Health Watch -- Shining Light on Skin Disorders

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One way of treating some skin disorders is to bring them into the light - a very special kind of light.

A new kind of treatment is safer and more effective for treating certain skin diseases than other methods previously available. Dermatologists at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas are among only a few in the nation using UVA1 phototherapy. This new kind of light therapy is more localized and intense than previous technology allowed, which makes it safer and more effective.

The light therapy treats skin disorders such as eczema, which is an inflammation of the skin; morphea, which is believed to be an autoimmune disease that causes skin thickening and discoloration; and a condition that causes blisters on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Dr. Heidi Jacobe, the UT Southwestern dermatologist who heads the phototherapy unit, says creams to treat these disorders weren't very effective and oral medications had dangerous side effects. Earlier phototherapy treatments could burn the skin. But this newest treatment penetrates deep into the skin, can cover large areas and doesn't burn. That allows patients to be treated more often.

Doctors aim a machine emitting a certain kind of UVA light at the area being treated. The light resets the immune system, targeting the cause of the skin problem. A treatment session lasts about 12 minutes. At first, patients may be treated four to five times a week, then taper off. Patients generally notice improvements in about three weeks, and the problem may be cleared up after a few months.