Anyone who suffers from psoriasis knows how damaging it can be to your self-esteem. My good friend Janet has psoriasis, and it affected her so badly that she started being reluctant to go out with us to our weekly coffee get-togethers. She was terrified that people would judge her or grimace at the sight of her when she experienced a bad flare-up.
Fortunately, she actually ended up trying red light therapy for psoriasis. Now, while psoriasis is still an ongoing issue for her, I’ve not only seen her breakouts clear up, but her confidence has skyrocketed since starting her treatments. She’s the girl I remember from college, laughing and sociable again!
What Is Red Light Therapy For Psoriasis?
When using red light therapy for psoriasis, patients are given doses of red and near-infrared light at specific intensities, wavelengths, and duration. The body’s cells get an energy boost, allowing them to do their jobs more efficiently.
Basically, our body harnesses these wavelengths of light into cellular energy, which stimulates our body’s natural healing process.
Because of these biochemical changes, you might experience benefits like decreased inflammation, improved skin complexion, and reduced pain.
In one pilot study, researchers looked at the effects of both red and blue phototherapy on people with psoriasis. For four weeks, these 20 patients received high-dose treatments three times a week, on top of a ten percent salicylic acid solution for their psoriatic plaques. The study found that both light therapies were effective psoriasis treatments, with participants seeing reductions in scaling and induration .
What Causes Psoriasis?
At this point, we are still unsure what exactly causes psoriasis. However, doctors do have some theories about its cause.
We know that psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes a rapid buildup of skin cells. This buildup causes scaling, along with inflammation and redness, to occur on the skin’s surface. So far, scientists believe that psoriasis is likely influenced by genetic factors and changes in the immune system.
For most, the percentage of actually inheriting psoriasis through genetics is small. While around 10% of people inherit genes that put them at risk of developing psoriasis, only around 2-3% of the population has psoriasis .
However, if you have a family member with psoriasis, the possibility of getting the condition is higher. Children with one parent having psoriasis have a 10% chance of developing it, while children with both parents having psoriasis have a 50% chance of developing it .
That said, there have been people with psoriasis that do not have any family members with this condition.
Autoimmune conditions like psoriasis occur when your body’s immune system misidentifies cells in your body as foreign invaders and attacks them.
With psoriasis, your body’s immune system cells (aka T cells) mistakenly attack your skin cells where there is nothing wrong. Your immune system incorrectly believes your skin cells are invading bacteria and viruses.
This reaction causes your skin cell production to increase too rapidly, resulting in the white-red plaques and red, inflamed skin associated with the condition .
Current Treatments For Psoriasis
While there is no cure, several treatments currently exist for psoriasis, including oral medications, topical medications, natural remedies, and light therapy.
Topical Treatments & Home Remedies
Topical medications like steroid creams, salicylic acid, and coal tar can help soothe the skin, lessening the irritating redness around the plaques. While some may require prescriptions, these topical medications are typically available over-the-counter . These medications can come in multiple forms: shampoos, lotions, creams, etc.
Home remedies such as natural aloe vera gel, fish oil, and Vitamin E oil may help rejuvenate and hydrate the skin. Taking warm baths with ground-up oats or Epsom salts can also help soothe your skin.
While these treatments might help some individuals, they are not for everyone.
Topical treatments, while effective, can have side effects. In particular, long-term use of topical medications can bother your skin, which is why doctors sometimes recommend switching creams after a while.
At-home remedies are best suited for those with mild symptoms and might not help patients with moderate-to-severe psoriasis.
Systemic treatments are best for those who don’t respond to (or are unable to tolerate) topical treatments. Because these drugs work throughout the entire body, they can cause severe side effects and make it harder for your body to fight off infections – which is why doctors will only briefly prescribe them. These treatments, as well as injections, are usually saved for those with moderate-to-severe psoriasis.
That said, there are newer systemic treatments that specifically target molecules within immune cells to reduce the chances of experiencing side effects.
As the name suggests, oral treatments are medications you take by mouth. Commonly prescribed drugs include oral retinoids (acitretin), cyclosporine, and methotrexate. While they can be effective, each of these treatments has its own list of potential side effects.
Acitretin, for example, is thought to help slow down skin cell production. However, its observed side effects include hair loss and liver problems.
Cyclosporine, an immunosuppressant, works by weakening your immune system and slowing the growth of certain immune cells. However, it can also cause kidney problems and raise your blood pressure. In addition, because cyclosporine weakens your immune system temporarily, you might get sick more easily.
In patients with psoriasis, methotrexate works by binding to and inhibiting a specific enzyme, slowing the growth of your overactive skin cells. It can have serious long-term effects, including liver damage and scarring. As a result, doctors typically ask patients to conduct periodic lab tests to make sure their organs are healthy .
Biologics, a newer treatment option, are made from living cells and delivered via injections or IV drips. Unlike traditional systemic treatments, these drugs are made to specifically target select immune cells. That said, biologics still carry the risk of weakening your immune system, increasing your chances of getting an infection .
Because biologics are relatively new, more research is needed to determine their long-term effects. They are also often more expensive.
Does Red Light Therapy Help With Psoriasis?
For those looking for a drug-free psoriasis treatment, red light therapy may be an option. Red light therapy uses targeted red or infrared light to improve the condition of your skin during psoriasis flare-ups.
