Light Therapy (Phototherapy) for Skin Conditions
Light therapy, or phototherapy, uses controlled artificial ultraviolet light to help reduce symptoms and slow the progress of common skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and vitiligo (when patches of your skin lose their colour).
Here at VIVO Clinic, a medically approved Phillips UVB light is carefully administered with an FDA approved handpiece, this allows us to precisely administer light only on the affected area without exposing other parts of the skin.
Medically researched and pioneered by the leading affiliates, photo light therapy has become popular in easing the symptoms of eczema and psoriasis and is also supported by the NHS.
On the day of your treatment, you will be seen by a doctor/consultant who will assess your skin and administer Photo light therapy on the affected areas, you will be given advice as well as a treatment plan in order to give you the best possible results
What is light therapy?
Ultraviolet light is an invisible part of natural sunlight. It can help to improve common skin conditions. Light therapy machines produce carefully measured levels of ultraviolet light, much stronger than levels in sunlight. This is shone onto your whole body or just the area of your skin that needs treatment.
You’ll need to take extra care to protect your skin before and after sessions.
How does light therapy work?
In eczema, psoriasis and vitiligo, the ultraviolet light stops your skin getting so inflamed. Light therapy treatment also limits the overproduction of skin cells that build up to form the plaques of hard skin common in psoriasis.
Your doctor may suggest light therapy if you have severe flare-ups that your usual treatment – like moisturisers and anti-inflammatory medical creams – doesn’t help enough. It can completely clear many skin problems, but it’s not usually a permanent cure and you may need more treatments.
Light therapy can also be used for other skin conditions such as some types of lymphoma, pityriasis (a temporary harmless rash causing red, raised scaly patches on the body), and lichen planus (a non-contagious itchy rash).
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Can anyone have light therapy?
Your consultant may suggest light therapy only if other treatments for your condition, such as emollients (moisturisers) and medicated creams, haven’t worked.
Some skin conditions are best treated by light therapy. It can be used in combination with other treatments, including some medicines.
Ultraviolet B (UVB) treatment is generally safe for children and pregnant or breastfeeding women. You need to be able to attend regular sessions of phototherapy for it to be effective. And because of the equipment used, you should be able to stand up unaided for at least 10 minutes. Light therapy may not be recommended if you’ve had skin cancer or are at particular risk of developing it, including your family history.
You may not be able to have light therapy while you’re taking medicines that affect your immune system or sensitivity to sunlight.
There’s also a limit to how many light therapy treatments you can safely have overall but your consultant will explain this to you.
If light therapy doesn’t work, or you’re unable to have it for any reason, your consultant may prescribe you a medicine instead.
Checks before having light therapy
Your consultant will discuss your care and the procedure with you. This will be designed to meet your individual needs so it may be different from what’s described here.
Before you start a course of light therapy treatment, your consultant will want to assess possible risks. They may examine you and ask about:
- other medicines you’re taking, including anything you apply to your skin
- any allergies to medicines
- how sensitive you are to light
- any history of eye conditions, especially cataracts
- kidney and liver problems
- your risk of developing skin cancer
Your consultant will work out the best dose for you to start on. This is mainly based on your skin type and how easily you burn in sunlight. The level of exposure may vary if you’ve got other medical conditions or are taking medicines that make your skin more sensitive to light. These can include antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
To check your sensitivity, one or more test doses of ultraviolet light may be applied to small areas of your skin that aren’t normally exposed to sunlight. Sensitivity to light varies between different parts of your body – your trunk (the central part of your body not including your head, arms or legs) is especially sensitive, so skin there will probably be tested even if your arms, legs or head are being treated. How these patches of skin react will help calculate the right amount of ultraviolet light for your first session, and how long this should last.
Your consultant will also have a chat with you about what happens before, during and after light therapy treatment. This is a good opportunity to make sure you understand what will happen. It may help to have a think about what questions you’d like answered. These might include information about the risks, benefits and any alternatives. Once you’re happy, you may be asked to give your consent for treatment to go ahead by signing a consent form.
For any type of light therapy, the consultant will ask you to remove any clothing from the area to be treated. If your whole body is being treated, you’ll keep your underpants on or use a genital shield. You’ll also be given goggles to protect your eyes or a clear visor to cover your face if it’s not being treated. You may be advised to apply sunscreen to protect certain parts of healthy skin, such as your lips.
