Managing psoriasis comes with a list of challenges. This chronic disease causes scaly, red patches to form on the skin and is often accompanied by inflammation and itching. Psoriasis is unpredictable, but it doesn't have to affect your self-esteem or your life.
Red light therapy is quickly emerging as an effective treatment for psoriasis. From reducing skin redness to promoting healing, it offers a myriad of benefits for people with this condition.
In this article, we delve into the science behind red light therapy.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin disorder characterized by red, thick skin and silvery plaque. Despite its rash-like appearance, it’s not contagious. Psoriasis results from an overactive immune system in which the growth of skin cells called keratinocytes is sped up, causing them to pile up on the skin instead of shedding. They later develop into patches that can be itchy, painful, and irritating.
These inflamed patches can appear anywhere in the body but are primarily found on the knees, elbows, scalp, and joints. Patches may also show up on genitals, hands, feet, and skin folds such as under your breasts or arms.
Psoriasis commonly occurs in cycles. There may be periods of flare-ups during which the symptoms are more active, and they may last from weeks to months. Once the period subsides, the symptoms disappear, and the condition goes into remission for some time.
Traditional Psoriasis Treatments
Currently, psoriasis has no cure, so the primary goal of treatments is to restore a normal and healthy skin surface by encouraging remission. The mainstay treatments for psoriasis are vitamin D and/or corticosteroids, salicylic acid, calcineurin inhibitors, retinoids, and other agents used for decades. These agents target abnormal keratinocyte proliferation and differentiation.
However, it's important to note that while these treatments do work, the results may vary from person to person. To make matters worse, the ingredients used in them must be used with caution as they can cause side effects. This leaves many patients searching for other alternatives. And that’s where phototherapy – or light therapy – comes in.
Light Therapy for Psoriasis
Light therapy is one of the most effective treatments for psoriasis. It involves exposing the skin to controlled amounts of artificial or natural light. Repeated treatments can help manage psoriasis by reducing the duration and severity of outbreaks. Standard options for phototherapy are as follows :
Ultraviolet B (UVB)
UVB is the preferred choice for light therapy for skin conditions. Controlled doses of broadband UVB from an artificial source can treat widespread psoriasis, single psoriasis patches, and psoriasis that doesn’t improve with topical remedies.
In many places, narrowband UVB has replaced broadband therapy. In this, a few selected wavelengths are isolated from the spectrum, usually administered two to three times a week to give the best results. Unfortunately, the treatment increases the risk of burns.
Psoralen Plus Ultraviolet A (PUVA)
This more aggressive treatment involves the use of a light-sensitizing medication (psoralen) to promote deeper penetration and better absorption of UVA light. Possible side effects include increased sun sensitivity, wrinkles, and dry skin.
An approach that combines light therapy with coal tar treatment to make the skin more responsive to UVB light.
This targeted form of light therapy exposes only the affected skin to UVB light. Excimer laser therapy requires fewer sessions than conventional phototherapy techniques because it uses more powerful UVB light. Side effects include blistering and inflammation.
Does Red Light Therapy Work for Psoriasis?
Red light therapy has recently emerged as a promising treatment for psoriasis. A 2017 analysis published in Lasers in Medical Science stated that people suffering from plaque psoriasis managed to clear 60% to 100% of their skin with two RLT sessions conducted every week for a month.
Other research studied the effects of RLT in comparison to BLT (blue light therapy). People with psoriasis were exposed to intense doses of both light. The results concluded that both treatments helped improve the hardened and scaly skin of the patients.
To conclude, RLT performed under medical observation has repeatedly proven to be effective against numerous skin conditions, including acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
How Red Light Therapy Treats Psoriasis
Red light therapy is a non-invasive treatment that is effective at treating psoriasis and stimulating other therapeutic benefits within the skin. The main reason for choosing red light over blue or green is because of its longer wavelength. This means that the light can travel deeper into the skin's layers, where conditions such as psoriasis often occur.
Red light therapy mainly works by regulating the abnormal production of skin cells caused by the condition. Here’s a brief overview of how it helps treat psoriasis:
- Exposure to red light enhances collagen growth in the body, the protein responsible for making the skin appear full, supple, and fresh. This is essential as autoimmune conditions such as psoriasis disturb collagen production, which leads to flare-ups on the skin.
- Red light therapy also stimulates the production of adenosine triphosphate in the cell's mitochondria. With this, the cell's energy is improved so it can regenerate, self-heal, and reduce inflammation at a faster rate. The cell can then fight effectively against the root symptom of psoriasis: the replication of skin cells at an abnormal speed.
- The introduction of red light to the skin aids the lymphatic system in waste removal. It also promotes the production of capillaries to carry nutrients and oxygen to the skin, keeping it healthy and well-protected from psoriasis flares.
Red Light Therapy for Psoriasis at Home
Red light therapy for psoriasis at home follows a similar procedure as when performed by a skin specialist in a clinic. Before starting the treatment, a brief two to five-minute session is conducted to deduce the skin's sensitivity to the light. The therapy sessions begin with three to five sessions every week for the first month, and then the frequency is reduced gradually in the following months.
For faster results and a speedy recovery from psoriasis, it is important to select a reliable red light therapy home device that emits a high-intensity output (125 to 400 watts) and has a longer wavelength for deeper penetration.
Some other tips that can make the red light therapy experience at home safer and more efficient include:
- Shielding your eyes from the emitted laser or light
- Continuing the therapy with consistency
- Be mindful of medications, including antibiotics and retinoids, which can increase the skin's sensitivity to light
- Getting a professional's opinion on what type of light therapy is best suited to your condition
Performing red light therapy for psoriasis at home is a significant step that can help improve your skin condition. Ensure that the treatment is performed under a medical practitioner's supervision and with a reliable light therapy device to maximize the benefits of RLT for your skin and body.