Summer is the perfect time for days at the beach or lounging poolside. But if you're feeling self-conscious about wearing a swimsuit because of your psoriasis plaques, these activities may be anything but relaxing.
“Exposing your rough, red skin patches can be terrifying and phenomenally limiting in what you do outside,” says Richard Fried, MD, PhD. He's a dermatologist and clinical psychologist in Yardley, PA.
It's common to feel anxious about your skin appearance when you have psoriasis. In fact, studies show the more severe your psoriasis is, the worse your social anxiety can be.
“It's a very widespread reaction and it's totally understandable,” says John Koo, MD. He's co-director of the University of California San Francisco Psoriasis and Skin Treatment Center.
If you avoid the beach or pool, you miss a source of physical and emotional well-being that you deserve. What's more, sunlight and swimming, in moderation, can each help soothe psoriasis. So how do you get yourself onto the sand or deck chair? Start with your doctor.
“It might be good for doctors to start patient relationships by asking more questions like: How do you feel about exposing your skin in public? About wearing a bathing suit to the beach? Do you have the same issues if you're around friends and family rather than strangers?” says Paul Benedetto, MD, a dermatologist with Cleveland Clinic Florida.
By exploring your feelings about your skin exposure, you can start to address it.
Changing Your Mindset
Koo says one way to shift your thinking is to look at sunbathing as part of your psoriasis therapy, not as a social outing.
“People automatically and instantly associate swimwear with appearance,” he says. “Instead, think of the beach or the pool as your therapy -- the place you go to get your skin treatment.”
Koo says many times this attitude adjustment helps people feel more comfortable.
Another mindset to try is to start with a mental inventory of activities, such as beach and pool outings, that you enjoyed before your psoriasis diagnosis.
“A lot of times, people will have a deer-in-the-headlights kind of recognition that they haven't been doing anything except worry about their psoriasis,” Fried says.
He says you can use that awareness as a launching point to ask yourself how much you are willing to let other people's opinions dictate how you live your life.
It also may make it easier to remind yourself that most people at the beach will be too preoccupied with their own swimsuit appearance to check out yours.
“When people find out they really aren't a center of attention, a major myth gets busted,” Koo says.
Escaping People's Attention
If attitude adjustment isn't doing the trick by itself, you may decide to take steps to avoid attention. Try finding a beach or pool that isn't heavily used, Koo suggests.
“Going to a place where people aren't around is perfectly reasonable,” he says.
But avoiding people by sunbathing early in the morning or late at night isn't the answer. The ultraviolet rays that help relieve psoriasis inflammation are most plentiful in the middle of the day.
Recent research says 20-40 minutes of unprotected sun during those times is helpful with psoriasis. You want to sunbathe during the hours when you can gradually get a light sunburn. Fried recommends getting your sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
An important reminder: Hiding your psoriasis behind loose-fitting, light clothing at a crowded beach or pool might ease your mind, but it also makes sun therapy difficult.
Keep Focusing on the Benefits
If you're still looking for more reasons to get into your swimsuit, focus on some key facts:
- The sun's ultraviolet light helps treat psoriasis by penetrating your skin and slowing the growth of affected cells.
- Swimming in salt water can help wash away dead skin and improve the look of psoriasis patches. But since salt water can dry your skin, be sure to rinse off and use a moisturizer afterward.
- A chlorinated pool can help ease psoriasis symptoms by reducing skin bacteria.
“There really is no reason why psoriasis patients shouldn't do what everyone else does and go outside and show their skin,” Koo says.
Tips for Swimming Skin Care
- Your body gets hotter and sweats even in water that feels cool and refreshing. Drink fluids before and after you go in the water.
- Talk with your dermatologist about whether to apply sunscreen to exposed skin, including where psoriasis is flaring up. If you do, use sunscreen that has “broad spectrum” on its label (protects against the ultraviolet rays that age or burn your skin), has a sun protection factor (SPF) number of 30 or greater, and is fragrance-free and made for sensitive skin.
- Both saltwater and chlorinated water can dry your skin. Rinse off and use a moisturizer after swimming.