You will be given light therapy with a specially designed handpiece fitted with Phillips fluorescent tubes that give out ultraviolet light. The tubes are backed by reflectors to help produce the right amount of light. Sensors in the handpiece make sure you get the prescribed level of exposure. These take into account your size and which part of your body is being treated.
In the first few sessions, your treatment may last for less than a minute. The duration will be gradually increased in later sessions, depending on how you respond to light therapy.
Side-effects of light therapy
Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly temporary effects you may get after having the procedure.
The following are possible side-effects of all types of light therapy.
- Red skin, similar to sunburn. This is more likely if you’re taking medicines that make your skin sensitive to light. The redness should fade over the days following your treatment. You can use moisturisers to help relieve any discomfort. Your consultant may adjust the level of your next treatment or postpone it until your skin has settled.
- Dry and itchy skin, particularly when you first start treatment. Moisturisers may help to relieve this. Your doctor may prescribe antihistamines to stop the itching.
- A rash.
- Cold sores (if you get them). Covering your lips with high-factor sunscreen during treatment can reduce the risk. Take your usual medicines to prevent them.
- Blisters, especially if you’re fair skinned.
Risks and complications of light therapy
As with every procedure, there are some risks associated with light therapy. Ask your consultant to explain how these apply to you. The assessment you had before starting light therapy will have highlighted risks linked to other conditions and medicines you’re taking. Your doctor/consultant will also take into account your age and how fair your skin is.
Complications are when problems occur during or after your treatment.
As with natural sunlight, repeated sessions of ultraviolet B (UVB) light therapy can increase your risk of skin cancer and premature skin ageing over the long term. This is why it’s particularly important to shield more sensitive parts of your body like your face and genitals.
The risk is higher the more sessions of light therapy you have. Because of this, your consultant will always make sure that you receive the least UVB treatment possible to provide a beneficial effect.
They will also keep a record of the amount of light therapy you’ve had in total. This is to make sure your dose is within safe exposure limits over a course of treatment and during your lifetime.
Your doctor/consultant may want to monitor you regularly for signs of skin cancer if you’ve had a lot of light therapy. They may also want to check your liver function.
FAQ: Can just natural sunlight treat my skin condition?
Natural sunlight is known to be helpful for skin conditions such as psoriasis. However, it can be hard to control how much sunlight you get and to keep it within a safe amount. You need to be careful to avoid overexposure that can cause sunburn and increase the risk of skin cancer.
Talk to your doctor about how to get the most from the Sun while keeping safe. If you’re already receiving light therapy, you will be advised to avoid sunlight during a treatment course.
Ultraviolet light therapy in a hospital or clinic is carefully controlled in terms of both the dose that is delivered to your skin and the wavelength of the light used. Both of these factors will be recorded as your treatment is gradually increased. This means you can be given the most effective light treatment in the safest way.
FAQ: Does a tanning bed help with skin conditions?
High street sunbeds shouldn’t be used as a solution for a skin condition because they aren’t tightly regulated. This means you may not receive the exact spectrum of light or dose that effectively balances treating your condition against your risk of skin cancer. In addition, the amount of ultraviolet B (UVB) light, which is the most effective type of light for treating psoriasis, for instance, is frequently reduced in high street units, as it can be associated with burning if not used carefully. This means that the light produced by sunbeds may be of no benefit in treating your skin condition or may even be harmful.
The same is true of home sunbeds. The type of tube used and the ultraviolet light produced can vary so you won’t know exactly how much exposure you’re getting. It’s harder to build up the amount gradually and sunbeds can damage your skin before it goes red, so you don’t realise.
FAQ: Is the same light therapy used for SAD?
No. Light therapy for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a different type from the one used for skin conditions. It doesn’t need to be done in a hospital or clinic.
Light therapy helps because SAD makes you less sensitive to light so you don’t get as much benefit from normal light. You can buy your own light-emitting device, such as a lightbox or dawn simulator, to use at home or at work. The devices that are used for this type of light therapy contain bright light tubes that emit visible (non-ultraviolet) light at least 10 times the intensity of ordinary household light bulbs. To use them, you need to make sure the light is directed towards your eyes. The wavelength of the light is not the same as in ultraviolet B (UVB) therapy.
People with SAD usually use a lightbox for up to an hour a day. Some report feeling better very quickly but in most cases, it will take a few weeks to affect symptoms like fatigue.
UVB therapy for skin conditions uses only the ultraviolet part of the light, as this is the part that is beneficial. You will usually have it in a hospital or clinic under the supervision of medical staff. It’s directed at your skin, while your eyes are protected.