If you struggle with a skin condition, you might be told to consider light therapy. Light therapy, or phototherapy as it’s sometimes known, is changing how we treat cosmetic and medical skin conditions.
Phototherapy, or light therapy, is any process in which a medical or cosmetic issue is treated with light. In a broad sense, light therapy can be used to treat SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. However, it can also treat a single spot of discolored skin.
Phototherapy’s range is incredibly broad, and that’s part of what makes it such a great method for treating many skin diseases. There are so many different ways that a dermatologist may use light to treat your conditions that we couldn’t possibly list them all.
Laser therapy is considered a type of light therapy, and so is sunbathing under controlled and safe circumstances. Light therapy can be administered by devices ranging in size from closet-sized light arrays to handheld devices. Phototherapy can use different colored light or different types of light depending on the issue you’re treating. Let’s take a look at a few conditions that greatly benefit from the advent of light therapy.
Psoriasis is a persistent skin disease that has no cure. Instead, psoriasis treatment focuses on relieving symptoms. The most common form of psoriasis is plaque psoriasis, characterized by ‘plaques’ or patches of dry, scaly skin. Psoriasis occurs when the body begins producing skin cells at a rapid pace, resulting in a surplus of skin that forms visible marks.
Light therapy treats psoriasis because exposure to light can actually cause this overproduction of skin cells to slow. Light therapy also can suppress or alleviate itching, reduce inflammation, and in some cases calm an overactive immune system.
Psoriasis light therapy typically employs a type of light called narrowband UVB. When treating more sensitive or precise areas, this light is applied via excimer laser for better focus. Sometimes light therapy is used in conjunction with a medicine called psoralen. Psoralen makes the body more sensitive to the effects of light. You may take pills containing psoralen or immerse the treatment area in water that contains psoralen prior to phototherapy.
The end result of phototherapy with psoriasis is usually clearer skin, less irritation, and fewer flare ups. It’s not a miracle cure, but if you follow the regimen prescribed by your dermatologist your psoriasis can be reigned in.
Vitiligo is a skin condition where melanocytes (responsible for producing pigmentation in the skin) die or stop producing melanin. As a result, skin becomes pale and loses all color in affected areas.
Phototherapy, when used for vitiligo, also uses a combination of psoralen and light. When psoralen is administered alongside light therapy it is referred to as photochemotherapy. Depending on the severity of your vitiligo and its location, UVA or UVB light will be administered, and in some cases an excimer laser is used. These high doses of light help kickstart the melanin production in your skin, restoring skin’s natural pigmentation to match the skin around it.
Actinic keratosis, or AK, is a precancerous skin lesion characterized by crusty or thickened red, brown, or otherwise discolored patches on the skin. AK often becomes skin cancer when untreated, which can be fatal if it metastasizes to your internal organs. AK is attributed to sun damage, and these lesions usually appear on people who have spent years working in the sun.
While it might sound counterintuitive, since sun damage causes actinic keratosis, light therapy is an effective way to treat this condition. Oftentimes, a light-sensitizing agent is applied to the lesion and then exposed to a red, blue, or laser light. This process is referred to as photodynamic therapy. It can be used to treat actinic keratosis and other forms of skin cancer and is especially effective on the scalp and face.
Light therapy is a fantastic way to treat medical and cosmetic issues. It’s important to note, however, that it is not for everyone. People with a history of melanoma or other skin cancers are not often given phototherapy. There are also certain diseases, like lupus, which make you more sensitive to light. If you have a condition like this phototherapy might not be the right treatment for you.
Light therapy is a treatment that your dermatologist will often recommend for a variety of skin conditions. If you’re wondering whether it’s right for you, reach out to your nearest Northeast Dermatology Associates location for a consultation today.