Alternative Sunshine: The Benefits and Risks of Phototherapy for Psoriasis

The rainy, cold weather we have been experiencing in Austin, Texas the last few days has us craving sunlight and its positive benefits on our skin. Psoriasis patients no longer need natural sunshine to experience the sun’s rays on their skin. Today’s technology has made it possible to obtain the benefits of UV light indoors.

Science has demonstrated that UV rays are beneficial to psoriasis sufferers. In fact, there are several phototherapy treatments available today that have shown extremely positive results for psoriasis sufferers. Phototherapy involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet light regularly (either in a doctor’s office or skin clinic or at home with a phototherapy unit). However, with the benefits of phototherapy come risks and concerns about the long-term effects. As explained in a 2009 article written by the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission and published by the New York Times, “[w]hile sunlight penetrates the top layers of the skin, the ultraviolet radiation bombards the DNA inside skin cells and injures it. This can cause wrinkles, aging skin, and skin cancers. However, these same damaging effects can destroy the skin cells that form psoriasis patches.”

Here is a brief overview of some of the current phototherapy methods available and possible risks associated with each:

Sunlight
Sitting in the sun is an easy way to improve your psoriasis. However, getting too much sun can worsen psoriasis and increase your risk of skin cancer. If you decide to use natural sunlight to treat your psoriasis, it is important that you do no overdo it. Consulting a doctor beforehand and limiting your time in the sun (The National Psoriasis Foundation recommends starting with 5 to 10 minutes of noontime sunlight daily) will ensure proper exposure.

UVB (Ultraviolet B)
UVB treatment exposes the skin to artificial ultraviolet light. UVB treatment has shown to be effective for psoriasis because UVB rays (which are present in natural sunlight) penetrate the skin and slow the growth of affected skin cells. UVB treatment is available in the doctor’s office or may be done at home with phototherapy units available by prescription only. Potential side effects include temporary flare-ups prior to seeing improvement in skin condition, redness, and itchiness of the skin.

PUVA (Psoralen + Ultraviolet A)
PUVA involves UVA light combined with an oral or topical drug called Psoralen that makes the skin more sensitive to the light exposure. While PUVA has been shown to be effective for severe psoriasis suffers, it does have potentially serious side effects, including: increased risk to skin cancer, nausea, exhaustion, headaches, burning, and itching.

Lasers
Lasers use highly focused beams of UVB light that are targeted only at areas of the body affected by psoriasis. Because lasers are more precise and expose less of the body to UVB rays, they may be safer and result in a lower risk of cancer. A common side effect of laser treatment is blistering.

As always, before seeking any phototherapy treatment, it is important to talk with a doctor about what treatments are right for you and your skin.

The New York Times in-depth article on phototherapy treatment for psoriasis is available here:http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/psoriasis/phototherapy.html.

The National Psoriasis Foundation has a very informative page on its website providing information about the various phototherapy treatments available for psoriasis sufferers. If you are considering phototherapy, we recommend checking it out here:http://www.psoriasis.org/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=430.


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