Phototherapy for Eczema: The Ultimate Guide to Using UV Light Therapy

How Phototherapy Therapy Can Help Manage Your Eczema Symptoms?

  • How long does it take to see results from light therapy?
  • Is light therapy better than sunlight for eczema?
  • Can red light therapy get rid of eczema?
  • What is atopic dermatitis and can light therapy treat it?


Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition characterized by dry, itchy, and inflamed skin. While there are various treatments available, including creams, ointments, and oral medications, some people find that these options do not provide enough relief. This is where light therapy comes in as a potential treatment option for eczema.

The word phototherapy, which means “therapy with light” in Greek, refers to a therapeutic approach based on the beneficial effects of light waves on a variety of pathological conditions. Light therapy involves exposing the skin to ultraviolet (UV) light in a controlled environment to reduce inflammation and alleviate symptoms. In this article, we will explore the benefits of light therapy for eczema, including the different types of light therapy available and how they can be used to treat eczema. We will also answer some common questions about light therapy for eczema and discuss the cost of this treatment option.

History of phototherapy in the treatment of eczema, atopic dermatitis and other skin diseases

Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, is a medical treatment that uses light to improve a wide range of conditions, from skin diseases to depression. It works by exposing the skin or the eyes to a specific type of light, which stimulates certain biological processes and promotes healing. Light therapy has been around for centuries, but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that it became a recognized medical practice.

One of the pioneers of light therapy was Niels Finsen, a Danish physician who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1903 for his work on the use of light in the treatment of skin diseases, particularly lupus vulgaris. Finsen’s research paved the way for the development of modern phototherapy, which has become a vital tool in the treatment of many skin conditions, such as psoriasis, eczema, and vitiligo. His work was a major breakthrough in the field of medicine, and it demonstrated the power of light in promoting healing and improving the quality of life for millions of people around the world.

During the early 1920s, it was noticed that the ocean air had positive effects on AD. A number of patients noted substantial improvement in their condition during the summer season. In 1978, Morison and colleagues released a study that established phototherapy as a key component in the treatment of AD. The report demonstrated that oral psoralen and UV light could effectively treat AD that was resistant to other treatments.

From the 1970s, there has been the creation of various types of lamps that emit different UV spectra, with each set to a particular light wavelength.

How Light Therapy Works for Eczema

  • Explanation of how light therapy works
  • Effects of UVB and UVA on eczema
  • Benefits of light therapy over other treatments

Light therapy for eczema involves exposing the affected skin to UV light in a controlled environment. The two types of UV light used in light therapy are UVB and UVA. UVB light therapy is the most commonly used type of light therapy for eczema as it is effective in reducing inflammation and itching.

The mechanism of action of UVB light therapy involves penetrating the skin’s surface and activating certain cells in the immune system, leading to a reduction in inflammation. UVB therapy also helps to promote the production of vitamin D, which has been found to improve skin health in people with eczema. Finally, skin colonization by Staphylococcus aureus may be prevented or reduced by the antibacterial effect of UV radiation.

UVB light therapy

Which UV light therapy is best for eczema? UVA or UVB?

The two types of UV light used in light therapy are UVB and UVA. Different types of therapy include:

  • narrowband (NB)-UVB
  • broadband (BB)-UVB
  • UVA and UVB (UVAB)
  • UVA1
  • PUVA — psoralen plus UVA

They are all proven to work, but some are more effective and have supplanted older solutions. Light waves of different wavelengths can penetrate tissues at different depths due to the characteristics of their movement.

UVA and PUVA therapy for atopic eczema

Broadband UVB

There are two types of UVB treatment: broad band and narrow band. The utilization of BB-UVB (280–315 nm) treatment for AD was initiated by Nexman’s research in 1948, and its effectiveness was largely verified in the 1980s and 1990s through the research conducted by Hannuksela et al and Jekler and Larkö. However, conventional broadband UVB lamps are less effective than narrowband UVB lamps.

