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Beauty in the light

UV radiation as treatment for skin diseases


By Dr. Kaycee Reyes

UV radiation has a negative reputation among us, as it connotes aging, sunburn, and skin cancer. In excessive and constant exposure, it is true. But did you know that UV radiation can benefit the skin too? Read on and discover phototherapy, or using light to treat skin diseases.

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It is known that regular and quick sun exposure has benefits on our bodies. A short five to 15 minute stay under the sun (without sunscreen!) exposing your face, arms, hands, or legs can be beneficial in producing vitamin D, an important factor in our bodies that can strengthen our immune system, ward off diseases, improve our body’s blood circulation, and even help elevate our mood. Not only that, the right amount of UV rays can also benefit our skin. Phototherapy, or the use of UV radiation, can be another way to manage skin diseases, such as dermatitis, vitiligo, and psoriasis, that can either performed on its own or in combination with other oral or topical medications.

Phototherapy has three types that are used depending on the skin disease and its effectivity on the individual:

​1​Full Broadband UVB rays;

​2​a smaller band of UVB called Narrowband UVB rays, said to be more effective than Broadband UVB; and

​3​Psoralen and UVA (PUVA), also called photochemotherapy, that uses a medicine (Psoralen) to make the skin extra sensitive to light. This type goes deeper into the skin than UVB radiation.

 Phototherapy can treat skin conditions by lessening the inflammation. UVB rays treat eczema, psoriasis, cutaneous T cell lymphoma, and vitiligo, among others. PUVA is an effective treatment for some of the diseases when the patient does not respond well to UVB. However, note that phototherapy is not a complete cure, but only a way to manage these skin conditions. The treatment involves the patient being exposed to a small confined space with fluorescent lights for five to 15 minutes, two to five times per week. It can also be taken at home in portable phototherapy units. The whole treatment can range from 15 to 30 sessions, depending on the disease and the skin’s response to treatment. For PUVA, a topical or oral medication called Psoralen is taken by the patient prior to UVA exposure to make the skin more sensitive to the treatment, and protective sunglasses to be worn by the patient 24 hours after taking Psoralen to keep the eyes safe from radiation. And since UV exposure accumulates over time, phototherapy treatments are limited to 200 sessions in one’s lifetime to avoid the incidence of skin cancer.

Phototherapy is not advisable for pregnant women, those with a history of skin cancer, those who have an autoimmune disease, liver or kidney disease, or has exhausted the number of treatments in his lifetime. On the other hand, phototherapy is considered a safe and effective treatment for both children and adults, except for a few side effects like dryness of the skin, sunburn, and cold sores that will eventually go away. If you are interested in phototherapy, you may ask your physician or dermatologist about it and the various skin conditions it can treat, especially now that this type of treatment is available in the country. You see, we need UV rays in our bodies too!

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