning bed forever.â€
How to Use a Tanning Bed Safely
If a tanning bed is the only way you can get needed light therapy, ask your dermatologist for his or her insights on how best to use it. Also ask whether youâ€™re taking any oral psoriasis treatment thatâ€™s making your skin more sensitive to light, which could result in a sunburn or other negative side effects, says Feldman.
Here are his other tips for using a tanning bed effectively and safely:
- Shop around for convenience. Choose a tanning establishment that is close to you, has an affordable package and hours that work for your daily schedule, and â€” of course â€” offers UVB beds. â€œA low cost for unlimited tanning would be ideal,â€ says Feldman.
- Create a strict routine. â€œUse the same bed at that establishment each time,â€ Feldman says. This will increase the chance that you get a similar dose with each exposure.
- Determine your starting dose. Your psoriasis will flare if you burn. â€œTo be on the safe side, start with half of whatever the tanning bed operator suggests,â€ says Feldman. This is especially important if you are taking acitretin [Soriatane], a drug that makes the skin more sensitive to ultraviolet light. â€œThen try to go every day, increasing the amount of exposure with each visit,â€ Feldman suggests. (Donâ€™t fret if youâ€™re busy and have to skip one day.)
- Use mineral oil. â€œWhite scales on the surface of psoriasis reflects light,â€ Feldman points out. Mineral oil or prescription triamcinolone ointment can ease that effect. Make sure you use it every time.
- Protect tender parts. â€œCover the face and, if youâ€™re a man, the genital area when having tanning treatments,â€ says Feldman. Your face gets enough â€œphototherapyâ€ every day just being out and about.
- Stop when psoriasis is under control. Youâ€™re not looking to bronze but to minimize the plaques.
- Do skin checks. Get in the habit of looking head to toe for any changes that could indicate skin cancer.
Better Than Beds: Other UVB Options
If youâ€™re concerned about the potential hazards of tanning beds, one helpful alternative is a home UVB light machine. Your doctor may be able to recommend one and give you tips on how best to use it.
In a time and financial pinch? Short but regular doses of plain old sunlight over the course of several weeks may also help. The National Psoriasis Foundation suggests starting with just 5 to 10 minutes of sun exposure every day around noon, gradually increasing your exposure time by half a minute as long as you donâ€™t burn. Still, check in first with your doctor to see whether any medications (oral or topical) could make you more susceptible to sunburn. Once you have your doctor's go-ahead, protect any unaffected areas with a strong sunscreen before heading out in the noonday sun.
The Latest in Psoriasis
Picking at Your Psoriasis Scales? Do This Instead
Itâ€™s tempting to peel and pick at those itchy scales, but if you can help it, there are better ways to cope.
What Black Patients Need To Know About The Effects of Psoriasis
Psoriasis can look differently on darker skin than on lighter skin â€” and knowing how to spot the symptoms is an important first step of the treatment ...
Ways to Protect Your Eye Health â€” and Preserve Your Vision â€” With Psoriasis
How to keep the skin condition from negatively impacting your vision.
7 Ways to Take the Stress Out of Your Next Hair Salon Visit if You Have Scalp Psoriasis
Scalp psoriasis symptoms can make a routine trip to the hair salon stressful. But with the right approach, you can have an easier visit â€” and a healthy...
Do You Need a COVID-19 Vaccine Booster if You Have Psoriasis?
Psoriasis drugs that work by suppressing the bodyâ€™s immune response may raise the risk of COVID-19 complications. If youâ€™re already immunized, can a booster...
Psoriasis Awareness: A 2021 Special Report
Psoriasis flares have been on the rise in 2021, according to a survey of ishonest readers who have the skin condition. Hereâ€™s what might be to ...
Psoriasis: How to Deal with Cracked, Bleeding Skin
Take these steps to heal your skin and avoid future fissures.
Your Psoriasis Diet: Best Foods for Spring and Summer
Ready to break out your favorite warm-weather recipes? Here are delicious anti- inflammatory ingredients you should consider using.