Phototherapy, or light therapy, has shown promise in treating eczema, reducing itching skin, guarding against inflammation, increasing bacterial defenses in the skin, and increasing vitamin D production. It's also a unique therapy for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder. Phototherapy provides the body with the additional light it needs to stimulate the brain activity that controls circadian rhythms. Research suggests that the benefits may be heightened by undergoing light treatment as soon after waking up as possible. The therapy, which can be done in a clinical setting or at home using a special light box, may actually be as beneficial - or more so - than antidepressants. Symptoms typically improve within two weeks to two months of steady treatment.
How It Works
Phototherapy uses a light box to emit specific wavelengths of light, imitating sunlight, but avoiding exposure to harmful UVA rays. Generally, phototherapy light boxes provide 10,000 lux ("lux" is a measure of light intensity), which is roughly 100 times brighter than typical indoor lighting, but not as bright as a sunny day, which can clock in at 50,000 lux or more. Recent advances in light therapy include using light boxes that simulate sunrise, gradually increasing in intensity from darkness up to 300 lux. Another new therapy uses lower-intensity blue light, which has a more powerful effect on the retina than white light, tricking the brain into thinking it's brighter than it is.
However, phototherapy is not without risks. It can cause burns, increase signs of aging, and increase the risk of skin cancers if used regularly over long periods of time, or if administered using subpar equipment. Before investing time and money on phototherapy, discuss your concerns and needs with Dr. Bossio. He or she will be able to make a diagnosis and prescribe an individualized treatment plan for brightening your winter.
Because the FDA does not regulate light boxes, be sure to discuss your equipment options with Dr. Bossio, or phototherapy professional, before purchasing a light box. For more information on phototherapy, visit the American Psychological Association, the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology or the National Eczema Association.
- American Psychological Association. "Bright Lights, Big Relief." June 26, 2006.
- Miller, M. "Seasonal Affective Disorder: Bring on the Light." Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Health Publications, December 21, 2012.
- National Eczema Association. "Phototherapy." Accessed January 2015.
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