UVB Phototherapy for Dermatologists

UVB Phototherapy for Dermatologists

UVB Phototherapy for Dermatologists

Ultraviolet B (UVB) phototherapy stands as a crucial treatment modality in dermatology, offering a ray of hope for patients suffering from a variety of chronic skin conditions. It emits ultraviolet light in a specific wavelength range, which has been found to be effective in managing the symptoms of skin diseases such as psoriasis, vitiligo, atopic dermatitis, and other photoresponsive dermatoses. This detailed exploration reviews the mechanism, applications, benefits, and potential risks associated with UVB phototherapy, providing an in-depth understanding for dermatologists.

Mechanism of Action

Understanding the mechanism of UVB phototherapy underscores its significance in clinical dermatology. UVB light penetrates the epidermis, the skin’s outermost layer, and exerts its therapeutic effects primarily by altering the DNA of skin cells. The primary action of UVB light involves causing DNA damage in keratinocytes, the predominant cell type in the epidermis, leading to reduced cellular proliferation and inducing apoptosis in hyperproliferative cells. This is particularly beneficial in conditions like psoriasis, where there is an abnormal increase in the rate of skin cell production.

Additionally, UVB light modulates the immune system by impacting various immunocompetent cells, including T lymphocytes and antigen-presenting cells. This immunosuppressive action is crucial in treating inflammatory skin conditions by reducing the inflammatory response and thereby easing symptoms such as redness, itching, and scaling.

Types of UVB Phototherapy

UVB phototherapy comes in two main forms: broadband UVB (BB-UVB) and narrowband UVB (NB-UVB).

Broadband UVB (BB-UVB): This form of UVB phototherapy utilizes a broad range of the ultraviolet B spectrum, typically between 280 to 320 nanometers. BB-UVB has been used for decades and was once the standard treatment for various photoresponsive conditions.

Narrowband UVB (NB-UVB): In contrast, NB-UVB emits light in a narrower wavelength range, around 311 to 313 nanometers. This development arose from the discovery that the narrowband spectrum is just as effective, if not more, in treating various dermatoses while posing a reduced risk of erythema and long-term skin damage. NB-UVB is now considered the gold standard for many conditions and has largely supplanted BB-UVB in clinical practice.

Applications of UVB Phototherapy

UVB phototherapy is versatile and has proven beneficial in treating several dermatological conditions.


Psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune condition characterized by rapid skin cell turnover and inflammation, is one of the most common indications for UVB phototherapy. The suppression of keratinocyte proliferation and modulation of the immune response via UVB exposure helps in reducing the formation of psoriatic plaques and alleviating associated symptoms. Regular UVB treatment sessions result in significant improvement of skin lesions and are often employed when topical treatments fail to achieve desired results.


Vitiligo, characterized by the loss of skin pigmentation due to the destruction of melanocytes, presents a therapeutic challenge. UVB phototherapy, particularly narrowband UVB, has shown efficacy in promoting repigmentation by stimulating melanocyte migration and proliferation. Consistent phototherapy sessions can gradually restore pigmentation, making UVB an invaluable treatment option for vitiligo patients.

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis, a chronic inflammatory condition marked by intense itching and eczema, also responds favorably to UVB phototherapy. The anti-inflammatory effects of UVB light reduce the inflammatory cytokines and immune cells involved in atopic dermatitis, leading to decreased severity of eczematous lesions and relief from itching. UVB therapy is typically recommended for moderate to severe atopic dermatitis that does not respond adequately to topical treatments.

Other Indications

UVB phototherapy is employed in the management of various other dermatological conditions such as lichen planus, mycosis fungoides (a type of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma), and prurigo nodularis. Its broad applicability underscores its utility as a cornerstone in dermatologic therapeutics.

Benefits of UVB Phototherapy

Several benefits make UVB phototherapy a favored choice among dermatologists for treating chronic skin conditions:

Non-Invasive: UVB phototherapy is a non-invasive treatment that does not require any surgical procedures, making it an attractive option for patients wary of invasive approaches.

Efficacy: The high efficacy of UVB phototherapy in improving skin conditions and reducing symptoms has been well-documented in numerous clinical studies. It offers a robust alternative when topical treatments and systemic medications either fail or are unsuitable due to side effects or contraindications.

Safety Profile: Compared to systemic treatments, UVB phototherapy has a favorable safety profile with fewer serious systemic side effects. This is particularly important for long-term management of chronic conditions.

Convenience: While UVB phototherapy requires regular clinic visits, it is relatively quick to administer and can be easily integrated into a patient’s routine.

Administration and Protocols

The administration of UVB phototherapy involves exposure to UVB radiation in a controlled clinical setting. The treatment protocols vary based on the condition being treated, the patient’s skin type, and the response to therapy. Generally, patients undergo phototherapy sessions two to three times a week, with the duration and intensity of exposure gradually increased to minimize the risk of burns and erythema.

Initial Assessment: Prior to starting UVB phototherapy, a thorough assessment is essential to determine the appropriate starting dose and to tailor the treatment protocol to the individual patient’s needs. Factors such as the type and severity of the skin condition, previous response to UVB therapy, and any contraindications are taken into account.

Monitoring and Adjustments: Regular monitoring of the patient’s response to treatment is critical. Adjustments in the dose and frequency of sessions are made based on the skin’s reaction to therapy and the improvement of the skin condition. Continuous assessment helps to optimize the therapeutic outcomes while minimizing any adverse effects.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

Despite its numerous benefits, UVB phototherapy is not without risks. Understanding these risks is crucial for dermatologists to manage and mitigate any adverse effects.

Acute Side Effects: The most common acute side effect of UVB phototherapy is erythema or sunburn, which results from overexposure to UVB radiation. This can be avoided by careful dose adjustments and gradual increase in exposure time. Other acute side effects may include itching, dryness, and blistering of the skin.

Chronic Side Effects: Long-term exposure to UVB radiation carries the risk of photoaging and increases the likelihood of developing skin cancers. The carcinogenic potential of UVB radiation, although lower than UVA, necessitates regular monitoring of the skin for any malignant changes and appropriate precautions to minimize cumulative UV exposure. Dermatologists must weigh the benefits of treatment against these long-term risks, particularly when considering UVB therapy for children and young adults with conditions like vitiligo or atopic dermatitis.

Temporary Symptom Exacerbation: In some cases, UVB phototherapy may temporarily exacerbate symptoms before significant improvement is observed. Patients should be informed about this possibility to manage expectations and ensure compliance with the treatment regimen.

Precautions and Patient Education

Effective patient education is crucial to ensure successful outcomes and minimize potential risks associated with UVB phototherapy. Patients should be educated about the treatment’s benefits, potential side effects, and precautions that can help mitigate any adverse reactions. Some essential points to discuss with patients include:**

Sun Protection: As UVB radiation can contribute to photoaging and skin cancer development, patients should be advised to use adequate sun protection measures during and after treatment sessions. This includes avoiding direct sunlight for at least 24 hours post-treatment, using broad-spectrum sunscreen with high SPF, and wearing protective clothing when outside.