In phototherapy, skin is exposed to an ultraviolet (UV) light source for a set amount of time. It is used to treat certain skin conditions. UV lights are rays of light from the sun that are not visible. Phototherapy uses a man-made source of UV light for treatment.
Skin conditions that are treated with phototherapy include:
The UV lights may negatively affect your skin in a number of ways, including:
PUVA treatment specifically may cause:
If you have received a great number of phototherapy treatments, you may be at risk for:
Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:
You will be asked to remove any clothes covering the areas that need treatment. Areas that will not be treated should be covered and protected as much as possible.
Make sure to inform your doctor about any medicine that you are currently taking. Some medicines, including over-the-counter medicine, increase the risk of side effects.
Types of phototherapy include:
For any treatment, except laser, you will be asked to stand in a treatment unit. The unit is called a light box. It is lined with UV lights. Sometimes smaller units for treating smaller areas of your skin may be used.
For treatment with an excimer laser, a beam of laser light will be focused directly on the affected area of your skin. Treatments last less than five minutes.
The first treatment is usually very short, even a few seconds. Your phototherapy sessions will vary in length. It will depend on your skin type and the strength of the light chosen by your doctor. Treatments are typically just a few minutes.
Treatment for skin conditions generally requires several treatments each week. It takes approximately 10 weeks to complete the full treatment.
Treatments will continue until your skin is clear. Sometimes, occasional maintenance treatments are needed. The maintenance sessions can usually be done right in your doctor’s office, or even with a home UV light unit.
You may feel a warm sensation on your skin, similar to a mild sunburn.
It is important to avoid natural sunlight when you are receiving UV light treatment:
Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions.
After arriving home, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
In case of an emergency, CALL 911.
American Academy of Dermatology
National Psoriasis Foundation
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Gambichler T, Breuckmann F, Boms S, Altmeyer P, Kreuter A. Narrowband UVB phototherapy in skin conditions beyond psoriasis. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2005;52(4):660-670. Review.
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Phototherapy: lasers. National Psoriasis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.psoriasis.org/treatment/psoriasis/phototherapy/lasers.php. Accessed August 23, 2005.
Phototherapy: PUVA. National Psoriasis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.psoriasis.org/treatment/psoriasis/phototherapy/puva.php. Accessed August 23, 2005.
Phototherapy: Tips for your protection and comfort. National Psoriasis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.psoriasis.org/treatment/psoriasis/phototherapy/tips.php. Accessed August 23, 2005.
Phototherapy: UVB phototherapy. National Psoriasis Foundation website. Available at: http://www.psoriasis.org/treatment/psoriasis/phototherapy/uvb.php. Accessed August 23, 2005.
Last reviewed November 2009 by Ross Zeltser, MD, FAAD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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