What is Psoriasis? In a nutshell, it is a skin condition where a person’s skin cells grow at a faster rate than normal. It’s caused by an autoimmune disorder that shows up as red, itchy patches on the skin’s surface.
In a nutshell, it is an autoimmune disorder that shows up as red, thick itchy patches on the skin but can also involve the joints and other organ systems as well.
One of the oldest methods for treating the skin manifestations of psoriasis is using light therapy. Ultraviolet (UV) light, such as that which comes from the sun’s rays, inhibits the immune cells that are overactive in psoriasis. You can avail yourself of phototherapy in a dermatologist’s office, and most patients will need a few visits a week as an outpatient. The actual time will be just 15 to 20 minutes.
If you are scheduled for Phototherapy, you will need about 20 phototherapy sessions before your skin improves visibly.
Different Types of Phototherapy to treat psoriasis
The simplest form of phototherapy is sunbathing. While dermatologists typically discourage laying out in the sun, it often helps with psoriasis. In Europe, psoriatic patients often “vacation” at the Dead Sea to soak in the salty water and get lots of sun exposure. The Dead Sea is below sea level, so the atmosphere is thicker and filters out different rays from the sun. The light striking the surface at that level is especially effective in treating psoriasis. The problem with sunbathing is that it is difficult to “dose” correctly; sunburns can occur and the risk of skin cancer is high.
The next, and worst, is indoor tanning (tanning beds). All tanning beds in the US produce ultraviolet A (UVA) light. UVA is not very effective in treating psoriasis unless combined with a prescription medication called psoralen. This is called PUVA and will be discussed below. Just going to a tanning salon will not help your psoriasis very much and will probably increase your risk of skin cancer. We cannot recommend it.
Medical Phototherapy is the use of medical grade light sources to treat certain skin conditions. It is still widely used to treat psoriasis and comes in a number of flavors:
Narrow band UVB Phototherapy Treatment
This is the most effective form of phototherapy. It is typically performed using a light box. This is a big box, like a large telephone booth that is lined inside with very specific light bulbs that produce one wavelength of light. Patients undress and step into the box and receive a dose of light. The “dose” is controlled by how long the lights are on. As the person’s skin acclimates (and tans) the time is increased. It works fairly well for psoriasis.
The problems are: a) You have to travel to the doctor's office three or more times per week to get the treatment. b) There is an increased risk of skin cancer — I usually tell patients to cover their face when they are in the box. The better solution is to obtain a home light unit. Some doctors will prescribe these, and you can use them at home under a doctor's supervision. They ARE expensive, but the medications are getting more expensive too. You must be careful or you can get a bad durn which could scar or cause a flare of your psoriasis. Just like the doctor's office, it also carries an increased risk of skin cancer.
PUVA Phototherapy for Psoriasis
This is not done much anymore due to the discovery of an increased risk of melanoma, the bad kind of skin cancer. This combined a light box with UVA bulbs and a medication called psoralen which makes you sensitive to the light. You would be hard-pressed to find any doctors offering PUVA anymore.
There is a laser that is FDA-cleared to treat psoriasis. The laser puts out ultraviolet light in an intense, small beam. This kind of light treatment can focus on small areas and, thus, is less risky for skin cancer. Unfortunately, the laser is in the doctor's office, so once again, lots of trips over there are required just to get the treatment.
We are now looking at a better way to deliver light treatment.
Light Treatment for Psoriasis Available at CDCRI
California Dermatology and Clinical Research Institute offers light treatment for psoriasis as a part of our study using a small home light unit. In this study, no systemic medications are used. Patches are attached to the psoriasis areas, and it is now even possible to treat yourself with this small light unit at home. With an app that you can easily access on your smartphone, you will be able to monitor and schedule your own phototherapy.
In this study, no systemic medications are used. Patches are attached to the psoriasis areas, and it is now even possible to treat yourself with this small light unit at home. With an app that you can easily access on a smartphone, you will be able to monitor and schedule your own phototherapy.
If you choose to visit us at the clinic, the five treatment visits last over about six weeks, after which you can expect several follow-up visits in the months afterward. Compensation for your time and travel costs may also be provided in your plan. You may want to look into this new and innovative way of treating your psoriasis, with no side effects involved.
At California Dermatology and Clinical Research Institute, we have conducted numerous studies to help provide better treatment solutions for our patients. Whether you are having acne or other breakouts, eczema and other skin problems, we can help.
Want to know more about how our research and therapies can help save your skin? Visit our current studies page to find out what research-based treatment is available for your condition. Give us a call at (760) 203-3839.