Light Therapy for Eczema: Is it Effective?
Eczema is unsightly and irritating, but referring to it as a mere “skin condition” barely scratches the surface of how it can affect one’s everyday life.
In fact, eczema can be uncomfortable and, at times, painful. Moderate to severe instances of the disease can even disrupt sleep and affect daily activities—everything from school and sports activities, to work and intimate relationships.
These physical and psychological effects make finding relief a top priority. And while there is currently no cure, there are many ways to treat eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis), including lifestyle changes, over-the-counter (OTC) remedies, prescription topical and oral treatments, injectable medications, and, perhaps most intriguing, phototherapy.
Along with examining the impact of eczema and current treatments, this article will focus on phototherapy and red light therapy as a promising, effective treatment for this troublesome and often difficult-to-treat disease.
Below, we’ll review current methods used to treat eczema, as well as how they compare to photo- and red light therapies—two promising and effective alternatives.
The Problem With Common Eczema Treatments
While the symptoms of atopic dermatitis are plain to see, the exact cause remains mostly hidden. Medical professionals have posited the theory that an overactive response by the body’s immune system to an irritant makes the skin break out in the symptoms of eczema, but none of the current medications, cremes, or lifestyle changes can address it with 100% effectiveness.
With this in mind, it seems clear that managing the symptoms of eczema is the best course of treatment. But not all cases are equal, and the best treatment depends greatly on type and severity. Symptoms and treatment responses often vary by individual sufferer, and it’s often most effective to use several treatments together.
Some of the most common treatments include:
Such as warm showers followed by a moisturizing regimen.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Products
For example, cleansers, moisturizers, anti-itch creams, and more.
Such a skin barrier creams, immunosuppressants, and intravenous biologic drugs
Despite best efforts, however, many people still don’t find consistent relief from eczema. What works for one person probably won’t work for someone else, and it’s not uncommon to try all of the common treatments without finding anything particularly effective. If this sounds like you, it’s worth considering light therapy—especially red light therapy—as it has shown great promise as a safe, and effective alternative to typical treatments.
Phototherapy for Eczema: Effective, but with Drawbacks
Researchers explored the use of ultraviolet UV light as a potential treatment after observing subjects who experience relief from atopic dermatitis following ample sun exposure. The resulting technique, known as phototherapy, is used to treat eczema in adults and older children who are not responding to conventional treatment.
UV light therapy focuses on narrowband (311nm and 313nm) phototherapy, which penetrates into the uppermost layers of the skin to reduce inflammation and itching. Typically, UVB light is used first, followed by UVA for more severe cases where the latter isn’t effective. Either way, the light treatment for eczema is accompanied by the use of psoralen—a topical or oral medication that absorbs UV light and improves outcomes.
Ultraviolet light therapy works because it reduces the number of white cells (T-cells) in the skin. White cells cause inflammation and contribute to the symptoms of eczema—so reducing the number is crucial, as doing so leads to less inflammation and relief from symptoms.
For phototherapy to truly be successful, subjects must commit to several intensive weeks of treatments, administered two to three times a week for about three months (longer in severe cases). Once the patient reports a lack of itching, the treatments are reduced and maintenance courses of one to two times a week are often recommended to prevent recurring eczema flares.
While UV light is generally effective, some patients may experience “sunburn” after treatment, and some report nausea after taking psoralen. Also, overuse of UVA and UVB phototherapy causes skin cell damage, premature skin aging, and even skin cancer; and the answer to “how much is too much” depends on the individual. Finally, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) cautions against using ultraviolet light therapy on children unless other therapies have failed, and only under close supervision.
While UV light therapy is an imperfect eczema treatments due to potential risks, red light is a type of phototherapy that is seeing encouraging results for eczema applications in early research.
Red Light for Eczema: A Promising Alternative
Red light therapy uses relatively long wavelengths of light (630nm to 700nm) to penetrate the skin and promote healing, increase circulation, improve skin tone, and treat a number of chronic skin conditions like psoriasis. It is safe, painless, and delivers these results without the harmful effects of ultraviolet A and B light.
This therapy works because red light increases the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) from the cells’ mitochondria, which is the energy source of all cells. With an increase in ATP, skin cells have more energy to devote to optimal cell functioning, regeneration, and healing. Red light therapy also eases atopic dermatitis symptoms by:
Stimulating formation of new capillaries and increasing circulation for improved oxygen nutrient delivery to the skin;
Activating the lymphatic system, a part of the immune system that removes waste from the body; and
Stimulating DNA/RNA synthesis.
Red light also stimulates our sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight response). Normally, this is not associated with healing, however, the sympathetic nervous response causes improved circulation and a decrease in inflammatory responses.
In short, improved blood flow from red light therapy can assist the skin’s natural healing properties.
While UV light has some therapeutic effects on the skin’s surface, they do not penetrate the skin deeply enough for mitochondrial photostimulation for increased ATP production, or stimulation of the lymphatic system. The red light spectrum penetrates to a truly therapeutic depth with no known side effects.
Light Therapy at Home
It’s possible to get the red light therapy you need in the comfort and convenience of your own home. High quality red light devices can be purchased for home use. Among its many therapeutic uses, red light therapy can also treat acne, enhance overall skin tone, reduce wrinkles and age spots, and improve skin elasticity and firmness— making it a useful tool for overall skincare, not just eczema.
The key to home eczema treatments is consistency, and the quality of the device. You know the old saying, “you get what you pay for,” right? Most inexpensive red light masks and wands are largely ineffective because they don’t deliver enough light. A small, quality device that delivers high-intensity red light via light-emitting diodes (LED) is ideal for targeted treatment of small areas, and larger devices treat the whole body for widespread skin conditions.
Be sure to check out our article on selecting the right red light therapy device to learn more about which light is best for you.
And, as always, ask your doctor for medical advice if you have any pre-existing conditions that could interfere with treatments.
If you’re looking for an effective way to treat atopic dermatitis, you have a ton of options. From cremes, oral medication, to UV light therapy, you could spend weeks, month—even years—trying to find the best solution.
But there’s one alternative that stands apart as a long-term, natural solution. A solution that moves beyond treating surface-level symptoms, to improving your body’s natural functioning at the cellular level. That alternative is red light therapy.Red light therapy is effective, painless, and relatively inexpensive, especially when compared to the alternatives. If you’re ready to try it out, take a look at our selection of the most advanced, red light therapy devices today.