Phototherapy uses lightwaves to treat certain skin conditions. The skin is exposed to an ultraviolet (UV) light for a set amount of time. Phototherapy uses a man-made source of UV light. UV light also comes from the sun. When combined with a medication called psoralen, the procedure is known as psoralen UVA (PUVA).

Reasons for Procedure

UV light shuts down immune system cells in the skin. It can help in skin conditions that are caused by an overreaction of the immune system. Skin conditions that are treated with phototherapy include:

  • Psoriasis—a skin disorder that causes red, silvery, scaly patches on the skin
  • Atopic dermatitis—eczema, an itchy, red skin condition, or dermatitis due to allergies
  • Mycosis fungoides—a type of lymphoma confined to the skin
  • Vitiligo—a skin disorder where normal skin pigment is lost due to destruction of pigment-producing cells by the immune system
  • Lichen planus—an inflammatory skin condition
  • A rare form of Crigler-Najjar syndrome
  • Psoriasis

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  • Possible Complications

    The UV lights may negatively affect your skin in a number of ways, including:

  • Skin conditions could temporarily worsen
  • Itchy skin
  • Red skin due to exposure to the lights
  • Burning of the skin
  • PUVA treatment may also cause:

  • Nausea
  • Burning skin
  • Cataracts—lens of eye becomes cloudy, affecting vision
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • If you have received a great number of phototherapy treatments, you may be at risk for:

  • Premature aging of the skin, such as wrinkling and dryness
  • Age spots or freckles
  • Factors that may increase the risk of complications include:

  • Allergy to sunlight
  • Pregnancy or nursing
  • Medical conditions, such as skin cancer or systemic lupus erythematosus , that require you to avoid the sun
  • History of skin cancer
  • Liver disease—phototherapy may increase medication levels in the blood
  • What to Expect

    Prior to Procedure

    You will be asked to remove any clothes that cover the skin being treated. Areas that do not need treatment should be covered and protected as much as possible. Some safety steps include:

  • Sunscreen to protect your neck, lips, and the backs of your hands
  • Special glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from UV light
  • Cover for genitals in men
  • Sunscreen for nipples and areola in women
  • Make sure to inform your doctor about any medication that you are currently taking. Some medications, including over-the-counter medication, can increase the risk of side effects.

    Post-procedure Care

    It is important to avoid natural sunlight when you are receiving UV light treatment:

  • Clothing and sunscreen should be used when outdoors. They will help you avoid overexposure to UV light.
  • There is an increased risk of sunburn after PUVA treatment. This is due to increased sensitivity from the psoralen.
  • It is important to protect your eyes from sunlight exposure for the next 24 hours. This will help you to avoid cataracts after PUVA treatment.
  • Antihistamines and other medication may be given to ease the itching.
  • Your doctor should regularly examine your skin for skin cancer. UV light exposure from sunlight causes skin cancer. Long-term PUVA treatment can also increase the risk of skin cancer. No studies have found a direct link from nbUVB phototherapy to skin cancer.

    Call Your Doctor

    Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Redness around the skin lesions or any discharge
  • Severe skin burning, pain, or blistering
  • Side effects you experienced due to the treatment continue or worsen
  • New or unexpected symptoms
  • If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.