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Phototherapy uses lightwaves to treat certain skin conditions. The skin is exposed to an ultraviolet (UV) light for a set amount of time. Phototherapy uses a man-made source of UV light. UV light also comes from the sun. When combined with a medication called psoralen, the procedure is known as psoralen UVA (PUVA).
You will be asked to remove any clothes that cover the skin being treated. Areas that do not need treatment should be covered and protected as much as possible. Some safety steps include:
Sunscreen to protect your neck, lips, and the backs of your hands
Special glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from UV light
Cover for genitals in men
Sunscreen for nipples and areola in women
Make sure to inform your doctor about any medication that you are currently taking. Some medications, including over-the-counter medication, can increase the risk of side effects.
Description of the Procedure
Types of phototherapy include:
Broad band UVB—Uses UV light, type B. It cannot be used in areas where there are skin folds.
Narrow band UVB (nbUVB)—Uses a narrower range of UVB wavelengths. It can reach more specific areas, even skin folds.
PUVA—This UVA light treatment includes a medication called psoralen that is taken before treatment. It makes your skin more sensitive to the light. Psoralen can be taken as a pill or applied to the skin.
Lasers—An excimer laser emits a UV light. It can be directed at specific areas of the skin.
Treatment over a large area may be treated in a treatment unit. You can stand in this unit during treatment. Smaller areas may be treated with smaller units. A laser treatment will use a laser light that is focused on the specific area.
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 rarely last longer than a few minutes.
Generally, several treatments are required each week. The length of treatment will depend on the type of phototherapy:
Broad band therapy requires approximately 3-5 treatments each week.
Narrow band therapy requires 2-3 treatments each week.
PUVA treatments generally require about 25 treatments over a 2-3 month period.
Laser treatments are usually given twice a week and fewer sessions are required to clear the skin.
Treatments will continue until your skin is clear. Sometimes, occasional maintenance treatments are needed. The maintenance sessions can usually be done in your doctor’s office or with a home UV light unit.
It is important to avoid natural sunlight when you are receiving UV light treatment:
Clothing and sunscreen should be used when outdoors. They will help you avoid overexposure to UV light.
There is an increased risk of sunburn after PUVA treatment. This is due to increased sensitivity from the psoralen.
It is important to protect your eyes from sunlight exposure for the next 24 hours.
This will help you to avoid
cataracts after PUVA treatment.
Antihistamines and other medication may be given to ease the itching.
Your doctor should regularly examine your skin for skin cancer. UV light exposure from sunlight causes skin cancer. Long-term PUVA treatment can also increase the risk of skin cancer. No studies have found a direct link from nbUVB phototherapy to skin cancer.
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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
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