Skin Conditions and Phototherapy: What You Need to Know


Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed with a chronic skin condition or have suffered for years from vitiligo (loss of color on patches of your skin), psoriasis or eczema, you may have been told about light therapy. If you’ve been prescribed light therapy, or phototherapy, by your dermatologist, you may have questions.

What is phototherapy? How does it help? How long does the treatment take? How long will results last? Is it safe? Are there side effects?

The experts at  Harpeth Valley Dermatology weigh in with answers to your most pressing questions about phototherapy.

What is Phototherapy?

Phototherapy is the targeted use of UV (ultraviolet) light (primarily UVB) for its healing properties to treat chronic skin conditions. Under responsible medical supervision, phototherapy uses light which occurs naturally in sunlight to slow skin cell growth and reduce inflammation without the use of steroids, creams or other treatments that may cause widespread immune suppression. Instead, the UV light suppresses an overactive immune response, manifesting as psoriasis or eczema, while still allowing your body to maintain an appropriate immune response to other conditions.

How Does it Help?

Light therapy helps treat conditions such as eczema and psoriasis by reducing inflammation and slowing skin cell growth. This allows the affected area time to heal. The therapy can also reduce the symptoms of itchy skin. If you’re experiencing vitiligo, phototherapy may stimulate melanocytes, the cells that produce your pigment.

How Long Do Treatments Take? How Long Do Results Last?

Individual phototherapy sessions take approximately 15-30 minutes. However, consistency is the key to phototherapy, and treatment could take several weeks or months. Oftentimes, therapy sessions are required 2-3 times a week, with some cases requiring more office visits for therapy. Many psoriasis patients note significant improvement in two weeks’ time. But maximum relief for both psoriasis and eczema patients could take months, averaging 15-20 total sessions. While the results are not considered permanent, once remission or clarity is achieved, frequency of treatment is reduced.

Is Phototherapy Safe? Are there Side Effects?

Phototherapy has been used for centuries, but modern phototherapy was pioneered in the 1890s by Nobel Prize winner Niels Finsen. Narrowband UVB therapy, the most common kind, is widely accepted to be relatively safe and low risk. Side effects may include:

  • Mild stinging or burning
  • Sunburn-like reaction
  • Itching
  • Premature skin aging (uncommon)
  • Increased risk of skin cancer (rare)

For many patients, the low risk of side effects and the potential for relief without steroids makes phototherapy a great option. Talk to one of the expert dermatologists at Harpeth Valley Dermatology to learn if phototherapy could be a good option for you. Reach out at 615-905-8083 to schedule your consult.

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