This is the technical name for ‘light therapy’ in which ultraviolet (UV) rays are used to treat a range of skin conditions such as vitiligo, eczema, lichen planus and dermatitis. This therapy is suitable for both adults and children and is often recommended when other treatments have failed to work.
But it can be combined with other treatments for a more effective response. It is carried out at a private clinic or a dermatology department.
What does phototherapy do?
Its main purpose is to reduce skin inflammation and other associated symptoms. But this is a temporary relief: the symptoms often return when the treatment is discontinued.
This involves several individual sessions lasting from less than a minute to several minutes. But the duration of each session gradually increases throughout the course of treatment.
You will be given a drug to take beforehand called psoralen which increases the sensitivity of your skin to the light therapy.
You will also undergo a ‘test session’ in which you are exposed to a short burst of light to determine your tolerance to the treatment. This determines how well your skin responds to the light therapy, e.g. fair skinned or dark skinned. Dark skinned people may respond better to this treatment.
The treatment requires you to stand in a vertical, walk-in unit containing numerous light bulbs. These bulbs emit UVA or UVB light rays. You will be asked to undress completely as your skin needs to be completely exposed to the light. Men will be asked to cover their genital area. Both men and women will be given a pair of goggles to wear to protect your eyes against the light.
You need to be committed to this treatment. It will only work if you undergo a series of sessions in order to get maximum benefits.
Who is not suitable for phototherapy?
Phototherapy is not recommended for the following groups of people:
- People who have had skin cancer
- People who are unable to stand in the units for up to 10 minutes.
- People who are unable or unwilling to commit to regular sessions.
- People who suffer from lupus
- People taking immunosuppressants drugs such as cyclosporine.
Your dermatologist or GP will decide if you are suitable for this treatment. Reasons for exclusion include having skin which is highly sensitive to sunlight, skin damaged by sunburn, pregnancy or suffering from a chronic condition, e.g. kidney disease.
Side effects of phototherapy
There are several side effects with this treatment which are:
- Dry skin
- Cold sores
- Worsening of symptoms
Plus there is a long term risk of skin damage and skin cancer which depends upon the amount of exposure to ultraviolet rays. And your skin type, e.g. fair skinned.