Psoriasis, a chronic skin condition that can cause itching, redness, scaly skin, and flaking, affects between 2 percent and 3 percent of the global population. Although there is currently no cure for psoriasis, there are now more effective treatments than ever before — including phototherapy or light therapy. Phototherapy typically involves delivering regular doses of ultraviolet (UV) light to the skin under close medical supervision.
Unfortunately, not everyone with psoriasis has access to phototherapy facilities. As a result, some people try commercial tanning beds as an alternative to medically supervised phototherapy.
Anecdotal evidence suggests tanning beds may help psoriasis, but there are serious risks to using ultraviolet light — such as that emitted by tanning beds — without a doctor’s supervision. Ultimately, tanning beds cannot replace phototherapy as a treatment for psoriasis.
Phototherapy, also known as light therapy, is a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved treatment for some skin conditions, including psoriasis. Phototherapy is typically prescribed by a dermatologist and can include exposure to sunlight, medically supervised treatments with specialized ultraviolet B light (UVB), or ultraviolet A light combined with psoralen for PUVA therapy. Laser treatment is another type of phototherapy that uses an excimer laser to treat affected skin and improve psoriasis symptoms.
Some people with psoriasis choose to visit commercial tanning salons as an alternative to natural sun exposure or dermatologist-prescribed phototherapy. However, the National Psoriasis Foundation, American Academy of Dermatology, FDA, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) all discourage the use of commercial tanning beds and sun lamps. Commercial tanning beds emit mostly UVA light, not UVB, which is primarily responsible for the benefits of light therapy in psoriasis. Narrowband UVB emits a very specific wavelength of light that is effective for psoriasis and causes less skin damage.
Additionally, treatment using commercial tanning devices cannot be safely monitored like dermatologist-prescribed phototherapy can.
During phototherapy, a medical professional carefully monitors the ratio of UVA and UVB rays being used and can change this ratio depending on the skin being treated. These rays can be applied directly to the area of the body affected by psoriasis. In contrast, a commercial tanning device generally covers the entire body. Phototherapy is also frequently used in conjunction with psoriasis medications, including Ilumya (tildrakizumab-asmn) and Skyrizi (risankizumab-rzaa), or as a substitute for medications if they have proven ineffective.
Although phototherapy may use ultraviolet rays to treat psoriasis, commercial tanning cannot replace this medically supervised treatment. The American Academy of Dermatologists has stated that indoor tanning devices should not be considered a substitute for supervised phototherapy in adults, adolescents, or children. The American Cancer Society and its nearly two dozen health partners have concluded that there is no medical reason to use tanning beds in the diagnosis or treatment of psoriasis or other diseases.
Some MyPsoriasisTeam members have discussed using commercial tanning as an accessible means of treating their psoriasis with light exposure. As one member captured in her post, some people acknowledge the risks associated with commercial tanning: “The tanning bed helps my psoriasis plus my joints. I understand the risks of skin cancer, and I choose to take that risk.”
Other members have discussed the psoriasis symptoms they feel commercial tanning has helped alleviate. “Doing better after three trips to the tanning bed,” wrote one member. “After just three 15-minute visits with the tanning bed, my sores are drying up fantastically!” Another member wrote that tanning beds “really help with the itching,” while another simply said they “feel so much better” after they leave a tanning session. One MyPsoriasisTeam member noted that tanning has only helped them a little in the past — it “just depends on the part of the body. It never helped with my scalp.”
These testimonials should be taken into consideration with the serious risks of tanning beds as treatment.
Although commercial tanning may help some people with psoriasis, the bottom line is that the ultraviolet radiation from indoor tanning beds is proven to cause skin cancer. Given the high risk of commercial tanning, in 2009, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer increased the classification of UV-emitting indoor tanning devices to the highest level of cancer risk: group 1, or carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to humans, which moved indoor tanning devices up to the same risk category as tobacco and asbestos.
Indoor tanning use can cause several types of skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, using indoor tanning devices before age 35 increases a person’s melanoma risk by 59 percent, squamous cell carcinoma risk by 67 percent, and basal cell carcinoma risk by 29 percent. In many cases, skin cancers develop years after tanning bed use. Discuss the risks and benefits of sunlight for psoriasis with your dermatologist.
Managing and living with psoriasis can be challenging. But you don’t have to go it alone. MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis and their loved ones. Here, members come together to ask questions, offer advice and support, and share their lived experiences.
Light therapy for psoriasis is frequently discussed by MyPsoriasisTeam members. If you’ve tried phototherapy or another form of light therapy for psoriasis, share your experiences in the comments below or by posting on MyPsoriasisTeam.