UV light treatments

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PUVA light treatment

PUVA treatment is used in some hospitals.  It involves taking medication as well as light treatment.  The letters PUVA stand for Psoralen and Ultra Violet light A.  Psoralens are chemicals found in plants, which make the skin more sensitive to light (either natural sunlight or UVA rays).  Psoralen may be given as capsules to swallow, one or two hours before treatment.  It may also be given as a lotion to paint on the white skin patches or to dissolve into bathwater (in which you have to soak for a short period before UVA treatment).  You should not take psoralens if you are pregnant.

Because psoralen makes your eyes sensitive to sunlight, you need to wear dark glasses to protect your eyes for at least eight hours after taking the capsule.  You also need to be careful that you are not taking or using other substances that are making your skin more sensitive to the UVA rays.  These substances include some medicines, including complementary or herbal medicines.  They also include coal tar or disinfectant soap and some deodorants, perfumes and aftershaves.

Narrowband UVB light treatment

Narrowband UVB is now the most common type of light treatment for the treatment of vitiligo.  It uses light of a specific UVB wavelength, which has proved to be to be more effective than using standard UVB.  There are a number of advantages over PUVA.  Narrowband UVB treatment:

  • Does not require additional medication, so you do not need to take special precautions before and after treatment.
  • The normal skin does not develop the deep tan usual with PUVA treatment, so the contrast between normal skin and the treated vitiligo skin is less obvious.
  • Exposure to the light is for much shorter periods.
  • The different light source reduces the possible risk of skin cancer.
  • UVB treatment does not tend to damage the skin nearly as much as PUVA can.
  • It is a safer treatment for children than PUVA.
  • Treatment studies suggest that it is a more effective treatment than PUVA.