If you’ve been looking for a solution for your eczema, psoriasis, or vitiligo, you may have already tried a host of treatment options. Many people find that topical creams and lifestyle changes just aren’t doing the trick. Here’s why you might consider phototherapy as a treatment for one of these common skin conditions.
Phototherapy is a treatment commonly used in dermatology offices. This type of therapy utilizes different types of light rays to treat the skin, depending on the type and severity of the skin condition.
Phototherapy is a common eczema treatment and psoriasis treatment, and it can also treat certain types of vitiligo. Sometimes, it is necessary to use a photosensitizing agent -- usually an oral medication called psoralen -- that causes the skin to be more sensitive and thus absorb the light and its benefits more fully.
Phototherapy machines might be handheld devices with long bulbs that emit light rays, in the case of localized skin conditions (or those on smaller areas like the hands or face.) For widespread conditions that cover larger areas or the entire body, the machine is typically a stand-up phototherapy booth. The latter type of treatment requires patients to wear goggles for eye protection.
One type of phototherapy for atopic dermatitis -- commonly known as eczema -- is narrowband ultraviolet B (NB-UVB) light therapy. During this treatment, a technician uses a machine specially designed to emit beneficial light rays from the optimal part of the UVB light spectrum.
NB-UVB phototherapy treats atopic dermatitis cases by reducing inflammation. This condition is caused by an immune system flare up, so reducing inflammation can help calm the immune system. Atopic dermatitis manifests as red, swollen, and itchy rashes on particular parts of the skin, like the hands, eyelids, elbows, or other areas.
Narrowband UVB light therapy is also frequently used as a psoriasis treatment. Patients with psoriasis are often told to carefully sunbathe, but this is not always a feasible option and can have some risky side effects. Additionally, patients with full-body psoriasis may need much more than just sun exposure. Phototherapy provides a safe, effective alternative.
Psoriasis causes a red, scaly rash that flakes and can even bleed. These skin cells can stick together, forming “plaques.” Just like in the treatment of eczema, phototherapy works to reduce inflammation in psoriasis patients and slows the rapid excess growth of skin cells.
Vitiligo, the condition causing loss of pigment in the skin, can also be treated with phototherapy. Patients with vitiligo notice white patches of skin. These patches are not rashes or scales -- they are areas that do not have enough melanocytes to produce the pigment responsible for skin color. Melanocytes can die or stop functioning properly, which accounts for these white spots.
Vitiligo can affect the entire body or smaller, localized parts. Phototherapy works to stimulate melanocytes and increase their number, resulting in repigmentation of the skin. Narrowband UVB light therapy is now the primary phototherapy treatment of choice for vitiligo.
While phototherapy can be highly effective for all of these skin conditions, results are not guaranteed. Additionally, it requires time and patience. Depending on the type of condition, patients may need to come into the office for treatment 2-3 times a week for many months or even years.
Phototherapy is a safe treatment, but there are always risks with light rays. While uncommon, side effects of too much light exposure are sunburn, skin tenderness, premature skin aging, photosensitive skin eruptions, or nonmelanoma skin cancer. It’s important to see a dermatologist for phototherapy instead of attempting it on your own. Home phototherapy machines sold online or in stores can be faulty and dangerous.
If you’re in the greater New York City area and want to learn more about phototherapy, call Vanguard Dermatology today for an appointment. Our dermatologists frequently perform phototherapy in-office for your convenience.