Phototherapy for Eczema

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Treatment Overview

Phototherapy is the supervised use of ultraviolet (UV) light to treat skin conditions, including eczema. Ultraviolet B (UVB) or ultraviolet A (UVA) may be used during therapy. The most common type of phototherapy to treat eczema is narrowband UVB.

During phototherapy, you may stand in a booth that contains light tubes that give off UV light. Or you may have treatment with a smaller device if you have eczema in a limited area. Treatment is usually several times a week at first. Once your eczema is doing better, you may have treatment less often. Sometimes people are able to do the treatment at home.

To keep yourself safe, carefully follow all of your doctor's instructions. This may include protecting your eyes by wearing UV-blocking goggles during treatments.

What To Expect

After treatment, the skin is usually red or pink. Your skin may also be tender or itchy. Or you may feel stinging or burning. Some people get dark spots on the skin. This is more common in people with darker skin.

Why It Is Done

Phototherapy may be used to treat eczema in adults. In some cases it may be used to treat severe symptoms in older children.

How Well It Works

Phototherapy with ultraviolet (UV) light can be an effective treatment for moderate to severe eczema. Phototherapy may work better when used with ointments and medicines.

UV light may help prevent bacterial infections, which are a particular problem in people with eczema.

Risks

Risks related to phototherapy include:

  • Skin cancer. Exposure to UV light may result in skin cancer.
  • Skin damage. Exposure to UV light can cause sunburn and early aging of the skin. This includes wrinkles, loose skin, and age spots.
  • Cataracts and other eye problems. Protect your eyes with UV-blocking goggles during phototherapy treatments.
  • Other skin diseases getting worse. For example, exposure to UV light can reactivate a herpes infection.

Credits

Current as of: March 22, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Ellen K. Roh MD - Dermatology
Lesley Ryan MD - Family Medicine

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.