Sunscreens and Self-Tanners for Psoriasis: Dos and Donts

Sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is a must for people with psoriasis.

When it comes to sunscreen, finding just the right formula can be tricky — but it’s definitely out there. If you have psoriasis, the search for the perfect sunscreen might seem even more challenging, but sun protection is extra important.

Although some exposure to sunlight may help alleviate psoriasis symptoms, too much can lead to sun damage and potentially skin cancer, says dermatologist Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, of Laser and Skin Surgery Center of New York. “Excess sun exposure can cause increased irritation and discomfort on the skin of someone with psoriasis,” she adds.

Another reason to be diligent about sunscreen if you have psoriasis: It can be a challenge for doctors to diagnose certain types of skin cancer, such as basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma, because they can often look very similar to psoriasis, says Orit Markowitz, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and founder of OptiSkin in New York City.

What to Look for When Picking Out a Sunscreen

When shopping for sunblock, it’s best to start with an SPF of at least 30. Dendy Engelman, MD, a dermatologist at the Shafer Clinic in New York City, recommends looking for broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays.

Opt for mineral, or physical, sunscreen with zinc oxide and titanium oxide, Dr. Engelman says. She recommends fragrance-free formulations for sensitive skin, like La Roche Posay Anthelios Mineral Zinc Oxide Sunscreen SPF 50 or Baby Bum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion, which is also available as a spray and a face stick.

Markowitz’s go-to spray is Coola's Mineral Body Organic Sunscreen Spray SPF 30. “I love this sunscreen because it is a mineral sunscreen, which I find to be more protective than the traditional aerosol sunscreens. It is a thick formula, but it has the same allure [as spray formulas] — easy to apply and reapply, no messy lotions,” she says.

Another fan favorite among people with psoriasis is the Glow Oil SPF 50 from Supergoop, says Dr. Murphy-Rose, adding that she loves the formula for psoriatic patients because the oil allows for smoother application.

For the face, her top picks are Skinceuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 and EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46.

What About Tanning Beds and Self-Tanners for Psoriasis?

Before adding any self-tanner to your shopping cart, be sure to do a careful check of the ingredients on the label, Engelman suggests, noting many self- tanners contain ingredients that can irritate your already sensitive skin, such as fragrances and alcohol. She recommends opting for spray-on tanners or lightweight mousses, to avoid rubbing and irritating your psoriasis, and applying gently, just as you would with lotion or sunscreen.

Desireé Delia, a New York City–based makeup artist and licensed esthetician, suggests using self-tanners with caution, especially when you’re dealing with a flare-up. “Tanning products react with dead skin cells, so the psoriasis will soak up product, leaving the skin looking patchy,” she says.

Her go-to self-tanner is Alpha Beta Glow Pad for Body Intense Glow by Dr. Dennis Gross.

The Bottom Line

Whether you choose to protect your natural skin tone with sunscreen or get a faux tan, your priority needs to be staying safe in the sun.

“Although it may be tempting to go out into the sun unprotected, you still need to protect your skin from damage,” Engelman says. “Wear sunscreen to reap the benefits of sunlight without risking a sunburn that can worsen symptoms."

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