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What is phototherapy?

Phototherapy, also called light therapy, means treatment with a special kind of light.

The most common type of phototherapy used to treat eczema is narrowband ultraviolet B (UVB) light. This uses a special machine to emit UVB light, which is the best part of natural sunlight for treating eczema.

Broadband UVB phototherapy, PUVA (Psoralen and UVA), and UVA1 are other forms of phototherapy that may be used in special circumstances to treat eczema.

Phototherapy helps to:

  • Reduce itch
  • Calm inflammation
  • Increase vitamin D production
  • Ramp up bacteria-fighting systems in the skin

Phototherapy is used for eczema that is all over the body (widespread) or for localized eczema (such as hands and feet) that has not gotten better with topical treatments.

About 70% of people with eczema get better with phototherapy. Some people find that phototherapy puts their eczema in a “remittive” or “quiet” state long past the end of the treatment.

What should I consider before starting phototherapy?

Before you start phototherapy, there are some things to consider:

  • For it to be effective, phototherapy generally requires 2 to 3 treatments per week in the office.
  • Risks: burns, increased aging and increased risk of skin cancer over time are all significant risks with any type of phototherapy. Eye protection must be worn for every treatment to prevent damage to the eyes.

What should I expect with phototherapy?

  • During your visit you will apply a moisturizing oil to the skin and stand in the cabinet undressed except for underwear and protective goggles
  • The machine will be activated for a short time, usually just seconds to minutes, and will treat the entire body, or just certain exposed areas
  • Careful records are kept of your response and the light is slowly increased with each treatment
  • After several months of treatment, the frequency of the visits can sometimes be reduced to once or twice weekly
  • If things continue to improve, phototherapy can be stopped for a period to see if the eczema is in remission
  • If successful, some patients may restart the cycle or simply come once or twice weekly to maintain their improvement
  • When it does work, it is not a rapid improvement like some treatments: generally 1-2 months of steady treatment is necessary to start to see improvement.