Phototherapy - what it is, how it works and treatments near you
From acne scars to eczema flare-ups, skin problems are to blame for 67 per cent of people who are unhappy with how they look. Fortunately, there are more ways than ever available to reverse the signs of blemish-prone skin.
But how does it work and what are the different phototherapy treatments available for your skin?
In this article:
6 to 8 sessions
Duration of results
Back to work
Full recovery time
No recovery time
100 SAR to 200 SAR
OTC pain relief
What is phototherapy?
Phototherapy is a medical treatment in which patients are exposed to fluorescent or LED lights. It’s designed to help treat skin conditions such as eczema, vitiligo and psoriasis, as well as reduce acne scarring and wrinkles.
Dermatologists will also often refer to UVB light therapy for vitiligo and psoriasis, when using the term ‘phototherapy’ professionally.
It’s a very simple technology, usually involving a small lamp or handheld torch. The light used in phototherapy often feels like sitting out in the sun for too long – warm and sensitive. Afterwards, your skin may appear tender and red. It can also feel dry and itchy and it’s important not to scratch the surface.
Where to get phototherapy
You can have phototherapy done at a clinic or spa, or by investing in an at-home kit. The LED tech available for home use will be less intense than professional treatments, and results can vary, so a clinic will deliver better, consistent results.
How do phototherapy treatments work?
Phototherapy often needs multiple sessions before patients notice results. These sessions are usually under 30 minutes and can be done in quick succession – typically every other day.
You might need other treatments alongside it, especially if you have severe acne or a skin condition such as vitiligo.
Before the procedure
There are a few things you can do to prepare for your procedure:
- Make sure your skin is clean and makeup-free.
- Limit your exposure to the sun.
- Avoid foods with psoralen, such as figs, carrots or celery, as it can affect your results.
- Avoid using perfume, lotions and creams.
Always meet your chosen practitioner beforehand. This way, you can ask questions and determine the best course of action, discuss what your main skin concerns are, and share your expectations.
During the treatment
Your first session is usually only a few minutes long.
You’ll be given goggles to protect your eyes and asked to remove any clothing that covers the treatment area.
How your skin is exposed to the light depends on what is being treated. Common examples include:
- Hand-held devices that target small areas of the skin.
- Masks that cover the entire face and emit various lights.
- Units designed to treat hands and feet through small tunnels of light.
- Booths or pods that cover your whole body.
Phototherapy is non-invasive and safe to use on all skin types. There’s no recovery period, just avoid direct sunlight on the treated areas for the first few days.
Side-effects are usually mild and shouldn’t interfere with your daily life. For example, phototherapy can dry out your skin, but you can use fragrance-free moisturisers.
Remember, it can take around six to eight sessions before you can see results.
Phototherapy side-effects, results – and finding a procedure
Does phototherapy hurt?
Most people don’t feel any pain, and many people find the procedure to be relaxing. Make sure to find a comfortable position, either sat up or lying down. If you feel uncomfortable at any time, let your practitioner know.
What are the side-effects?
Some people won’t experience any side-effects. Others may get them sporadically.
In rare cases, your skin might react badly to the UV rays. This is like having sunburn and can include:
- Redness and inflammation.
- Dry or itchy skin.
How visible are the results?
It all depends on your skin type and expectations.
Studies show that nearly 70 per cent of patients saw a visible difference in their acne after eight to ten sessions.
Phototherapy is designed to treat mild to moderate acne, so if you’re experiencing a severe breakout, this may not be the best option for you.
How do I find phototherapy near me?
Use our clinic locator to find one near you that suits your needs.
You should also meet with your practitioner at least once before starting your phototherapy treatments.
Is it safe?
Yes, for the most part, phototherapy is safe. Just make sure to use a reputable and experienced clinician.
They should take preventative measures to protect you from UV rays. This includes:
- Understanding your medical history, looking out for factors like skin cancer.
- Examining your skin to provide the right dose of UV – for instance, fair skin may burn easier.
- Testing your skin first and adjusting the dose if necessary.
- Monitoring the results of each session, including if you have bad side-effects.
Phototherapy can be an effective treatment for acne and wrinkles, but it shouldn’t be seen as the answer to all your skin problems.
Here are a few alternatives you can try:
- Light therapy has been around since the ancient Egyptians, when sunlight and colour were used to treat conditions like vitiligo.
- Phototherapy is used to treat babies with ongoing jaundice – the babies’ eyes are covered, or they are placed on a special fibreoptic blanket.
- Different LED colours have different effects – yellow promotes collagen, blue kills bacteria and red helps improve circulation.
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