Light therapy for psoriasis is becoming more widely prescribed due to its positive effects on the incidence of plaques and remission of the disease. If you have psoriasis, you likely have the hallmark plaques covering the skin of one or more areas of your body. These red and scaly patches can be painful, itchy, and even embarrassing. If you’ve tried oral and topical medications with little or no relief, your doctor may recommend treatment using ultraviolet light instead. Light therapy for psoriasis is becoming more widely prescribed due to its positive effects on the incidence of plaques and remission of the disease.
What is Light Therapy?
When you receive light therapy for psoriasis, your skin is exposed to an ultraviolet (UV) light. Also known as phototherapy, therapeutic exposure to UV light controls the type and wavelength of the light in safe and effective doses. With ultraviolet light therapy, inflammation of the skin is reduced and the growth of the skin cells slows. These effects from light therapy help to minimize current areas of psoriatic plaques and reduce the formation of new patches. Depending on the number of areas of severe plaque, light therapy for psoriasis may be targeted to just one part of your body. In cases of more widespread plaques, the UV light may be applied to your whole body.
Who is Light Treatment Recommended For?
Typically, phototherapy for psoriasis is only recommended for more moderate or severe cases of plaques. Initially, the doctor will likely recommend proper and consistent skincare, usually including topical ointments. If the plaques do not improve or worsen, your doctor may suggest ultraviolet light therapy. Often, phototherapy is administered in conjunction with skincare treatments and oral medications.
What Happens During a Light Therapy Procedure?
When you undergo light therapy for psoriasis, you will be committing to treatments several times a week. The doctor will typically ask you to come in 3 to 5 times a week for a short duration of ultraviolet light exposure. During these outpatient appointments, the doctor may target your whole body with the UV lights in a booth similar to one at a tanning salon. However, if your plaques are fairly limited to one area of your body, you may receive treatment in which only that part is exposed to the light. In these cases, you may be able to receive your UVB light therapy at home with a portable lamp. Over the course of the 2 to 3 months of treatment, most patients see a quick improvement in the first few weeks. Many patients remain in remission following UV light treatments for 3 months up to a full year.
Which Type of Light is Best?
There are two types of light therapy for psoriasis. UV light therapy can be accomplished with either UVA or UVB light waves. UVA lights penetrate deep under the skin, and it can be hard for the skin to absorb and utilize the light. When your doctor uses UVA light for therapy, you will also need to take a drug called psoralen, which helps your body to absorb the light and to experience its effects on the psoriatic plaques. UVB light can also be utilized for the treatment of psoriasis. The wavelength is well controlled and is usually applied in a measure of 311, 312 or 313 nanometers. The very specific wavelength only impacts the top layers of the skin and helps to target psoriasis while limiting the side effects of UV exposure.
The type of light treatment that your doctor recommends for you will be based on many factors. Because UVA light therapy is a more invasive treatment, it is typically reserved for individuals whose quality of life and health are most impacted by their psoriatic plaques. Additionally, your skin type and overall health will be considered. If you have fair skin that is easily susceptible to skin damage, or already have risk factors that would complicate your treatment with either of the ultraviolet lights or the psoralen, your doctor will use that information to inform your treatment plan.
Overall, with UVB light therapy, there are fewer risks to the body because it does not penetrate as deeply and the time exposed to the light is lesser. You also do not need to take additional drugs in order for the light to absorb and impact your psoriasis, which has shown to have among the riskiest side effects. Therefore, UVB light therapy is a better option when you have the opportunity to choose between the two types. Reviews of data on outcomes and patient participation agree as the use of UVA light therapy is usually reserved for individuals with the most severe and stubborn cases of psoriatic plaque.
What are the Risks and Downsides of Light Therapy for Psoriasis?
While light treatment for psoriasis is an effective treatment for uncomfortable and embarrassing plaques, it is not without its risks. With any UV exposure, including that of the natural sun, you are at a risk of skin cancers. This is true of both UVB and UVA treatments, though the latter is more problematic. The longer exposure required for UVA light therapy, and especially the risks of the drug psoralen, can put you at a greater risk of cancer or other skin diseases. As a result, it is recommended that patients receive no more than 150 UV light treatments of either type in their lifetime in order to mediate the risks associated with them. With this cap and a doctor’s careful assessment of your specific case, however, the benefits of treatment if prescribed will likely outweigh the risks.
Additionally, though the treatment can be very effective and the benefits can outweigh the risks, the frequency of appointments can be prohibitive for some patients. In addition to making time in a busy schedule to attend appointments multiple times a week can be very difficult. Moreover, depending on your insurance, you may be billed a copay for every treatment visit, or you may be required to pay out of pocket dozens of times if light therapy for psoriasis is not covered by your insurance. It will be important to consider these factors if UV treatment is recommended for you. You may also want to look into your eligibility of UVB light therapy at home, as the ability to undergo treatments outside of the office can mitigate these two drawbacks.
Psoriasis can be a very uncomfortable and isolating condition. While diligent skincare and the use of medication and ointments can help reduce your psoriatic plaques, these measures may not be enough to control your condition. UVB light therapy has shown great results for many who have undergone this treatment, and could yield amazing results for you as well.