What Happens to Skin After Phototherapy?
The goal of phototherapy is to reduce the growth of skin cells and to treat underlying skin inflammation. Phototherapy does this by putting ultraviolet light on the skin. It can be used to treat several skin conditions, including:
- Eczema (red and itchy skin)
- Psoriasis (raised, red, scaly patches)
- Vitiligo (loss of colour on areas of the skin)
- Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (a type of lymphoma that appears as patches or scaly areas on the skin)
- Lichen planus (small bumps on the skin)
What is ultraviolet light?
There are different types of ultraviolet (UV) light that are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The sun produces UV light that reaches the Earth. UV light helps produce vitamin D, which is essential to help the body survive.
The UV light used in phototherapy is the same type of light emitted from the sun. Dermatologists will control the strength of the light and monitor the length of time that the skin will have exposure to UV light to prevent skin damage.
How does phototherapy work?
Natural sunlight can help improve symptoms of some skin conditions by reducing the inflammatory response in the skin. Both UVA and UVB wavelengths are used to treat skin diseases.
UV light appears to have an effect on the immune system. To be precise, it seems to reduce the number of T-cell lymphocytes in the skin. These cells are involved in the inflammatory response and are known to play an important part in skin disorders. A reduced number of these cells results in less inflammation and an associated improvement in symptoms.
Phototherapy improves the skin gradually after several weeks of regular treatments. Treatments are given 2 to 3 times a week for 12 to 16 weeks. Treatment will start for 30 seconds and build up to a maximum of around 15 minutes.
This, of course, is different for every patient and will depend on how treatment is tolerated. The itching should reduce and the skin problem would slowly clear as treatment continues. Phototherapy will continue for a maximum number of weeks until the skin is clear or almost clear, and the itching has improved.
Phototherapy treatment will stop after the prescribed individual course. It is very important that the patient does not miss sessions to optimise the chances of success.
What to expect during a phototherapy session?
The patient would be asked to remove any clothes that cover the skin being treated. Areas that do not need treatment would be covered and protected.
Safety Tips during Phototherapy Sessions:
- For men, cover your genitals.
- For women, apply sunscreen on your nipples and areola.
- Use sunscreen to protect your lips, neck, and your hands.
- Wear special glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from UV light.
- Make sure to inform your doctor about any medication that you are currently taking. Some medications can increase the risk of side effects.
What devices are used for phototherapy?
You can choose from tabletop sun lamps to handheld phototherapy lamps that put out a wider arc of light. There are also versions where you can attach a hair brush to make it easier to treat scalp psoriasis.
What happens to the skin after phototherapy?
The following results can be expected after phototherapy:
- Improvement of existing lesions
- Reduction of new lesions
- Near-total clearing of the disease process
As with other forms of treatment, these results vary with each patient, and maintenance therapy may be required for most cases.
Also, whilst phototherapy is considered safe, the possible side effects that can happen immediately after treatment include:
- Itchiness, redness, or tenderness of the skin
- Mild burning or stinging sensation
- Dark spots on the skin
After each treatment, the skin should be a little pink or red. This is desirable and not considered a side effect.
Lastly, although light therapy can be used to effectively treat skin conditions without many adverse effects, it is not right for everyone. If you are pregnant or nursing, have a family history of skin cancer, or have liver disease or lupus, phototherapy might not be helpful.