Does Light Therapy For Psoriasis Work? Here’s Everything You Need To Know

Light therapy for psoriasis is as common as psoriasis treatments go and you’ve probably already had suggestions and recommendations to try it. And at first, it sounds like a good idea. So if you took the extra step to look into it further, you’ve probably been pretty baffled by the juxtaposition of those who praise it for its effectiveness and those who claim it’s harmful for your skin!

So which is it? Is light therapy for psoriasis a simple, elegant solution for an annoying persistent problem or is it just another way of doing more harm to your already painful skin?

I am here to say both sides have some truth to them – but I’m also here to say don’t worry about it, because it all comes down to choosing the right kind of light therapy. ‘Cause not all light therapy is the same and knowing which helps and harms is the first step to deciding whether this treatment is for you.

What Is Light Therapy for Psoriasis?

Light Therapy, also know as Phototherapy, actually accounts for a group of treatments involving light exposure.

The majority of them involve being exposed to high quantities of specific light, which in turn prevent the overactive skin cells from continuously growing through a number of mechanisms. These include:

  • Destroying T Cells
  • Preventing the release of inflammatory compounds, such as Cytokines
  • Altering gene expression

All the above are implicated in the onset of Psoriasis.

That means that the growth of your skin legions and plaques will decrease or stop altogether! Sounds good right? Sadly, standing under an ordinary light bulb is not going to help you get any better. What you need in order for this to work is Ultraviolet Light.

Isn’t that the same stuff that causes skin cancer? Not necessarily. Ultraviolet Light is divided into two categories: UVA and UVB. Both of them are used to treat Psoriasis, but one is far safer than the other!

Here is a look at what types of phototherapy involve and which is best to use:

UVA Phototherapy

Ultraviolet light A is not very effective on its own and does not yield any great results in Psoriasis cases.

This is why doctors pair UVA treatment with Psoralens (or their derivatives), a pharmaceutical drug that makes the skin more sensitive to sunlight. This drug works by altering the DNA, reducing it’s ability to create more skin cells when in contact with UVA radiation. When Psoralens is used with UVA, the treatment is then called PUVA therapy.

The treatment involves taking the medication about 2 hours before being exposed to UVA light. This treatment occurs 2 to 3 times a week on average. The time spent under this light varies, but on average, doctors build from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. The short time is largely due to Psoralens and the sensitivity it causes. Improvement usually shows after 2 to 3 months.

PUVA therapy has proved to be highly effective for treating Psoriasis, clearing it in up to 85% of cases. The problem is that long term use of these pharmaceuticals appear to increase the risk for melanomas and skin cancers.

In the short term, it can cause nausea, redness (or a fake sunburn effect), blistering, burning and also rapidly ages the skin. Not to mention, you will burn way more easily in ordinary sunlight when taking this!

Moreover, these effects do not last permanently in many cases and maintenance is necessary throughout people’s lives, often on a yearly basis. Hence why the long term side effects are quite important to understand!

UVB Phototherapy

In terms of UVB Phototherapy, you get broadband UVB and narrowband UVB.

UVB therapy has been preferred by doctors as it is safer to use and one does not need to take nasty Psoralens for it to be effective.

  • Broadband UVB is the most commonly used for Psoriasis patients and has been for decades. Yet this type of UVB is also ineffective in chronic cases of the disease and has proven to be far less useful for those with mild Psoriasis. In other words, don’t go for this option and don’t waste your time.
  • Narrowband UVB is a more intensified focus of UVB light used in the treatment of Psoriasis. In a clinical trial done, this form of Phototherapy proved to just as effective as PUVA, without all the negative side effects. Researchers also claimed that it is likely a lot less carcinogenic and certainly by far more convenient! Go with Narrowband UVB therapy if you wish to opt for light therapy.

As in the case of PUVA, maintanence therapy is often required. Both PUVA and UVB treatments tend to show improvement or remission after 2 to 3 months. In some cases of mild Psoriasis, complete remission was documented, but in the majority of cases, these treatments are not cures.

Heliotherapy

Heliotherapy is a fancy-shmancy term for Light Therapy that uses controlled exposure to sunlight, in moderation. As you know, the sun’s rays contains both UVA and UVB light. This form of light therapy actually proved to be highly effective!

In more than one study done on up to 30 Psoriasis cases, substantial improvement was noted in Psoriasis legions. The patients stopped taking any Psoriasis medications (like Psoralens) a month before the treatment began. During the treatment, they lay in the Sun on both their front and back sides for 45 minutes at a time. Each day, the patients gradually increased their Sun exposure over a period of 16 days.

