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Swimming With Psoriasis: Tips for Enjoying the Water

Updated on April 21, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Article written by
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN

Living in fear of a psoriasis flare-up can keep you from doing things you once enjoyed. However, part of managing psoriasis includes learning not to let your skin condition limit you. Swimming makes a great example. If you like to swim, there’s no reason psoriasis should prevent you from doing so. Under the right circumstances, swimming can provide several benefits to people with psoriasis. From keeping your skin as healthy as possible to addressing potential concerns about your appearance, here are some considerations to keep in mind as you plan your next adventure into the water.

Benefits of Swimming

Swimming is a relaxing form of exercise that builds strength without placing stress on the joints. So whether you swim for fitness or to enjoy quality time with family and friends, your psoriasis shouldn’t stop you from getting into the water.

Stress Reduction

Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that is made worse by stress, so finding ways to relieve stress is essential to help prevent psoriasis flare-ups. Any form of exercise may help with stress, but swimming can be particularly calming. Moving your body through the water in a pool or the ocean can provide a meditative time to reflect and refresh.

Psoriatic Arthritis

If your psoriasis includes psoriatic arthritis, swimming may be one of your best options for exercise. Getting some form of physical activity every day can alleviate the stiffness and fatigue associated with psoriatic arthritis. Unlike high-impact exercises (like jogging), water activities such as swimming and water aerobics are easier on the joints. As part of your psoriatic arthritis treatment, you may want to look into hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy is a series of movements led by a physiotherapist in a warm pool to target weak muscles and stiff joints. Once you learn the moves, you can continue to practice them yourself in a local pool.

Chlorine and Salt Water

Many people with psoriasis claim that swimming improves their skin, but some people are sensitive to the drying effects of chlorine. Showering with lukewarm water and applying an ointment (like petroleum jelly or coconut oil) before you swim in a chlorinated pool can provide extra protection against drying. After swimming, rinse off with warm water and reapply your ointment.

If you own a pool and find chlorine irritates your skin, talk to your doctor about alternative pool chemicals and pool-cleaning methods. You could also consider a saltwater pool. Saltwater offers its own benefit for flaky, dry skin — it gently sloughs off dead skin cells.

A member of MyPsoriasisTeam shared, “I go swimming, and chlorine gets into my hair (even when I wear a cap). I use a conditioner, but afterwards, I have a dry scalp that feels stretched. When the itching starts it is so annoying. Am I supposed to stop swimming? This is so frustrating!” Other members swear by coconut oil. They say it protects their skin, and they apply it to their scalps and other dry areas before swimming.

Preventing Sunburns

Even if your psoriasis seems to improve in response to sunshine, it’s still important to protect yourself. That means if you’re swimming outdoors, sun safety is key. If you get too much sun and burn your skin, you could end up with a psoriasis flare-up. The solution? Wear sunscreen and you’ll avoid sunburns — and skin cancer.

The sun emits both UVA and UVB rays. The latter — UVB rays — help the body produce vitamin D, an essential nutrient for skin health. A safer way to benefit from UVB rays is with the type of phototherapy that uses UVB rays to slow the growth rate of skin cells.

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are helpful sun-blocking ingredients in sunscreens. To give yourself the best protection, choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Although sunscreen is necessary for people with psoriasis, don’t apply it directly to inflamed lesions. If you have a severe psoriasis flare-up, limit the amount of time you spend in the sun during its peak hours of intensity — 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. And, when you’re not swimming, seek the shade and cover up with a hat and clothing to help protect your skin.

Dealing With Body Image Issues

Getting into a swimsuit can make anyone anxious. For those with psoriasis, worries about how their skin looks to others can bring additional hurdles. As one member asked, “Does anyone know of a cover-up cream to hide the redness on elbows and knees, etc? I need it, especially when I use the public swimming pool. I’d like to find something to mask the RED blotchy skin patches that are preventing me from using the pool. I used to enjoy the pool daily.”

Some members find that cosmetic fixes (like sunless tanner) soothe their self-consciousness. One member said, “I use self-tanner in the summer. I'm very fair, so I apply it 24 hours before swimming. Then, I take a full shower to wash off any residue.”

Going to a public pool can be stressful, especially when others may not know psoriasis for what it is. Still, don’t let other people’s wrong beliefs keep you from enjoying your time at the pool. “The first time I went to a new pool, everyone was looking at me like I had the plague,” said one member who didn’t give in to the attention. “I try to swim at least two days a week, and I usually manage to go four days.”

If you’re working up the courage to show your skin — or decide you don’t want to — try a new suit. Swimsuits now come with sleeves, shorts, and even long leggings. Surfers and others dive into these (called “rash guards”) to avoid the rashes that sand and waxed boards can cause. Those looking for max sun protection wear them too, at pools, and elsewhere. Why not you?

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 106,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

Does psoriasis get in the way of you enjoying swimming? Do you have advice for others? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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