As you know, some of the worst effects of psoriasis can be the thickening of your skin, the red splotchiness that accompanies it, and the scaling that can also appear. Fortunately, red light therapy might be a solution to these issues and help reduce your psoriasis symptoms – even if they have proved resistant to conventional treatments.
Minimizes Skin Thickening and Hardening
Skin thickening can be unpleasant at the best of times and make days unbearable at the worst. This psoriasis symptom can be hard to deal with, as treatments can often aggravate the other symptoms or cause further skin irritation.
However, red light therapy is gentle enough to diminish the hardening of your skin without causing further damage, with patients seeing clinical improvements within four weeks .
Helps with Redness
A common side effect of psoriasis is the redness that can tint the skin, especially in areas where hardening and scaling have occurred. This erythema can look splotchy and make us self-conscious when out in public.
Fortunately, red light therapy seems to help alleviate this reddening. It may not work quite as well as blue light therapy, but it’s a fantastic way to get redness, hardening, and scaling all down, so we can live our lives with confidence again.
In one clinical study, researchers noted that patients experienced the most significant improvements in redness after the first six red light treatments. After that, there were diminishing returns .
Scaling can make us feel like we’re losing a part of ourselves (and our humanity). Like with the other symptoms of psoriasis, treatment can be difficult.
Because red light therapy can also target scaling, the overall health of our skin noticeably improves. When these patches are minimized, skin picking habits tend to decrease, further improving the state of each flare-up.
One randomized, double-blind study looked at 20 psoriatic patients, treating stable psoriatic plaques with red light. After observing clinical improvement, researchers determined that red light therapy can help reduce scaling in people with psoriasis .
Other Promising Outcomes
One study published in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery looked at patients with recalcitrant psoriasis, defined as those with chronic psoriasis who were not responding to conventional treatments. Scientists treated these patients over five weeks with continuous-wave 633 nm red LED light and 830 nm near-infrared LED light.
After all psoriasis patients completed their LED psoriasis treatment, researchers followed up with everyone. They observed a psoriasis clearance rate from 60% to 100%, with high patient satisfaction rates .
How Often Should You Do Red Light Therapy For Psoriasis?
While more studies need to be done, the current research in dermatology seems to suggest two to three sessions per week for four to five weeks. Each session should be around 20 minutes.
That said, because the research, while promising, is still preliminary, it’s highly recommended that you use these numbers as a starting point for your psoriasis treatment and adapt accordingly based on your unique situation. As a result, you may want to chat with your dermatologist about how to best use phototherapy for your psoriasis.
What About Blue Light Therapy For Psoriasis?
For all the talking we’ve done so far about red light, blue light can also be effective for the treatment of psoriasis.
Blue light therapy is a light treatment that introduces blue LED light to your skin. It is thought that, because blue light releases bioactive nitric oxide from proteins within the skin, it can help regulate immune responses, cell proliferation and differentiation, and local blood flow – resulting in improved psoriasis outcomes . In particular, blue light can help slow the proliferation of keratinocytes and reduce inflammation within your skin.
Plus, blue LED light doesn’t have any ultraviolet radiation, so you won’t need to worry about skin cancer, premature skin aging, and all the other skin damage that comes with UV light treatments that use UVA light or UVB light.
In one study, researchers tested UV-free blue LED light (453 nm) on 47 psoriatic patients for four months. The final results showed that 84% of patients experienced less thickness, scaling, or redness. The researchers also observed no side effects during this study .
In another study, researchers treated forty psoriatic patients with blue LED light (420 nm) every day for four weeks. Compared to the control, the plaques that received treatment saw significant improvements via Local Psoriasis Severity Index (LPSI) scores .
Red Light vs. Blue Light For Psoriasis
While both red and blue light can be effective treatments for psoriasis, they are not necessarily equal.
A 2012 study compared outcomes after treating patients with plaque psoriasis using either high-dose red or blue light. For the 20 patients involved, researchers treated one plaque on each patient with red light and another plaque with blue light, three times a week for four weeks.
Because light therapy needs to penetrate the skin to be effective, the patients received a daily application of 10% salicylic acid in petrolatum to remove scaling before and during the study.
At the end of the study, both red and blue light showed clinical improvements in psoriasis. Both red and blue light therapies were effective in reducing skin scaling and hardening, with no significant differences in treatment outcomes. However, blue light was more effective in reducing skin reddening over the course of the study. Red light, while still effective, stopped resulting in significant improvements after six sessions .
Depending on the severity of your skin condition, you may want to use either red or blue light therapy or a combination of the two. Blue light therapy may work better if you have more erythema and red skin to deal with, but people often use both types of light for the best results.
There are plenty of safe at-home light therapy devices for treating psoriasis, or you can get treatment at your dermatologist’s office. Either way, both red and blue light therapy have proven safe, so you may likely see results in treatment.
While there is no cure for psoriasis yet, it looks like both red and blue LED light therapy can be alternative yet effective ways to treat it – especially for those with mild to moderate psoriasis. Clinical trials have shown how both types of light promote natural healing without severe side effects, which sounds promising for those with sensitive skin or who have tried other treatments.
If you so desire, you can give both blue and red light therapy a try, whether at your dermatologist’s office or right in the comfort of your own home.