man swimming in the ocean

Skincare Tips for Swimming When You Have Psoriasis

By Leah Campbell
Reviewed by Allison Truong, M.D.
June 29, 2022

When the weather’s warm, it’s only natural to want to jump in a cool body of water and splash around. Plus, summertime is often a period of relief for psoriasis flares, since the air is often more humid and the skin tends to get plenty of anti-inflammatory sunlight and vitamin D.

But people with psoriasis still have a lot of questions and concerns about swimming. Will it dry out our skin? Cause a flare? Here, we explain how swimming can affect psoriasis, which type of water is least irritating to psoriatic skin, and what tips for protecting our skin during all that fun in the water actually work.

How Swimming Can Affect Psoriasis

Spending a lot of time in the water can sometimes strip the skin of natural oils, making the dry skin and flakiness caused by psoriasis appear worse, at times, says Ife Rodney, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Eternal Dermatology + Aesthetics in Fulton, Maryland.

“You can rest assured, though, that this would not actually make your psoriasis flare, Rodney adds. “If anything, the additional sunlight will likely improve your psoriasis.”

In fact, for some people, “swimming can help to slough off dead skin cells and improve the appearance of psoriasis,” says Scott Paviol, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Paviol Dermatology in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Salt Water vs. Chlorine

If you’re worried about swimming’s effect on your psoriatic skin, you might wonder if the type of water will make a difference; turns out, it can.

“Saltwater pools and swimming at the beach are the best options, since salt is known for its healing properties,” says Rodney. “It can also reduce inflammation.” In fact, Dead Sea salt solutions are often used in combination with narrowband UVB to treat psoriasis. Rodney warns not to overdo it, though, since spending too much time in salt water can start to dry skin out. “Staying in salt water too long will start to have the opposite effect, so keep your swimming time to short sessions,” she says.

On the other hand, chlorinated pool water can actually irritate the skin, says Paviol. He recommends practicing even more caution when spending time in chlorinated water.

Immediately after swimming in a chlorinated pool, rinse off then apply moisturizer to your clean skin to replenish and protect it after patting dry.

Don’t Forget Sun Protection

It’s doubtful you’ll ever speak to a dermatologist who doesn’t recommend the use of sunscreen—especially for people with psoriasis. Even though a little sun exposure can help psoriasis, a sunburn can trigger a flare-up.

“Use a broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher,” advises Rodney. “Be sure it contains active ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.”

Once you’ve got your sunscreen on, know that you’re not completely in the clear. “The key is reapplying your sunscreen every 45 minutes to an hour,” says Paviol. “If you need to reapply more than twice, you should be finding shade under the umbrella or the bimini top on your boat or wearing UPF clothing.”

You can always set a timer for yourself if you’re afraid you might get distracted by having a lot of fun and forget to reapply. Drying off with a towel after a swim may also remove most of your sunscreen, so always reapply after you get out of the water.

Enjoy Your Swim

The good news is, your psoriasis shouldn’t hold you back from having fun in the pool, ocean, or lake. Taking a few small precautionary steps can go a long way in protecting your skin from sunburn and moisture loss.

“I always want my patients to be able to enjoy being active and outdoors, but I also want them to make good decisions about how to do that responsibly,” Paviol says.

That really is as simple as applying sunscreen, rinsing off chlorine, and moisturizing after all your swimming adventures.

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