Phototherapy is a technique whereby various wavelengths of ultraviolet (UV) light are used to treat a wide range of different skin conditions, particularly eczema, psoriasis and vitiligo.
Ancient physicians realised the healing power of the sun (heliotherapy) for some skin conditions and modern phototherapy was developed initially to treat skin tuberculosis and in the 1970s various cancer treatment were developed using the power of light, referred to as photochemotherapy.
Phototherapy uses high intensity UV light sources in specific wavelengths to treat conditions on the surface of the skin and in deeper layers of the skin.
There are two main types of phototherapy available...
Narrow band ultraviolet B (NBUVB)
NBUVB is effective in treating a number of skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis and uses only some of the wavelengths of light present in sunlight (hence 'narrow band'), specifically those found to be more beneficial in the treatment of skin conditions. For this reason it is also believed to be less harmful than exposure to sunlight, although some skin tanning or sunburn type burns are possible.
Used for the treatment of psoriasis for example often requires a course of up to 25 treatments for the condition to stabilise.
Psoralen + UVA (PUVA)
Psoralen is a drug that increases the skin's sensitivity to UV light, which makes the light treatment more effective. A course of treatment of PUVA - also referred to as 'photochemotherapy' - lasts for around 6 months and treatment is required twice a week. As with NBUVB, PUVA treatment can cause some side effects such as sunburn type burns or freckles on the treated area of skin.