Narrowband UVB is the most common form of phototherapy used to treat inflammatory skin conditions. It is especially useful in the treatment of psoriasis, but can also be beneficial in the treatment of atopic dermatitis/eczema, vitiligo, polymorphic light eruption, generalized pruritus (itch), and others.
“Narrowband” refers to a specific wavelength of ultraviolet B (UVB) light, 311 to 312 nm. This wavelength is a small component of natural sunlight. It is safer, faster and more effective than “broadband UVB” (a broadband source of light from 290 to 320 nm). It is safer than PUVA (a type of phototherapy using an oral medication, a psoralen, and UVA light). It is safer, more effective, and usually faster and more practical, than natural sunlight.
What are the side effects and risks of narrowband UVB?
Narrow-band UVB can result in sunburn, just like natural sunlight. As the dose is deliberately increased throughout the course to achieve faster and more complete response, it is usual that most patients will experience a mild sunburn at least once during the phototherapy course. Mild sunburn from narrowband UVB phototherapy is not dangerous.
Just like UV light in sunlight, Narrowband UVB can damage DNA, and thus there is a natural concern it might cause skin cancer. Fortunately, the cumulative scientific information over decades of use and research shows there is no, or negligible increased risk of skin cancer with narrowband UVB phototherapy in humans. (This is in contrast to chronic natural sun exposure, UVA tanning machines, and another form of phototherapy, PUVA, all of which are known to cause skin cancer). It is hypothesized that because narrowband UVB is absorbed in the most superficial layers of the skin, it is less prone to cause skin cancer.
Phototherapy is safer than systemic agents (tablets and injections). Where topical agents (creams and ointments) are insufficient, narrow Band UVB phototherapy is considered a first-line treatment for many conditions such as psoriasis, vitiligo and eczema. It is safe enough for pregnant women and children to use. It avoids potential serious systemic (internal) side effects associated with systemic medications. It doesn’t require any monitoring blood tests, usually required with most systemic medications.
What does narrowband UVB treatment involve?
Patients usually attend for phototherapy two to three times weekly, for a course usually lasting 6-10 weeks. After completion of the course, and the condition being treated is cleared or improved, the treatment is usually ceased. It can be restarted later if the condition relapses. Sometimes maintenance treatments are recommended.
For whole body treatment (for conditions affecting wide areas on the body), the patient stands undressed except for underwear and protective goggles or facemask, in the centre of a special phototherapy cabinet. The treatment lasts seconds to several minutes. The dose of UV is tailored to the patient’s condition, skin type, response to treatment and other factors, and carefully monitored by the phototherapy staff, and prescribing dermatologist.
There are also special hand and foot units for treating conditions localized to these areas. The treatment is only given to these affected areas, and the rest of the skin is not exposed.
What is the result of narrowband UVB?
The majority of patients with psoriasis will improve with phototherapy. Patches generally start to become thinner after five to ten treatments. Most patients with psoriasis require 15 to 25 treatments to clear. Results vary.
The results with other inflammatory conditions may be more variable. Your dermatologist will discuss expectations.
Phototherapy is affordable and convenient
At Toowong Dermatology, the costs of phototherapy are fully covered by Medicare. Treatment time is usually a few minutes or less. Treatments are available from early morning, and throughout the day. Priority parking is available.