How to Choose Sunscreen When You Have Psoriasis

When it comes to sunshine, the reviews are mixed. Some people with psoriasis swear the key to managing flare-ups is staying out of the sun, while others say sun exposure is actually the antidote to calming their skin.

“Moderate exposure to natural sunlight can improve psoriasis because some of the sun’s rays help stop the rapid increase of skin growth and shedding of the skin, as well as allow your body to produce good amounts of vitamin D which helps to reduce inflammation,” explains Adebola Dele-Michael, M.D., a board-certified New York City-based dermatologist. “So, the key is receiving a beneficial amount of sun exposure while protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays.”

Whether you typically revel in the rays or try to stay in the shade, sun exposure is indeed unavoidable, and everyone—psoriasis or not—should protect their skin to avoid sun damage, sunburn, and increased skin cancer risk. We spoke to dermatologists to get the full story on what to look for on the back of that sunscreen bottle when you have psoriasis.

Get Physical

A “physical” sunscreen and not a chemical one is safest to use, according to Debra Jaliman, M.D., a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai, and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist. Physical means “it contains mineral ingredients such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide and sits on top of the skin to deflect damaging UV rays,” Jaliman says. Since physical (also known as mineral) sunscreens contain natural sun protection ingredients, they’re free of most potential irritants, and therefore less likely to irritate those with sensitive skin from conditions like psoriasis. Plus, mineral ingredients don’t penetrate the skin to get into the living tissue like chemical ones do, and also block both UVA and UVB rays when applied correctly, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.

Free It Up

In addition to being mineral-based, a sunscreen should have the word “free” on the label, says Dele-Michael, which is an indication it is less likely to contain irritants. Fragrance-free, free of any artificial colors and dyes, paraben-free and phthalate-free are phrases to look for. You can also look for those made especially for “sensitive-skin” as they’ll often have these aforementioned ingredients already omitted.

Numbers Game

Also look for sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. That’ll block 97-percent of the sun’s harmful rays, says Alan Parks, M.D., a dermatologist in Columbus, Ohio, and founder of DermWarehouse.com.

Best Brands

Mineral-based sunscreens may pack a little more punch on your wallet than their chemical-counterparts, but all three doctors we spoke with said these are worth their price tags:

There are also a few drugstore sunscreens to consider:

Smart Fun in the Sun

It’s important you reapply your sunscreen at least every two hours and after swimming to maintain the sun protection factor. And if you’re using sun exposure as UV therapy for your psoriasis outbreaks, keep it in small doses. Doctors recommend only about 10 minutes at a time.