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Phototherapy Skin Treatment: Uses, Benefits, and Risks

Updated: May 7


 Phototherapy Skin Treatment

Are you struggling with a persistent eczema, psoriasis or itch and feeling like you've tried everything? Well, phototherapy might be an effective treatment for you. This innovative treatment uses specific wavelengths of UVB light to target and alleviate various skin issues, offering relief where other therapies may fall short. One of the skin issues that impacts many is psoriasis, which can cause significant physical discomfort and emotional stress.


According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, around 1 million Canadians live with psoriasis, a prevalent chronic inflammatory skin condition that can significantly impact quality of life. However, psoriasis is just one of the many skin conditions that phototherapy can treat. 


Phototherapy treatment is also effective for other issues like eczema, vitiligo, mycosis fungoides, itch and many others, showing how useful and important it is in modern skin focused treatments.  In this blog, we will discuss how phototherapy skin treatment works for your skin issues and explore its uses, benefits, and risks. 


What Are the Uses and Benefits of Phototherapy Treatments?


The uses and advantages of phototherapy depend on what kind of skin issues you are dealing with. Some of them are listed below:


Psoriasis


Phototherapy skin treatment is highly beneficial for skin conditions like psoriasis, offering relief by targeting and slowing the rapid production of skin cells and reducing inflammation. Light therapy for psoriasis can be administered in various forms, including narrowband UVB light, excimer laser, and PUVA (psoralen combined with UVA light). While this light therapy is commonly prescribed due to its safety profile and efficacy, excimer lasers provide targeted therapy ideal for localized psoriasis patches on difficult areas like elbows or scalp. 


For those with more severe conditions, PUVA therapy involves taking psoralen to enhance the skin's sensitivity to UVA, followed by exposure to UVA light, which can deeply penetrate the skin and help in significant symptom management. The frequency of phototherapy skin treatment varies depending on the severity of the psoriasis and the type of phototherapy prescribed. 


Generally, this dermatology-approved treatment requires sessions two to three times per week at a specialized treatment center or hospital for 4 to 6 months. 


As a patient, you must discuss your health history with your skin dermatologist to ensure the suitability of phototherapy, especially if you have conditions that could be exacerbated by UV exposure or are on medications that increase UV sensitivity. Despite its effectiveness, phototherapy is not suitable for everyone, especially those with a history of sun-induced skin diseases (e.g. lupus) or certain genetic conditions that increase cancer risk. 


Eczema


Light therapy for skin is an effective treatment option for moderate to severe eczema (atopic dermatitis), especially when traditional topical treatments do not suffice. This method uses controlled exposure to narrowband ultraviolet B (UVB) light to reduce the symptoms of eczema. Ultraviolet light helps to reduce skin inflammation and alleviate itching, making it a valuable treatment for stubborn eczema. It is particularly recommended for children whose eczema covers a large area or does not respond well to topical medications.


While phototherapy is generally safe, it is crucial to administer it under the strict guidance of a dermatologist. The treatment involves regular sessions in a phototherapy booth where the duration and frequency are carefully controlled to maximize effectiveness while minimizing side effects.


Additionally, phototherapy has been shown to reduce the need for topical medications, which can be beneficial in managing long-term treatment plans for children and adults. However, if sunlight triggers your child's eczema, it's important to inform your dermatologist, as adjustments to the therapy might be necessary.


Vitiligo


This is a skin condition that leads to the development of white patches on the body, resulting from the loss of melanocytes. These special cells produce melanin, which is responsible for the colour of your hair, skin, & eyes. According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, vitiligo affects approximately 0.5-2% of the global population. 


One of the most effective treatments for vitiligo, particularly when it affects large areas of the skin, is phototherapy. It reduces inflammatory cytokines and stimulates melanocytes, which are critical for repigmentation. It has shown durable results, with repigmentation persisting in most patients even a year after treatment cessation. 


Moreover, phototherapy can be administered using different methods, including the excimer laser, suitable for localized areas and less disruptive to surrounding healthy skin. This method has been effective in treating vitiligo on the face and neck, though slower progress may be observed on other body parts like the trunk, hands and feet.​ 


Mycosis Fungoides 


Phototherapy, particularly narrowband ultraviolet B (NB-UVB) and psoralen plus ultraviolet A (PUVA), serves as a primary treatment for early-stage Mycosis Fungoides (MF), a type of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. These therapies employ specific wavelengths of light to target lesions. NB-UVB uses light in the 311-312 nm range, and PUVA enhances the skin's response to therapy by combining the drug psoralen with UVA light.


Initially used as standalone treatments, they have evolved to include combinations with systemic treatments in cases where Mycosis Fungoides is resistant to initial phototherapy or has advanced to more severe stages. The primary objective of phototherapy is to achieve complete lesion clearance, although the duration of its effectiveness and the potential benefits of prolonged maintenance therapy are still uncertain.


The frequency of treatment is generally two to three times a week, with dosages tailored to the patient's skin type and response. Over time, NB-UVB has largely superseded broadband UVB due to its targeted effectiveness and fewer side effects. The success rates of the treatment vary, showing higher clearance rates in diseases at the patch stage than those at the plaque stage. Duration of treatment is often longer, from months to years. 


What Are the Risks Factors of Phototherapy Skin Treatment?


UV lights may adversely impact your skin, albeit it is mild and uncommon, including:

  • Tanning

  • Itchy skin

  • Redness due to light exposure

  • Skin burning (rare)

  • Mild Cataracts (eye goggles are mandatory for this treatment to protect against cataracts)

  • Headaches

  • Fatigue

  • Wrinkles and Dryness

  • Age spots or freckles


[Note: This is not a full list of risk factors associated with phototherapy. It's important to consult with your dermatologist at a skin care clinic for a complete understanding of potential risks and personalized advice.]


Conclusion 


Phototherapy Skin Treatment offers a promising solution for various persistent skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and vitiligo by utilizing specific light wavelengths to alleviate symptoms. While highly effective, especially in severe cases, it's important to assess if you are the right candidate. Always consult a dermatologist to ensure the treatment's appropriateness based on your health history and the severity of your condition.


In Canada, including Manitoba, phototherapy is prescribed by board-certified dermatologists and often covered by your provincial health plan. We offer narrowband UVB phototherapy at Embrace Skin, prescribed by a dermatologist. Our skin care clinic in Winnipeg provides a comfortable, safe environment where you can explore various treatment options, including phototherapy. We prioritize your health and well-being, ensuring all treatments meet your specific skin needs. Note, a referral is typically required by your family physician to initiate phototherapy. Contact Us Today!

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