UVA light therapy is less commonly used for eczema, but it can be effective for people with severe cases of the condition. UVA therapy involves the use of a drug called psoralen, which is taken orally or applied topically to the skin before exposure to UVA light. The combination of psoralen and UVA light is known as PUVA therapy and has been found to be effective in reducing inflammation and improving the appearance of eczema.

Overall, light therapy is a safe and effective treatment option for eczema, especially for those who do not respond well to other treatments. Light therapy is also beneficial as it does not involve the use of steroids, which can have negative side effects when used long-term.

Differences between UVA and UVB light

UVA and UVB are both types of ultraviolet light, but they differ in their wavelengths and how deeply they penetrate the skin. UVA light has a longer wavelength and can penetrate deeper into the skin than UVB. It is also the type of UV light that is present in sunlight throughout the day, even on cloudy days. UVA can cause skin damage, premature aging, and an increased risk of skin cancer. UVB light has a shorter wavelength and primarily affects the outer layers of the skin. It is the type of UV light that causes sunburn and triggers the production of vitamin D. UVB can also cause skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer, but it is also used in controlled doses for therapeutic purposes, such as in narrowband UVB light therapy for eczema.


How effective is UVB light therapy for atopic dermatitis?

Phototherapy long-term benefits

Numerous studies have shown that narrowband UVB is an effective treatment for atopic dermatitis and that phototherapy can have long-term benefits. A study involving 21 adults with severe atopic dermatitis showed that narrowband UVB phototherapy, given three times a week for 12 weeks, led to a 68% reduction in severity scores of atopic dermatitis. Even after 6 months, 15 patients continued to experience long-term benefits.

How long does it take to see results from phototherapy for eczema?

According to one study, atopic dermatitis activity was significantly reduced in all patients after 3 weeks of exposure to a cumulative dose of 9 J/cm2 narrowband UVB (311 nm), which was applied over a mean of 19 irradiations.

I personally had 20 treatments prescribed by the doctor. The first results began to appear no earlier than after the 10th exposure. I noticed a significant improvement after 15 sessions.

The length of time it takes to see results from phototherapy can vary depending on your eczema severity and skin phototype. You may see improvement after just a few sessions, while others may require several weeks of treatment. It can be compared to sunbathing. Some react very quickly and small doses cause redness. While some people have darker skin and need higher doses.

Phototherapy eczema: before and after

Narrowband UVB Light Therapy

Narrowband UVB light therapy is a specific type of UVB therapy that uses a narrowband wavelength of light, typically around 311-313 nanometers. It is considered to be one of the most effective forms of phototherapy for treating eczema. According to studies, narrow-band UVB is more effective than either broad-band UVA or UVA1 for managing chronic atopic dermatitis.

Benefits of narrowband UVB over other types of UVB therapy

Narrowband UVB has taken over from broadband UVB as the preferred treatment for psoriasis due to its effectiveness. This has resulted in its use for other conditions, such as atopic dermatitis.

One of the main benefits of narrowband UVB therapy is that it is more targeted and effective than other forms of UVB therapy, such as broadband UVB therapy, which uses a broader range of wavelengths. Narrowband UVB light therapy has been found to be especially effective for treating eczema as it can penetrate the skin’s surface more deeply, leading to better results.

Narrowband UVB is believed to pose a lower risk of long-term skin cancer compared to PUVA.

How narrowband UVB light therapy is administered

During a narrowband UVB light therapy session, the affected areas of skin are exposed to the light for a specific amount of time. Any clothing that covers the treated skin will need to be taken off. Areas that don’t require treatment should be covered. Some safety steps include special glasses to protect your eyes from UV light.

Phototherapy Session Length

Your phototherapy sessions will vary in length. This will depend on your skin type and the dose chosen by your doctor. The first treatment usually lasts very short, even a few seconds. Typically, with each subsequent session, the dose is increased by extending the exposure time. Treatments rarely last more than a few minutes.

