In the past, little could be done to treat vitiligo and its symptoms. In recent years, however, breakthroughs in medical technology have begun paving the way for new and potentially highly effective vitiligo treatments. Leading this charge is light therapy. Dermatologists and scientists still have plenty of research to do regarding light therapy for vitiligo and similar treatments, but the success rate of these treatments is promising.
For several decades now, medical researchers have been experimenting with light as a way to treat various skin conditions and symptoms, such as scarring, discoloration, and acne. Light is a form of energy, and when emitted at a specific wavelength (i.e. energy level), this energy can affect the skin in various ways, such as by stimulating collagen production, killing harmful bacteria, and even encouraging repigmentation. This latter point, reintroducing skin pigment, or at least reducing the appearance of depigmentation, is the goal of light therapy for vitiligo.
Just as light therapy is but one of many vitiligo treatment options, there are several variations of light therapy for vitiligo, and the list is expanding. Different types of lasers may be used for these treatments, or doctors may recommend that patients receive naturally occurring light energy from the sun. Additionally, some light therapy options work in concert with other treatments, such as oral medications. Let’s break down a few of these different light therapies for vitiligo.
Any dermatologist will tell you that too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation can damage your skin. That said, the whole premise of light therapy relies on the skin’s absorption of light energy. In other words, this form of light therapy for vitiligo must be carefully administered and monitored to reduce the risk of harmful side effects. The drug psoralen, taken orally or topically, helps the skin absorb UV light and can drastically reduce the appearance of vitiligo symptoms over time. While this combined method of psoralen and UVA light has proven quite effective for some patients with vitiligo, the risk of side effects is making other forms of light therapy more appealing and thus more widely recommended by dermatologists.
As of now, narrow-band UVB (nbUVB) light treatment has the highest success rate for treating vitiligo, and it doesn’t seem to come with the risks present with UVA light treatment. As with UVA therapy, nbUVB therapy can also be used in concert with psoralen for better results, and it operates in much the same way. The major difference here is that UVB rays do not penetrate as deeply into the skin as UVA rays. While UVB rays are still responsible for causing sunburn and increase the risk of skin cancer, nbUVB treatment for vitiligo is safe with proper administration by a professional. However, it may take time for results to appear, and patients must typically receive multiple treatments a few times per week over the course of a year for the best outcomes.
The two light treatments outlined above involve broader skin exposure to UV rays. Vitiligo laser treatment, on the other hand, involves the delivery of a single wavelength of light somewhere in the nbUVB spectrum on specific areas of skin. Excimer laser therapies are therefore meant for patients with a few smaller patches of depigmented skin. This type of light therapy may be used on patients after they have successfully undergone nbUVB treatment and only have some minor vitiligo spots left.
Doctors and scientists will continue looking into the power of light for treating vitiligo and other skin conditions. Premier Dermatology Partners is always up to date on the latest skincare and treatment developments so we can provide our patients with the best care possible. To learn more about our team and all the services we provide, contact us.