Light therapy might sound and look like something out of a science fiction film, but it’s based on a few long understood principles that guide skincare. For decades now, light therapy has been used to treat a range of skin conditions.
Psoriasis isn’t fully understood, but doctors do know what it often causes. Most cases of psoriasis are described as ‘plaque psoriasis.’ Plaque refers to the silvery, inflamed and often red patch of flaky skin that psoriasis causes. In some people, the skin overproduces skin cells, meaning that these layers need to be shed much faster than is natural. This results in the appearance of these plaques, and can cause itching and irritation to name just a few symptoms. Psoriasis can also cause nail irregularities like pitting and flaking.
Light therapy treats psoriasis using particular technologies. Narrowband UVB light therapy is the procedure most often prescribed to treat psoriasis. UVB radiation, which is contained in sunlight and some artificial lights, can slow the production of new skin cells. In the past, people with psoriasis were encouraged to sunbathe, but we know that’s not a very safe method for treating the condition any longer. Though UVB light can cause sun damage in the light therapy devices used by dermatologists, they’re able to be controlled to prevent damage to your skin. With narrowband UVB light therapy, you get all the benefits of sunlight without the associated risks, indoors and administered by or with the advice of a licensed dermatologist. UVB light therapy can even treat psoriasis of the nails, where topical drugs are much less effective.
Vitiligo is not the most common of skin conditions, but its effects are still felt by millions each year. Vitiligo is likely an autoimmune response that occurs in the skin in which the body’s immune system mistakes melanocytes for harmful cells. The body attacks and destroys these melanocytes, which are responsible for producing melanin. Melanin is the protein in the skin responsible for giving it pigmentation. When the melanocytes die off, skin loses all pigmentation in patches in one or more places on the body.
Light therapy treats vitiligo simply and effectively, in a number of cases. Affected skin is exposed to light in a controlled setting, and it becomes darker in color, eventually coming close to or matching the surrounding skin tone. Essentially, light therapy works against vitiligo as a hyper-focused tanning device. Tanning is dangerous and shouldn’t be done at salons or in the sun, however. Your dermatologist can determine the correct amount of UV exposure for your skin, and administer it or provide you with a device and the training to do it yourself at home. Light therapy for vitiligo, much like other conditions, needs to be sustained for results to stay visible.
There are other conditions that light therapy can treat, including precancerous lesions known as actinic keratosis. First, a doctor applies a photosensitive topical agent to the treatment area. When this drug is exposed to light, the reaction it creates damages the lesion and can eradicate the precancerous cells. This is a very good way to prevent skin cancer from developing, so it’s important to pay attention to your skin and keep an eye on any changes it may be undergoing. Some kinds of skin cancer can actually be treated with light therapy in a similar manner, and even cosmetic conditions like acne might be best treated with light.
Want to know if you’re a good candidate for light therapy, or are you dealing with some changes to your skin? Light therapy can work for many people, so don’t hesitate to call the light therapy pros at Northeast Dermatology Associates.
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