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Ultraviolet Therapy for Psoriasis: How It Works

Ultraviolet therapy, commonly known as UV therapy, is a promising treatment for psoriasis, leveraging the power of ultraviolet light to mitigate symptoms and improve skin condition. This article delves into the fundamentals of UV therapy, its mechanisms, and what patients can expect from undergoing this treatment.

Key Takeaways

  • Ultraviolet therapy uses UVA or UVB light to treat psoriasis, improving skin health by reducing inflammation and scaling.
  • Different types of UV therapy, including PUVA and NB-UVB, cater to varying severities and areas of psoriasis, offering flexibility in treatment options.
  • UV therapy can be combined with other treatments and medications to enhance efficacy, particularly in resistant cases of psoriasis.
  • Regular sessions are crucial, typically starting several times a week and decreasing in frequency as symptoms improve.
  • While UV therapy is generally safe and effective, it does carry potential risks such as skin damage and increased cancer risk, which must be carefully managed.

Understanding Ultraviolet Therapy for Psoriasis

ultraviolet light therapy session psoriasis treatment

What is Ultraviolet Phototherapy?

Ultraviolet light therapy, also known as ultraviolet (UV) phototherapy, utilizes ultraviolet light to manage and treat various skin conditions, including psoriasis. This therapy harnesses the power of either UVA or UVB light to alleviate symptoms and manage the condition effectively.

Types of Ultraviolet Rays Used

There are primarily two types of ultraviolet rays employed in the treatment of psoriasis:

  • Ultraviolet B (UVB): This type can be further divided into narrowband UVB and broadband UVB. It is also used in conjunction with laser treatments, such as the excimer laser, particularly effective for smaller areas.
  • Ultraviolet A (UVA): UVA is generally used in combination with a medication called psoralen, which sensitizes the skin to light, making the treatment more effective. This combination is known as PUVA therapy.

How Ultraviolet Light Aids Psoriasis Treatment

Ultraviolet light therapy is a cornerstone in the management of psoriasis, providing relief by slowing down the excessive skin cell production that characterizes the disease. This treatment not only helps clear psoriasis plaques but also reduces inflammation and scaling, contributing to a significant improvement in skin condition and quality of life.

The Science Behind Ultraviolet Therapy

ultraviolet light therapy session psoriasis treatment

How Phototherapy Works

Ultraviolet therapy, or phototherapy, harnesses specific wavelengths of light to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis. The process involves exposing the skin to UV light, which can significantly reduce symptoms by slowing down the rate at which skin cells grow and reducing inflammation.

Differences Between PUVA and UVB Therapy

Phototherapy can be administered using different types of UV light, each with distinct characteristics and uses:

  • UVB: Targets the top layer of skin and is available in broadband for larger areas or narrowband for targeted areas.
  • PUVA: Combines UVA light with a medication called psoralen, enhancing the skin’s sensitivity to light, thus maximizing treatment effectiveness.

Effectiveness and Safety

Ultraviolet therapy has been proven effective for many individuals suffering from psoriasis. However, the safety of long-term use and the potential for side effects, such as skin damage from overexposure, require careful monitoring and control by healthcare providers. It is crucial to follow the prescribed treatment regimen and attend all follow-up appointments to ensure the best outcomes and minimize risks.

Preparation for Ultraviolet Therapy

patient receiving ultraviolet therapy for psoriasis in a medical clinic

Embarking on ultraviolet therapy for psoriasis requires thoughtful preparation to ensure safety and effectiveness. Here’s what you should expect as you gear up for your treatment sessions.

Initial Assessments and Considerations

Before beginning ultraviolet therapy, a thorough assessment by your healthcare provider is crucial. This includes a detailed medical history and a physical examination to determine your suitability for the treatment. Key factors such as skin type, severity of psoriasis, and any previous treatments will be evaluated to tailor the therapy to your specific needs.

Setting Up Treatment Sessions

Once you are deemed a suitable candidate, the next step involves scheduling the treatment sessions. These sessions are typically conducted in a dermatologist’s office or a specialized clinic. It is important to adhere to the prescribed schedule to achieve optimal results. You may also be advised to avoid certain medications and direct sunlight prior to your sessions to minimize the risk of adverse reactions.

Combining UV Therapy with Other Treatments

In many cases, ultraviolet therapy is combined with other treatments to enhance its effectiveness. This might include topical treatments, systemic medications, or biologics. Discussing all possible treatment options with your healthcare provider will help in creating a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses all aspects of your psoriasis.

Note: Always consult with your healthcare provider to adjust your treatment plan as needed based on your progress and any side effects experienced.

The Ultraviolet Therapy Procedure

What Happens During a Session?

During your ultraviolet therapy session, safety is paramount. You will be required to wear protective equipment, such as eye protection, to shield yourself from the UV light. The procedure involves the controlled application of UV light to the affected areas of your skin. Each session’s duration and the UV light’s intensity are meticulously adjusted to minimize skin damage while maximizing treatment effectiveness.

Types of Devices Used

A variety of devices are employed in ultraviolet therapy, each tailored to the specific type of UV light used—UVA, UVB, or PUVA. Devices range from handheld units for small areas to full-body panels or cabinets for comprehensive coverage. The choice of device will depend on your specific treatment plan and the severity of your psoriasis.

Frequency and Duration of Treatment

The frequency and duration of ultraviolet therapy sessions can vary significantly based on the type and severity of your psoriasis. Initial treatments may be brief, lasting only a few seconds, and gradually increase in duration. A typical treatment plan might involve sessions two to three times a week, with a total of 25 to 30 sessions required for optimal results. Your healthcare provider will determine the best schedule for your needs.

