Psoriasis Treatment: Phototherapy
Last updated: September 2023
Light therapy, or phototherapy, holds the opportunity to improve the symptoms of psoriasis in many people.
Light therapy works by reducing skin inflammation and slowing down the excess growth of skin cells, which reduces plaque formation. Doctors may recommend light therapy when a person has moderate to severe psoriasis or psoriasis that has not responded to other treatments.
What is phototherapy? How does it treat psoriasis?
Phototherapy involves shining ultraviolet (UV) light on the skin. This can slow rapidly growing skin cells, suppress an overly active immune system, and reduce inflammation. It may even clear up plaques entirely.
Phototherapy treatments are administered at a psoriasis treatment center or hospital. Most patients require two or three phototherapy treatments a week to be effective. There are different types of phototherapy. The most common types that dermatologists prescribe are:
- UVB light (narrowband or broadband): You stand in a lightbox (looks like a tanning bed), or a light source is passed over your skin.
- Laser treatment: The dermatologist uses a laser to deliver high doses of light directly on afflicted areas of the skin.
- At-home treatment: If phototherapy works for you, your dermatologist may prescribe an at-home light box or handheld device for you to use.
What type of psoriasis patients should consider phototherapy?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) Association, phototherapy can effectively treat areas of thick plaque psoriasis, nail psoriasis, scalp psoriasis, and psoriasis that covers large amounts of skin.
Many physicians recommend a type of phototherapy called narrowband UVB to patients with psoriasis. This is usually prescribed to people who have a weakened immune system, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and children.
A look at the possible side effects
Although phototherapy has many benefits, it also has side effects. Repeated and long-term exposure to light therapy can increase a person’s risk of skin cancer. If you had or have skin cancer, this is not a recommended treatment plan. It is also not advised if your skin is sensitive to UV light or if you are taking certain medications. Always consult your physician.
While phototherapy is considered safe under medical supervision, according to the AAD, additional possible side effects include:
- Sunburn-like reaction (red or tender skin)
- Mild stinging or burning
- Dark spots on the skin (more common in people who have a medium to dark complexion)
- Blisters (rare)
- Burn (rare)
After each treatment, your skin should be a bit red or pink. This is desirable and not considered a side effect. Possible long-term side effects include freckles, early skin aging (age spots, wrinkles, loose skin), and an increased risk of developing skin cancer. Under a dermatologist’s care, these long-term side effects can be managed.
What is important to know about phototherapy for psoriasis
It is important to note that although light therapy does not cure psoriasis, it can help people manage their condition and improve their quality of life. Always consult a physician before starting any treatment plan.
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