It’s important to note here than none of the patients received a sunburn, as sunburn definitely exacerbates Psoriatic symptoms. They did not do it during the middle of the day and the studies were not carried out at high altitudes or in scorching hot climates.

If you do live in a hot climate and want to do Heliotherapy, it is recommended to start at 10 mins a day. Depending on how sensitive your skin is, increase up slowly. You don’t want sunburn, trust me!

Laser Therapy

Laser Therapy often entails the use of UVB light emitted from a laser device. The same results apply to this therapy as to UVB therapy.

The only difference is that some of these laser devices have been made for home use, making it far more convenient for those who wish to use it – which is why it’s become one of the most popular at home Psoriasis treatments in recent year. No need to drive to the doctor’s office, no need to take Psoralens and no need to be dependent on sunbathing – especially if you live in a cold, dreary environment. 

That being said, it’s not as easy as flipping a switch and getting your DIY light therapy of psoriasis – there are a few things you should do (and more importantly, not do) to make at home light treatments a lot more effective!

The Do’s & Don’ts Of Light Therapy

While receiving light therapy, there are a few things you ought to know.

DO…

1. Keep Calm & Meditate

In independent clinical trials, patients who underwent light therapy while listening to a guided meditation tape improved up to four times faster!

This is because stress is a big no-no for Psoriasis and exacerbates all symptoms. Stress releases inflammatory molecules in the body, so try to relax at all times and especially during treatment.

2. Eat A Diet Rich In Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Eating anti-inflammatory foods will help to protect you and your skin from unwarranted inflammation! Certain foods rich in Omega-3 oils and the spice turmeric are especially potent for reducing inflammation in psoriasis cases.

3. Supplement with Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 rapidly reduces inflammation and particularly mediates inflammatory responses in skin cells. Most Psoriasis patients are highly deficient in vitamin D3 and should be taking between 2000 and 4000 IU minimum per day.

4. Moisturize

Moisturizers have shown to help Psoriasis immensely. Avoid immune suppressing corticosteroid ointments and rather opt for Vitamin D3-enriched moisturizers.

5. Sleep Well

Lack of sleep exacerbates Psoriatic symptoms. This being said, try to do everything in your power to get a good night’s sleep and get to bed on time!

DON’T…

1. Use Light Therapy Without Consulting A Doctor

It’s important to have a doctor on hand to monitor your treatment, particularly for managing any side effects or picking up on melanomas.

2. Use Tar-Based Ointments Or Certain Products

Certain medications increase the risk of sunburn as well as skin cancer. Avoid Tazarotene, Coal Tar, Elidel (or Pimecrolimus) and Protopic (or Tacrolimus).

3. Substitute A Tanning Bed or Sun Lamp

Even though a tanning bed or sun lamp uses UVA radiation, it is not a suitable substitute for medical light therapy. In fact, using them increases cancer growth by up to 60%, aside from doing nothing to help your Psoriasis.

4. Go Out Into The Sun Too Much

Unless you are doing heliotherapy (which is in moderation), please do not go out into the sun if you can help it. This applies more to those who are on Psoralens, as the sun will rapidly burn their sensitized skin.

5. Smoke or Drink

Alcohol and smoking are both risk factors that increase the onset of Psoriasis. It’s best just to avoid them, or reduce them substantially if avoiding them is impossible.

FAQs About Light Therapy For Psoriasis

At this point, you probably have a bunch of questions about light therapy – here are some of the most common ones that pop up!

Where can I get light therapy?

PUVA and UVB light therapy is administered at specialized skin clinics, at the dermatologist’s office or at home with a home device.

How long is a light therapy session?

The length varies as doctors tend to increase the exposure until they find the appropriate dose. For those on PUVA, it usually takes 2minutes. For UVB, it can take up to 20 minutes or more.

How long does it take for light therapy to work?

On average, 2 to 3 months reduce the Psoriasis completely. The doctor will keep giving you treatment until it’s 100% gone.

What other skin conditions does light therapy work for?

It works for a whole host of inflammatory skin conditions aside from Psoriasis, including eczema, dermatitis, vitiligo, and scleroderma.

What machines are used for light therapy?

Standard UBV and UVA “machines” are either light booths, laser devices or specialized tanning beds with lights in them for the appropriate treatment. In the booths, one stands, in the beds, one lies down and under the laser devices, one usually sits.

Are there any safety precautions required?

In phototherapy booths or beds, one is required to wear UV resistant goggles to prevent blindness or cataracts. Men may need to wear genital protection to avoid prostatic cancer, particularly if they have a history of in the family.

Have more questions or things to say about light therapy for psoriasis? Let everyone know in the comments!

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