Phototherapy is the use of light to treat psoriasis, vitiligo and other skin disorders. During treatment your skin is exposed to a special type of light from a lamp called a phototherapy unit. These units come in many shapes and sizes and range from hand-held and table-top models for spot treatment of small areas, to large “walk-in” units for full-body treatment. Your doctor will determine which type of light will work best for you. Narrow Band UVB is a very popular option because it is safe, easy and very effective. Clinical trials using Narrow Band UVB have demonstrated clearance rates of up to 80% for psoriasis patients.
Phototherapy is very effective in treating the symptoms of psoriasis, vitiligo and other skin disorders. Unfortunately, there are no cures for these conditions, so with any treatment flare-ups can still occur. How long the clearing of symptoms will last can vary from person to person, but phototherapy treatments can begin again at any time if your symptoms return. Rebound, or the aggressive return of symptoms, is seldom seen when phototherapy is discontinued unlike many other treatments. Once your skin is clear, your doctor will likely recommend a “maintenance” program to keep you clear longer. Maintenance treatments are typically once a week but can be as infrequent as once a month.
Phototherapy is a very safe treatment option, especially when compared to other alternatives. A possible side effect is erythema (pinkness, like a sunburn) and exposure to ultraviolet light can increase the risk of premature aging of the skin or the risk of certain kinds of skin cancer. You should ask your dermatologist to explain these possibilities to you. When comparing phototherapy to other commonly used therapies, click here to see FDA statistics on adverse events associated with drugs commonly used for the treatment of skin diseases. “After nearly a century of use, there is no convincing evidence that therapeutic UVB increases the risk of cancers, regardless of skin type.” John Koo, MD*
In general, phototherapy is for patients of any age with psoriasis, vitiligo, eczema and other skin disorders which respond favorably to light. It is generally considered safe for use even by women who are pregnant or nursing, children, elderly patients and those who are immuno-compromised. In a recent survey conducted by the American Academy of Dermatology (in cooperation with the National Psoriasis Foundation), phototherapy was the found to be the preferred first-line treatment for patients with moderate-to-severe cases of disease.
Phototherapy is a painless therapy in which affected areas of your skin are exposed to light. A common treatment plan consists of about three treatments a week over a span of several weeks. Treatment times are typically brief, usually lasting only minutes. Your doctor may suggest use of mineral oil or other agents to make your skin more responsive to the light. Most patients find phototherapy treatments much less burdensome than applying and reapplying messy topical medications or using injectable drugs.
Yes! You can take advantage of the benefits of phototherapy in the comfort and convenience of your own home using a smaller, personal-sized phototherapy unit as prescribed by your doctor. Home phototherapy fits well into any busy schedule and eliminates the need to leave work or school for frequent appointments, long drives to the medical center and expensive insurance co-pays. In a study of 196 psoriasis patients, half of whom had a home phototherapy device while the other half received their treatments in a hospital, there was found to be no difference in the effectiveness or safety between the two settings but there was a greater patient satisfaction rate with home therapy.
It is important that your dermatologist play a continuing role. When you receive your home phototherapy unit, your dermatologist will receive specific information about the device so that he or she can provide you with instructions on how to carry out your therapy. You will need to make periodic visits to your doctor’s office so that your treatment progress can be monitored. Daavlin also has free smart phone apps that can be downloaded to help you and your doctor track your therapy.
*John Koo, MD, In the Age of Biologics is Phototherapy Obsolete, Cosmetic Dermatology, Vol. 17 No. 5 S1, May 2004.