Before we knew the extent to which sun damage contributed to skin cancer, tanning oil was an essential found in every beach bag. Today, we know to slather on the sunscreen, don a big hat, and limit our exposure. So, is it possible that something called “light therapy” could actually be the cure for some of the more common skin conditions? We spoke with Trevor Thompson, MD, a dermatologist at Banner Health Center in Peoria, AZ, to learn the truth about narrow-band ultraviolet B therapy (NB UVB).
What does NB UVB light therapy treat?
Ultraviolet light is naturally produced by the sun. In fact, it is the same light that is responsible for sunburns. By harnessing a very controlled, narrow-band of this light, experts can safely treat common skin conditions such as psoriasis, severe itching, vitiligo, eczema and even early stages of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma.
Just how narrow is “narrow-band?” Dr. Thompson described that the wavelength is about 311 nanometers. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. This might not mean much to the average person, but it’s a good illustration of the precision used with modern light therapies. In fact, additional therapies are even broken into colors of visible light. Dr. Thompson shared that research is showing promising results for treating alopecia with red light therapies.
How to get started with light therapy
First things first, set an appointment with your dermatologist. Even if you saw your skin condition(s) listed above, other factors could play into your recommendation for light therapy. Dr. Thompson said that “Generally, UV treatments are very well tolerated with limited short- and long-term side effects.” He added that, in some cases, your dermatologist may even prescribe light therapies which can be used at home. But all these decisions should be made with an expert who can consider all the factors and create a therapy regimen that safely suits your needs.
What is light therapy like?
Interestingly, light therapies often resemble an upright tanning bed. “Most dermatologists aren’t big fans of tanning beds, but with regulated doses of narrow-band light, a few minutes in these machines can do amazing things for your skin,” commented Dr. Thompson. You’ll be given eye protection to wear during the therapy and your dermatologist will monitor your progress to adjust for safety and effectiveness.
How common is light therapy?
For many years, light therapy has remained an important treatment option. NB UVB therapy has proven to be a relatively safe and effective way to deliver the most beneficial elements of UV light while minimizing the risk of skin damage and other side effects. Dr. Thompson noted, “Over the last few decades, many new ways to treat various skin conditions have appeared. Yet, NB UVB therapy remains an important tool for treatment of a variety of skin conditions.”
At-home light therapies
UV light can be dangerous when used improperly. For your safety, your doctor may not prescribe at-home therapies. If your doctor decides that at-home therapies would benefit your care, there are tools to make that possible. These tools will typically use NB UVB or LED light. Work with your doctor to determine if and how often you should be applying at-home therapies.
Have you seen the light?
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