The frequency and duration of the sessions depend on the severity of the eczema and the individual’s skin type. Generally, sessions are scheduled two to three times per week, with the duration of treatment ranging from a few weeks to several months.

How narrowband UVB light therapy is administered - a large panel with UVB bulbs

Choosing the Right Color of Light Therapy for Eczema

Light therapy for eczema can come in a variety of colors, each with its own unique benefits. Here are some of the most commonly used colors in light therapy for eczema and their associated benefits:

  1. Blue light therapy: Blue light therapy is often used to treat skin conditions such as acne and eczema. It has been found to have antibacterial properties, which can help reduce inflammation and prevent infection in the affected areas of skin.
  2. Red light therapy: Red light therapy has been found to be effective for treating skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. It can help reduce inflammation and promote healing in the affected areas of skin.
  3. Green light therapy: Green light therapy is often used to treat hyperpigmentation and sun damage, but it can also be beneficial for eczema. It has been found to have a calming effect on the skin, which can help reduce inflammation and irritation.
  4. Yellow light therapy: Yellow light therapy has been found to be effective for reducing redness and inflammation in the skin. It can also help improve skin tone and texture, which can be beneficial for those with eczema.

When choosing a color of light therapy for eczema, it is important to consider the individual’s specific needs and skin type. Consulting with a dermatologist or healthcare professional can help determine the best course of treatment. Additionally, it is important to follow the recommended treatment plan and take necessary precautions to avoid any potential side effects.

Red light therapy

Doing UV Light Therapy at Home

Light therapy for eczema can also be done at home using specialized devices. Here’s an overview of some of the most common at-home light therapy options:

  1. Light therapy lamps: Light therapy lamps are designed to mimic natural sunlight and can be used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including eczema. They emit a broad spectrum of light that can be customized to fit the individual’s needs.
  2. Handheld devices: Handheld light therapy devices are portable and easy to use. They come in a variety of colors and can be used to treat specific areas of the body.
  3. Light therapy panels: Light therapy panels are larger devices that can be used to treat the entire body. They emit a broad spectrum of light and can be customized to fit the individual’s needs.

Pros and cons of doing light therapy at home

One of the main benefits of doing light therapy at home is convenience. It allows individuals to receive treatment on their own schedule and in the comfort of their own home. However, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider. At-home light therapy devices may not be as powerful as those used in a clinical setting, and the individual may not receive the same level of supervision and support.

Light therapy panels

When doing light therapy at home, it is important to take necessary safety precautions. This includes wearing protective eyewear and following the recommended treatment plan. It is also important to consult with a dermatologist or healthcare professional to ensure that the individual is a good candidate for at-home light therapy and to determine the best course of treatment.

Overall, at-home light therapy can be a safe and effective treatment option for eczema. However, it is important to carefully consider the pros and cons and take necessary precautions to ensure a positive outcome.

Best uvb lamps for eczema

home light therapy for eczema

Phototherapy for eczema: side effects

The most common side effect of phototherapy is skin irritation, which can cause redness, itching, and dryness. In some cases, exposure to UV light can lead to sunburn or increase the risk of developing skin cancer. Other potential side effects include changes in skin pigmentation, premature aging of the skin, and eye damage. Therefore, it is essential to weigh the benefits and risks of phototherapy with a healthcare provider and follow the recommended guidelines to minimize the risk of side effects.

Disadvantages of phototherapy in the treatment of eczema

Specialized technical equipment and trained personnel are necessary for UV therapy. Additionally, patients must adhere to a treatment plan that requires 3-5 sessions per week for a period of 6-12 weeks. The effectiveness of the therapy is limited by the difficulty in treating areas such as hairy skin and skin folds.

Is light therapy safe for eczema?

Light therapy is generally considered safe for eczema when administered by a qualified healthcare professional or used according to the manufacturer’s instructions for at-home devices. However, there are some potential side effects and risks to be aware of, such as skin irritation and increased risk of skin cancer with prolonged UV exposure.

