Psoriasis and tanning beds

August 5, 2011


Question: Can tanning beds be used to treat psoriasis? Are they a safe alternative to phototherapy units?


Answer:

There are differences in the purpose and delivery of light used in tanning salons. For one thing, most of the energy of a tanning bed is within the ultraviolet light A (UVA) wavelength spectrum of light. This spectrum doesn’t burn a person as easily or quickly as the lower wavelength UVB rays, so a person can stay in the tanning bed longer. UVB wavelengths are the most effective for treating psoriasis, so physicians use UVB to treat psoriasis. (For effectiveness and safety when using UVB in phototherapy, we limit the wavelengths of light to the most effective “narrow band” and try to eliminate the other unnecessary high-energy UVB light.)

Another consideration is the effect of UVA on the skin. These wavelengths help stimulate the manufacture of the skin pigment melanin to make the skin darker for protection, but the energy from UVA penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB rays. UVA more directly affects the collagen and elastic fibers of the skin than UVB and, over time, promotes damage such as wrinkled and aged skin.

There are testimonials—and some scientific evidence—that tanning beds seem to help psoriasis. Comparison trials in scientific settings have shown that small amounts of UVB contained in some of the tanning beds improve a person’s psoriasis. One of the options available at tanning salons is to get a quick tan, or “turbo tan,” by using certain devices. These devices have slightly higher percentage of UVB. These particular devices would have more effect on skin disease such as psoriasis, but a person is also getting very large doses of UVA, which will age the skin faster and promote an increased risk of melanoma because of the repetitive, high-energy light. It is dangerous, and increasing evidence seems to link early and frequent use of tanning beds with an increased risk of the most lethal skin cancer, melanoma.

Even though there has been continued scrutiny regarding narrow-band UVB and a possible increase in melanoma, so far no increase in risk for developing melanoma has been found with medical treatment using narrow-band UVB.

Michael Zanolli, M.D.

Michael Zanolli, M.D.
Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Heritage Medical Associates
Nashville, Tenn.


Comments

  • I know of someone with psoriasis who wants to use the tanning bed as a treatment to ease the symptoms, they have a cast and a colostomy, can these things go in a tanning bed?

  • I have a sever case of psoriasis and am now going to be taking a medical treatment which is used in treating cancer – May I still use a tanning bed. I live in Canada….and seem to get more US info. Thanks.

  • Hi Laurel, thanks for your comment. It sounds like the medication that you will be taking may be methotrexate, which is sometimes used with light therapy in treating psoriasis. However, methotrexate can make you more sensitive to light, so be sure to talk with your health care provider before using a tanning bed.

  • I have had a bad outbreak of psoriasis. I have been using a prescribe cream and have had no results. My doctor will not prescribe preidsone as she has in the past. I have the use of a tanning bed would this help?

  • Hi John: Some people visit tanning salons as an alternative to natural sunlight. Tanning beds in commercial salons emit mostly UVA light, not UVB. The beneficial effect for psoriasis is attributed primarily to UVB light. The National Psoriasis Foundation does not support the use of tanning beds as a treatment option for psoriasis.

    The American Academy of Dermatology, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all discourage the use of tanning beds and sun lamps. The ultraviolet radiation from these devices can damage the skin, cause premature aging and increase the risk of skin cancer.


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