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Learn About Phototherapy

Also called light therapy, phototherapy is a way to treat skin conditions with a special kind of light, such as Narrowband UVB


Also called light therapy, phototherapy is a way to treat skin conditions with a special kind of light, such as Narrowband UVB

Did you know?

Phototherapy using Narrowband UVB technology is becoming the treatment of choice for psoriasis, vitiligo, and other skin disorders.  Hundreds of clinical studies confirm effective results with lower risk than alternatives.  Now you can get this FDA Cleared technology at home!

Phototherapy (also called light therapy) is the use of light to treat certain health disorders.  Early phototherapy used sunlight, and its use for health benefits has been documented since the ancient Egyptians.  However, sunlight is a combination of many different kinds of light, some therapeutic and some damaging.  The technical challenge for modern phototherapy has been to provide concentrations of beneficial light while eliminating the damaging light.

Medical lamp technology has allowed us to separate the basic types of light found in sunlight and produce them artificially.  The two most common types of artificial light used for skin disorders are two basic spectra of ultraviolet (UV) light found in sunlight, called UVA and UVB.  Each of these can be used to treat certain skin conditions and have been used for many years.  The type of light that is best for your disorder can be determined by your dermatologist.

Recent advances in medical lamp technology have enabled the manufacture of medical lamps that produce a tiny slice of the UVB light spectrum called Narrowband UVB.  This narrow range of light is very effective in treating psoriasis, eczema, vitiligo, and other skin disorders, but does not have the harmful effects of broad spectrum UVB light found in sunlight and typical (broadband) UVB lamps.  Narrowband UVB light is considered more effective than sunlight or topical steroids and much safer than biologic drugs, and without the side effects of those alternative treatments.  While Narrowband UVB medical lamps have been available for over twenty years, their widespread use has been fairly limited.  However, with new medical studies continuing to demonstrate Narrowband UVB light’s effectiveness and safety, the word is finally getting out and this technology is becoming very popular.

For more information on Narrowband UVB phototherapy, please see the below link from Philips Lighting, the leader in Narrowband UVB lamp technology:


Please note that this information is provided to facilitate a more productive discussion with your doctor.  Your doctor will be able to determine the treatment that is best for you based on your individual symptoms, health, lifestyle and other factors.

Alternative Treatment Overview


The three most common treatments for psoriasis and vitiligo are a) topical anti-inflammatory steroid treatments (applied externally to the skin), b) biologic drugs (administered through injections or IV), and c) phototherapy using various spectra of light.  Below is a brief description of each with their associated risks and side effects.

Biologic Drugs – There has been a lot of interest lately in new biologic drugs to treat auto-immune disorders such as arthritis and psoriasis. These drugs, such as HUMIRA® and ENBREL®, appear to be effective for many people but also have serious risks and side effects that must be considered before using them.  As with all medications that suppress the immune system, taking biologic drugs increases the short and long-term chance of infection and other diseases.  In addition, biologic drugs increase the risk that dormant diseases (especially tuberculosis) may become active.  Common short term side effects include flu-like illness, fever, chills, and nausea, headache, and injection site reactions.  Long term side effects are not fully understood but are thought to be related to the body’s lower resistance to serious infections and disease.  Weight gain has also been recently found to be associated with biologics.  Biologic drugs are very expensive and since they treat chronic conditions, the long term costs can be significant.

Topical Steroids – Treatments using topical anti-inflammatory steroids can be effective for some skin disorders but also have risks and side effects.  Side effects include skin damage such as thinning, bruising, pigmentation changes and dilated surface blood vessels.  When used over a long period of time, topical steroids can be absorbed through the skin and cause changes to internal organs and may contribute to osteoporosis.  The treatments can inhibit the skin’s ability to fight off bacterial or fungal infections.  Many patients also complain of oily medications that stain clothing.

Phototherapy – Medical lamps have been used for over 70 years as an effective solution for psoriasis, eczema, and vitiligo.  The newer Narrowband UVB lamp technology is even more effective, with numerous medical studies demonstrating its safety and extremely low risk of side effects.  Phototherapy is also safe for use by pregnant women, children, and the elderly.  For a extremely small percentage of people, there may be redness, itching and premature aging of skin.

To summarize, phototherapy is more effective than topicals, is cheaper than biologics, has no side effects for almost all patients, and has much less health risk compared to alternatives.  You are encouraged to perform more research and talk to your doctor to learn more.

It is important to discuss the risks and side effects of any treatment with your doctor.  For many people, the acceptable risk level of a treatment is determined by the extent of the condition and how the condition affects your self-esteem and lifestyle.  Please discuss all options with your doctor so the best treatment can be chosen.