Carcinogenic risk

It is certain that long-term PUVA treatment (more than 200 treatments) causes skin tumors, but it is uncertain if UVB phototherapy has a role in causing skin cancer in humans. According to a study done on mice, the growth of tumors was increased by broadband UVB, but not by narrowband UVB or UVA-1.

Cost of Phototherapy for Eczema

Light therapy for eczema can be an effective treatment option, but it’s important to consider the costs involved. Here’s an overview of the cost of phototherapy for eczema and some potential cost-saving options

Clinical phototherapy

The cost of clinical phototherapy can vary depending on a number of factors, including the duration and frequency of treatment, the type of light therapy used, and the geographic location of the clinic. On average, a single session of phototherapy can cost around $50.

You can typically get a discounted rate by buying a bundle of 10 or 20 therapy sessions. I paid approximately $150 for a package of 20 sessions at a private medical center, which I believe is a reasonable cost for several weeks of therapy. It’s important to note that prices may differ based on the country you reside in, as I live in Poland.

Health insurance coverage

Many health insurance plans will cover the cost of phototherapy for eczema, but the specific coverage and reimbursement rates can vary widely. It’s important to check with your insurance provider to determine what is covered under your plan and what out-of-pocket costs you may be responsible for.

At-home light therapy

At-home light therapy devices can range in cost from around $50 for a handheld device to several hundred dollars for a light therapy panel. While there is an upfront cost involved, at-home light therapy can potentially save money in the long run by reducing the need for expensive clinical treatments.

When considering the cost of phototherapy for eczema, it’s important to weigh the potential benefits against the cost of the treatment. It’s also worth exploring potential cost-saving options, such as health insurance coverage and at-home light therapy, to help make treatment more affordable.

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions about phototherapy for the treatment of eczema

Is phototherapy safe for children?

Phototherapy is a safe and effective treatment method for paediatric patients. It is used especially with children affected with psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, vitiligo and localized alopecia. According to data from the literature, NB-UVB is especially recommended for children.

Is tanning bed good for eczema?

Some people visit tanning salons as an alternative to natural sunlight. However, only 4% to 10% of the light produced by tanning beds is in the UVB spectrum, and the majority of this light is UVA. The beneficial effect for eczema is attributed primarily to UVB light.

Is phototherapy better than sunlight for eczema?

There is evidence that artificial light sources perform better than natural sunlight. While natural sunlight can be beneficial for eczema, phototherapy provides a more controlled and targeted approach. Phototherapy can be customized to the individual’s needs and administered in a safe and controlled environment.

Which color light therapy is best for eczema?

There is no one “best” color of light therapy for eczema, as different colors can have different effects on the skin. Narrowband UVB and blue light therapy are two commonly used types of light therapy for eczema.

Does red light therapy get rid of eczema?

While red light therapy has been shown to have some benefits for skin health, there is limited evidence to support its use specifically for eczema.

Can you do light therapy at home for eczema?

Yes, there are a variety of at-home light therapy options available for individuals with eczema.

Can light therapy cure eczema?

Light therapy can help manage symptoms and improve skin health, but it may not completely eliminate the underlying causes of eczema.


In summary, light therapy is a promising treatment option for individuals with eczema. Phototherapy targets inflammatory cells, alters cytokine productions and has a significant antibacterial effect. Narrowband UVB light therapy is a commonly used type of phototherapy that provides targeted benefits with fewer side effects compared to other forms of UVB therapy. Additionally, different colors of light therapy, such as blue and red light, may also have benefits for eczema symptoms.

While light therapy can be administered by a healthcare professional, there are also a variety of at-home options available. However, it is important to take safety precautions and follow instructions carefully to avoid potential side effects.

Overall, if you are suffering from eczema, light therapy may be a beneficial treatment option to consider. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine if light therapy is right for you and to develop a customized treatment plan.

Author: Emily Johnson
Emily Johnson is a passionate advocate for healthy living and skin wellness. Through her work, Emily aims to empower individuals to take control of their skin health and lead happier, eczema-free lives.

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