HomeHealthSkin CareA Beginner’s Guide to Phototherapy

A Beginner’s Guide to Phototherapy

Phototherapy can’t help you remove pictures of your ex-boyfriend from your Instagram account. However, it can provide simple and cost-effective treatment for many common skin conditions and other medical needs.

During phototherapy sessions, your skin is exposed to artificial light sources that produce ultraviolet radiation similar to the sun. This may include broadband or narrowband UVB or PUVA, which combines UVA light with a chemical called psoralen. Each of these methods works by reducing cell growth and inflammation.

Keep in mind that there are limitations. Some patients may not be candidates for phototherapy, and there can be side effects. It’s often used in combination with more conventional methods when symptoms are difficult to manage.

See if phototherapy may be an option for you. Take a look at this quick introduction to using the power of light to take care of your skin and other health issues.

Reasons to Consider Phototherapy:

  1. Care for your skin. Treating psoriasis is one of the most common applications for phototherapy, especially if your symptoms are severe and cover large portions of your body. Your dermatologist may also recommend it for eczema, vitiligo, and skin symptoms related to some cancers.

  2. Relieve depression. While research is limited, some patients use a special lightbox to help with seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression that may be related to the decrease in sunlight during fall and winter. Your doctor may suggest it, along with talk therapy and medication.

  3. Sleep well. There’s a close connection between light and sleep. Some specialists use carefully timed light exposure for patients with insomnia and other sleep disorders to reset their circadian rhythms. For less serious symptoms, you may want to get more exposure to natural morning light.

  4. Treat cancer. Some cancerous cells can be destroyed with photodynamic therapy using special lights and drugs. It’s been used for early stages of cancer of the lungs and other organs.

  5. Explore other uses. Research continues on other medical uses for light. The possibilities range from pain management to eye conditions.

Tips for Using Phototherapy:

  1. Consider your background. While phototherapy is safe for many adults, you’ll need to talk with your doctor about any complicating factors. That may include being pregnant or being at high risk for skin cancer or lupus.

  2. Understand side effects. Most side effects are mild. Some early studies about increased risk of skin cancer may be overstated, but it’s something to watch for, along with lower immunity, irritated skin, and itching.
  3. Protect your skin. Phototherapy is usually performed in a dermatologist’s office, where you’ll be given sunscreen and coverings for the areas of your body that aren’t being treated. You’ll need to avoid the sun afterwards, especially for the first 24 hours.

  4. Shield your eyes. Your eyes need to be kept safe too. Your doctor may give you goggles and tell you to wear sunglasses for a while.

  5. Avoid tanning beds. Your dermatologist may sometimes recommend sun exposure, but most experts strongly advise against any use of tanning beds. Tanning beds and sun lamps use a different kind of ultraviolet radiation that raises the risk of premature aging and skin cancer.

  6. Follow up. Most forms of phototherapy provide temporary results. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for how many sessions you’ll need and maintenance care. In some cases, you may be able to buy equipment that you can use at home.

  7. Seek urgent care. It’s natural for your skin to feel a little irritated after phototherapy. However, call your doctor if you develop a fever, signs of infection, or significant pain.

If you’re struggling with skin disorders or seasonal depression, ask your doctor about phototherapy. It may provide additional safe and cost-effective relief for these and other symptoms.


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