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Psoriasis is a persistent skin condition that often responds well to gentle skincare products and topical medications. However, if you have moderate to severe psoriasis, these treatments may not be enough. If you’re looking for an effective treatment option to complement your current skincare regimen, consider UV light therapy.

How does light therapy work?

Also known as phototherapy, light therapy is the process of exposing affected patches of skin to ultraviolet (UV) rays. The purpose of this therapy is to reduce inflammation and slow the overproduction of skin cells characteristic of psoriasis.

While there are a few different types of light therapy, narrow-band UVB phototherapy is the one that dermatologists usually recommend for treating psoriasis. In this case, the skin is only exposed to UVB wavelengths ranging from 311 to 313 nanometers. This narrow-band exposure maximizes effectiveness while minimizing side effects.

What to consider before receiving light therapy

Treatment is usually administered two to three times a week in a dermatologist’s office. The patient sits in a light box during treatment, which only lasts a few minutes. The dose may be quite low at first, and then gradually increase with each session. The total treatment duration may last four to 12 weeks.

Note that tanning beds can’t be used for light therapy because it’s impossible to control the exact spectrum and dose of light you receive. You may also only require treatment in certain parts of your body, such as your head, hands, or feet, which tanning beds can’t accommodate.

Possible side effects of light therapy

For most people, the biggest concern is whether light therapy increases skin cancer risk. Any exposure to UV light creates a cancer risk, but narrow-band UVB phototherapy has a much lower risk than sunbathing or using tanning booths. The higher the radiation dose, and the more light therapy sessions you receive, the greater the risk. Still, taking precautions—such as covering sensitive, unaffected areas with clothing or wearing sunscreen on healthy skin—helps reduce your risk.

Other possible side effects of light therapy include:

  • Dry, itchy skin
  • Sunburn-like skin reactions
  • Increased likelihood of cold sores in susceptible individuals
  • Temporary raised red patches
  • Hair follicle infections

How effective is light therapy for treating psoriasis?

Most patients begin noticing positive results after two to three weeks. For 50 to 90 percent of people, their symptoms improve dramatically or disappear entirely once the four- to 12-week treatment concludes. While these results aren’t permanent, they provide much-needed relief for a while.

Light therapy combines safely with topical medication or tablets. The treatment you receive depends on your skin type, medical history, and current medications. For your safety, and to improve the effectiveness of your treatment, only work with a licensed dermatologist who has experience performing light therapy.

Arlington Dermatology is pleased to offer phototherapy as a treatment for psoriasis and other skin conditions. To learn more, or to schedule a light therapy consultation, please contact our dermatologist in Rolling Meadows at (847) 725-0824.