Various inflammatory skin disorders can be treated through the use of phototherapy. This method of treatment uses ultraviolet light to reduce inflammation in the skin. Phototherapy treatments can slow rapidly growing skin cells, suppress an overly active immune system, and reduce inflammation, allowing the skin to heal and reduce itching.
Although phototherapy can help skin conditions to clear, this is usually temporary and not a cure. Maintenance treatment with phototherapy is often necessary.
Conditions We Treat
- Atopic dermatitis and other dermatitis
- Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma
- Other skin disorders
Services We Provide
- Narrow band UVB phototherapy
- Broad band UVB phototherapy
- UVA phototherapy
- Photochemotherapy (PUVA), including soak PUVA and hand foot PUVA
- Levia light comb therapy
- Spot NBUVB therapy
Frequently Asked Questions:
(Adapted from the British Association of Dermatologists and the American Academy of Dermatology’s patient information handouts)
What is phototherapy?
Phototherapy is a form of treatment where fluorescent light bulbs are used to treat skin conditions. Natural sunlight has been known to be beneficial in certain skin disorders for thousands of years, and it’s the ultraviolet part of the radiation produced by the sun that’s used in phototherapy, in particular the ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) wavelengths of light.
What conditions can be treated with phototherapy?
UVB phototherapy is used to treat common skin conditions such as psoriasis, vitiligo, atopic dermatitis, polymorphic light eruption, generalized itching, pityriasis lichenoides, cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, lichen planus, vitiligo and other less common conditions. PUVA is used for psoriasis, vitiligo, polymorphic light eruption and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. If your skin condition does not improve with UVB treatment, you may find PUVA more effective. PUVA may be more effective than UVB for some indications, such as mycosis fungoides beyond patch stage, adult pityriasis rubra pilaris, and hand and foot eczema.
How is phototherapy given?
Phototherapy is usually given at a dermatologist’s office. To be effective, most patients need two or three phototherapy treatments a week. This means that you must go to the treatment center two or three times a week for several weeks or even months. In some cases, you may need to go five times a week. There are different types of phototherapy. The most common types that dermatologists prescribe are:
- UVB light (narrowband or broadband): You stand in a light box or a light source is passed over your skin.
- Laser treatment: The dermatologist uses a laser to deliver high doses of light only to the psoriasis.
- PUVA bath: You soak in water that contains a medicine called psoralen (SOR-ah-len). This medicine makes the skin more sensitive to UV light. After soaking, you wait for a specified time and then receive UVA light treatment.
- PUVA with pills: You take psoralen pills, wait about 45 to 60 minutes, and then receive UVA light treatment.
- At-home treatment: If phototherapy works for you, your dermatologist may prescribe an at-home light box or handheld device for you to use. At-home treatment can be helpful for treating flares and keeping your skin condition under control.
What reasons might prevent you having phototherapy?
- If you’re unable to attend regularly for treatment.
- If you’re unable to stand unaided for up to ten minutes.
- If you’re taking medicines that make you more sensitive to sunlight.
- If you’ve had melanoma or many other skin cancers.
- If you’re taking a medicine which suppresses your immune system, such as cyclosporine.
- If your skin condition is caused by or made worse by natural sunlight.
- If you have xeroderma pigmentosum or another skin cancer syndrome.
- If you have severe liver or kidney disease(only for PUVA).
- If you’re pregnant (only for PUVA).
What are possible side effects of phototherapy?
While phototherapy is considered safe, you should be aware of possible side effects. The possible side effects that can happen immediately or shortly after treatment include:
- Sunburn-like reaction (red or tender skin)
- Mild stinging or burning
- Dry or itchy skin
- Folliculitis – inflammation of the hair follicles; usually mild and requires no treatment or interruption of the UV therapy
- Dark spots on the skin (more common in people who have a medium to dark complexion)
- Cold sores – if you’re prone to these, it’s advisable to cover the area usually affected with sun block when having ultraviolet treatment
- Worsening of skin disease
- Using PUVA treatment with psoralen tablets may cause nausea
- Blisters (rare)
- Burning (rare)
After each treatment, your skin should be a little red or pink. This is desirable and is not considered a side effect.
Possible long-term side effects include:
- Early skin aging (age spots, wrinkles, loose skin)
- Increased risk of developing skin cancer (primarily a risk with PUVA, not UVB)
Under a dermatologist’s care, these long-term side effects can be managed. Although follow-up of patients treated with narrowband UVB has not detected a skin cancer risk, it’s possible that with long enough follow up of those who’ve had many exposures, a risk will be identified. The increased risk is related to overall number of treatments and ultraviolet doses administered, and also to pre-existing risk factors for skin cancer in patients.