Note: Consistency and adherence to the treatment schedule are crucial for achieving the best outcomes in managing psoriasis.

Benefits of Ultraviolet Therapy for Psoriasis

person receiving ultraviolet light therapy for psoriasis in a medical setting

Improvement in Skin Condition

Ultraviolet therapy, particularly UVB light, has been shown to significantly improve the skin condition of those suffering from psoriasis. The targeted treatment minimizes damage to healthy skin while effectively reducing psoriatic plaques. This form of therapy can lead to a smoother, more uniform skin appearance, often enhancing the patient’s self-esteem and quality of life.

Reduction in Inflammation and Scaling

One of the primary benefits of ultraviolet therapy is its ability to reduce inflammation and scaling. Patients typically observe a noticeable decrease in redness and flakiness, which contributes to an overall improvement in skin health. This reduction is crucial for managing the symptoms of psoriasis and can provide relief from the constant irritation that accompanies the condition.

Long-term Effects and Remission

While the immediate effects of ultraviolet therapy are quite beneficial, the long-term outcomes can be even more promising. Many patients experience periods of remission, during which symptoms are significantly reduced or absent. The potential for extended remission periods makes ultraviolet therapy a compelling option for long-term management of psoriasis.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

person receiving ultraviolet therapy for psoriasis in a medical setting with visible skin irritation

While ultraviolet therapy offers significant benefits for managing psoriasis, it is important to be aware of the potential risks and side effects associated with this treatment. Understanding these can help you make informed decisions and manage any complications effectively.

Common Side Effects

The most frequently observed side effects of ultraviolet therapy are akin to those experienced from sun exposure. These include:

  • Skin redness
  • Mild burning or stinging sensation
  • Dry skin
  • Itching
  • Temporary dark spots, especially in individuals with darker skin tones

These effects are generally mild and transient, resolving on their own or with minimal care.

Serious Health Risks

Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light, particularly UVA, can lead to more serious health issues:

  • Premature aging of the skin, such as wrinkles and age spots
  • Heightened risk of skin cancers, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma
  • Potential for eye damage, including cataracts, necessitating the use of UV-blocking goggles during treatment

It is crucial to monitor these risks closely with your healthcare provider to ensure the safety of your treatment regimen.

Managing and Mitigating Risks

To minimize the risks associated with ultraviolet therapy, consider the following steps:

  1. Use moisturizers to combat dryness and protect the skin barrier.
  2. Adhere strictly to the treatment schedule recommended by your healthcare provider to avoid overexposure.
  3. Wear protective eyewear during sessions to shield your eyes from harmful UV rays.
  4. Regularly review your skin condition and any changes with your dermatologist.

By taking these precautions, you can help ensure a safer and more effective treatment experience.

Aftercare and Maintenance

person receiving ultraviolet therapy for psoriasis in a medical setting

Post-treatment Skin Care

After your ultraviolet therapy sessions, it is crucial to focus on post-treatment skin care to maximize the benefits and minimize any potential side effects. Your healthcare provider will likely recommend using a daily moisturizer to prevent dryness and protect the skin barrier. Additionally, wearing sunscreen and protective clothing when outdoors is essential to shield the treated areas from further UV exposure.

Monitoring Progress

Keeping track of your skin’s response to treatment is vital for assessing the effectiveness of the therapy. You should schedule regular follow-up appointments with your healthcare provider to monitor progress and make any necessary adjustments to your treatment plan. These sessions are also an opportunity to discuss any concerns or side effects you may be experiencing.

Adjusting Treatment Frequency

As your skin condition improves, there may be a need to adjust the frequency of your ultraviolet therapy sessions. This adjustment should always be done under the guidance of your healthcare provider to ensure the best outcomes and to prevent any potential risks associated with overexposure to UV light.


In conclusion, ultraviolet therapy offers a promising treatment option for individuals suffering from psoriasis. By utilizing specific wavelengths of UV light, this therapy helps to reduce inflammation and slow down the rapid production of skin cells associated with psoriasis. Whether through UVB or UVA, with or without the use of psoralen, the treatment can be tailored to individual needs and severity of the condition. It is important for patients to consult with their healthcare provider to understand the best type of phototherapy for their situation, the potential benefits, and any risks involved. Regular sessions and proper management can lead to significant improvement in skin health and overall quality of life for psoriasis patients.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is ultraviolet phototherapy?

Ultraviolet light therapy, also known as ultraviolet (UV) phototherapy, is the use of ultraviolet light to treat certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis, using either UVA or UVB light.

How does ultraviolet light help treat psoriasis?

Ultraviolet light reduces inflammation and slows down the production of skin cells, which can help alleviate the symptoms of psoriasis.

What are the different types of UV light therapy?

There are two main types of UV light therapy: UVB, which can be narrowband or broadband, and UVA, which is often used with a medication called psoralen in a treatment known as PUVA.

Can UV therapy be combined with other treatments?

Yes, UV therapy can be used in conjunction with other psoriasis medications and treatments to enhance effectiveness.

What should I expect during a UV therapy session?

During a UV therapy session, you may stand in a booth lined with light tubes emitting UV light or use a smaller device for localized treatment. Sessions typically occur several times a week initially, and may decrease in frequency as symptoms improve.

What are the potential risks of UV therapy?

While UV therapy is generally safe, it can lead to side effects such as skin burns, premature aging, and an increased risk of skin cancer, particularly with prolonged exposure.