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Psoriasis is a common skin disorder that occurs when an immune reaction causes your body to mistakenly produce too many skin cells. Several factors can trigger your immune system and set off a psoriasis flare, including the weather. Heat and cold — as well as dryness and humidity — can increase the likelihood that you will experience a psoriasis flare-up. Alternatively, some weather conditions may help prevent psoriasis flares.
For more information on psoriasis triggers in general, read What Causes Psoriasis Flares?
Cold, wintery weather can worsen psoriasis symptoms. Outside, the cold, dry winter air can trigger psoriasis flares. Indoors, heating keeps you warm, but it also dries out the air — and your skin.
In some cases, exposure to natural sunlight has a positive effect on psoriasis. Natural sunlight is made up of ultraviolet B light (UVB) and ultraviolet A light (UVA). Both can be used in phototherapy to treat psoriasis. Limited sun exposure during the winter can trigger a psoriasis flare.
Unsurprisingly, winter is not MyPsoriasisTeam members’ favorite season. As one MyPsoriasisTeam member said, “It’s the worst! No sunshine, and we have to wear more clothes, the heater dries out the skin. … It sucks!”
Many MyPsoriasisTeam members who live in areas with four seasons look forward to summer and its warmth and light. “Staying in the sun makes me better,” one member said.
However, warm weather doesn’t necessarily mean psoriasis flares will cease. Summer usually means more light and more humidity, but summer activities and the effects of heat can trigger psoriasis as well. Just like heating, air conditioning removes moisture from the air, leading to the same skin dryness and psoriasis problems. In addition, sweating in the heat can irritate the skin and trigger flares. According to one MyPsoriasisTeam member, “I have to keep my body cool or my skin will start up again.”
Managing Psoriasis Symptoms Caused by the Weather
While you can’t control the weather, there are several ways to help prevent weather-related psoriasis flares.
Using moisturizer is important for people with psoriasis, as it seals moisture into dry skin and prevents flaking and cracking. You should moisturize once a day, and more often during cold or dry weather. Pick a product that’s free of fragrances. Fragrances smell great, but they can irritate the skin and trigger flares.
Heavy creams, ointments, and oils are best for maximum moisturizing, although lotions can be useful for frequent application (such as after washing your hands). Try using oil before bedtime so it doesn’t stain your daytime clothes.
MyPsoriasisTeam members have lots of recommendations for the best moisturizers. “I love goat milk lotions,” one member said. “These seem to absorb well, and my skin is looking a lot better in the last year.”
Other members recommended coconut and rose hip oils. One member shared a tip for a soothing moisturizing experience. “You can keep your lotion in the fridge and apply it cold. … Lovely!”
Learn more about picking a moisturizer for psoriasis.
You can’t change the weather, but you can add moisture to the air in your home by using a humidifier. The National Psoriasis Foundation has given certain humidifiers and purifiers a seal of recognition. However, you don’t need expensive machines to gain the benefits of using a humidifier. Simply use distilled or demineralized water in a regular humidifier to keep it in good condition. If you use tap water, minerals will build up in your humidifier, creating areas where bacteria can grow. For best performance, clean your humidifiers with a 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution every three days and change the water and filters frequently.
There are several ways to lower your chances of experiencing a heat-related psoriasis flare. Wear clothes made of breathable fabrics, such as cotton and linen, that wick irritating sweat away from your skin.
One way to beat the summer heat and ease psoriasis is to take a swim, either at a local pool or at the beach. “I see a huge difference when I have the opportunity to take in some sun and swim in salt water,” said one MyPsoriasisTeam member. Just remember to rinse off when you’re finished swimming and to moisturize.
If you’re getting out in the sun in the summertime — or anytime — remember to wear broad spectrum sunscreen that’s at least 30 SPF. A sunburn can worsen psoriasis.
During the winter, phototherapy (also called light therapy) may be an appropriate treatment option. During phototherapy, a UVB light source is passed over the body or a UVB laser is used to treat specific areas. Some types of phototherapy use UVA light in combination with an oral drug called Psoralen.
A dermatologist can prescribe phototherapy treatment in a clinic or can provide you with an at-home unit. At-home units are useful for follow-up treatment or for people who don’t have UVB light treatment centers nearby. Phototherapy is especially useful to treat plaque psoriasis, nail psoriasis, and scalp psoriasis.
MyPsoriasisTeam members report varying results from phototherapy. One said, “I tried it and got a great tan, but it did NOTHING for my psoriasis.” Another said, “The hospital said I was one of the worst cases they had seen. I had UVB three times a week. I had 17 sessions in total. I haven't had UVB for over six years now and I only get small patches that flare up when I get stressed. I highly recommend it.”
Many MyPsoriasisTeam members report using tanning beds as a do-it-yourself form of phototherapy. A member reported, “It does help. Mine clears up a lot in the summer, then I try to use sun beds about once a month through the winter.”
However, doctors do not recommend using tanning beds as psoriasis treatment. Tanning beds can have the same harmful effects as too much natural sun exposure, such as skin damage and a higher risk of skin cancers like melanoma. Additionally, tanning beds mostly produce UVA light instead of the UVB which is more helpful for psoriasis, so you won’t get the same healing effects with a tanning bed as with prescription treatment.
Find Support for Psoriasis in Any Season
On MyPsoriasisTeam, the social network and online support group for those living with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, members talk about a range of personal experiences.
Does your psoriasis react to the weather? Do you have tips for dealing with weather-related flares? Comment below or post on MyPsoriasisTeam.