Basking in the summer sun has some definite benefits, but there are also known dangers. Here’s what you should know about the potential effects.
The Bright Side
Sun helps the body synthesize vitamin D, which is essential for bone health and a well-functioning immune system; vitamin D deficiency has been linked to autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Plus, sunshine boosts mood by raising levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.
Careful sun exposure also can help clear up psoriatic arthritis-related skin lesions. In general, exposure should be consistent and no more than 30 minutes a day, but ask your doctor. Be sure not to burn; it could trigger a skin flare.
The Dark Side
Overexposure can lead to sunburn. Skin cancer is also a major concern, and the risk might be slightly higher if you’re taking an anti-TNF biologic.
Certain arthritis drugs – including anti-TNF biologics, methotrexate and even some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like naproxen and ibuprofen – can cause sun sensitivity (photosensitivity). This is fairly common with lupus and can even trigger flares.
“People who have these conditions need to take their medications and be safe with them. Use sunscreen outside, but you don’t have to avoid going outside,” says Eric Matteson, MD, a rheumatology researcher at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
Protect yourself with a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which guards against two types of ultraviolet (UV) rays. It should have an SPF of at least 30, which blocks about 97 percent of UV rays; SPF 50 blocks 98 percent. You can also cover up with a wide brimmed hat and sun-protective clothing. And when possible, take breaks in the shade.