How to Maximize the Effectiveness of Light Therapy for Vitiligo
Taking light therapy for vitiligo? Studies show that taking supplements during your treatment can effectively boost results, making treatment time less and improving overall treatment effectiveness. Learn more about what supplements can help below.
Vitiligo is a complicated skin condition where the skin slowly or quickly loses pigmentation in small to large patches throughout the body. The medical industry is not sure exactly what triggers vitiligo, although some research suggests that it is tied to an autoimmune problem.
No current medical treatments are 100 percent effective in treating vitiligo, but the current leader in vitiligo treatments are light therapy treatments. Exposure to targeted UV radiation, sometimes combined with drug treatments, causes repigmentation in up to 92 percent of cases over the course of a 12-month treatment plan.
Some studies suggest that supplementing with certain vitamins and herbs could increase the effectiveness of light therapy and help patients see results faster. Read more about light therapy for vitiligo and the possible benefits of supplements for vitiligo below:
According to current science, light therapy is the most effective treatment for vitiligo. Up to 92 percent of patients who undergo light therapy see some improvement. There are several types of light therapy for vitiligo that can provide different results. Not all therapies are suitable for every type of vitiligo, and some treatment methods also have side effects. Take a look at the most common light therapies for vitiligo below:
UVB therapy has a targeted wavelength that is used to treat vitiligo. Some treatment centers have hand or foot light boxes only, while others offer whole-body light boxes for individuals with widespread vitiligo. Today, UVB treatment is considered the best treatment option for individuals who have vitiligo on more than 20 percent of their bodies. UBV light uses light ranging from 311-312 nm. This spectrum of light stimulates pigment cells before skin burns. UVB light also gently suppresses the immune system, which can help control vitiligo caused by an overactive immune system.
Results can be seen in as few as 30 to 60 treatments. Side effects are generally mild, and usually include sunburn and tanning of skin elsewhere, which increases the contrast between pigmented skin and non-pigmented skin until re-pigmentation occurs.
PUVA was one of the original light therapies for vitiligo. It combines medication with UV light, but takes more time to complete than UVB treatments. Many patients require about 300 treatments before visible results are seen. PUVA light treatment is given in combination with medication called psoralens. Because this treatment method includes medication, side effects include stomach upset, liver problems, cataracts, and sunburn.
Because of the side effects, PUVA cannot be used in children, pregnant women, or nursing women.
Laser therapy is used to treat small areas of vitiligo. The laser targets the 308 nm light spectrum. Laser is effective for areas of stable, non-spreading vitiligo. Laser treatments generally provide faster results than UVB or UV-A treatments, but only work for small patches of vitiligo.
Laser therapy is not as effective for vitiligo on the hands and feet. The side effects for laser therapy are generally mild and usually are burn-related. Skin sensitivity may also be a side effect of laser therapy.
According to studies cited by the University of Chicago and Medscape, light therapy, or phototherapy, can improve the appearance of skin vitiligo in up to 70 percent of patients, which is a high number for individuals with vitiligo. Other vitiligo treatment methods have a much lower effectiveness rating.
Narrow-band UVB phototherapy is one of the most effective and popular treatments for vitiligo. It can be used for children, pregnant women, and nursing women. This is one of the few mainly harmless treatment methods for vitiligo. UV-B microphototherapy is used as a treatment for specific small areas of vitiligo.
According to Medscape, Narrow-band UVB therapy is the first choice of treatment for patients of all ages with generalized vitiligo. Psoralen photochemotherapy (PUVA) is a similar therapy that uses UV-A light. This treatment combined with 8-methoxypsoralen, 5-methoxypsoralen, and trimethylpsoralen plus is often used in patients with widespread and generalized vitiligo. All light treatments are more effective for vitiligo present in the face, proximal extremities, and trunk. It may take months for skin to repigment.
In general, it can take up to 300 light therapy sessions before patients will see visible results. According to the University of Chicago, light therapy works by slowing down cell growth and inflammation that can cause the skin to lose its pigment. Vitiligo is considered an autoimmune disease possibly brought on by excessive inflammation and an overreaction to normal body functions. Slowing down the cell growth in patches of vitiligo and reducing inflammation can help the body regain its missing pigment over time.
Many health professionals prefer narrow band UVB to PUVA treatments when possible, because there are no drugs, side effects, and no need for additional protection against natural UV light.
Vitiligo treatments are not always effective because there is a high chance that vitiligo will return after treatment even if patients see re-pigmentation during treatment. This is because health professionals believe vitiligo is an autoimmune problem where the immune system sees skin pigmentation as a foreign invader and attacks it.
However, studies have shown that there are ways to increase the effectiveness and permanence of light therapy for vitiligo. You may find the following supplements effective at boosting the results from your light therapy treatments:
Vitamin E was found to prevent lipid peroxidation in the cellular membrane of melanocytes from a study in 2009. Vitamin E supplements taken orally were listed as a “valuable adjuvant therapy” for vitiligo in the 2009 study. The protective effects of vitamin E help to maximize the effectiveness of UV-B therapy.
Picrorhiza is a Himalayan herb used for thousands of years as a medicinal plant. The plant is often used in Ayurvedic medicine as an immune booster. The immune-regulating benefits of the plant could benefit patients with vitiligo because vitiligo is often tied in with other autoimmune diseases. A stronger beneficial link has been found when picrorhiza is used in combination with traditional vitiligo treatments. A study from the journal Ethnopharmacol in 1989 found that the effectiveness of the vitiligo drug methoxsalen was increased when combined with Picrorhiza supplements.
Many individuals with vitiligo (as well as the general populace) are low in vitamin B6. Supplementing with vitamin B6 could help regulate the immune system and prevent some autoimmune problems. A study from 2005 published in the journal Cutis found that topical vitamin B6 could strengthen the protective layer of the skin, which could lessen the side effects of vitiligo treatment.
Additionally, the same study found that when individuals with actively spreading vitiligo (which is normally considered much less treatable) supplemented with vitamin B12, folate, and vitamin C, 100 percent of the study participants saw their depigmentation completely stop. The study participants also started to see repigmentation of the skin in just 6 weeks.
Another study published in the International Journal of Dermatology in 2006, found that individuals who supplemented with folate and vitamin B12 had better repigmentation results.
L-phenylalanine is an amino acid that is one of the “building blocks” of protein. L-phenylalanine has been shown in studies to benefit patients with vitiligo currently undergoing light therapy. A study from 2003 published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that L-phenylalanine is effective at boosting the progress of light therapy in both children and adults.
A study from the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology published in 2002 examined the role of L-phenylalanine in patients with vitiligo. The study examined patients who were currently undergoing UV-A treatment. When the study participants were given Khellin encapsulated in L-phenylalanine stabilized liposomes, after 12 months, 63 percent of all patients had 75-100 percent repigmentation on the face, 59 percent on the arms, 58 percent on the arms, 57 percent on the trunk, and 56 percent improvement on the legs.
A study from 1989 published in the journal of American Academy of Dermatology examined the results of oral khellin supplements on 25 patients with vitiligo undergoing light therapy. After 100 to 200 treatments, the group who supplemented with oral khellin saw a 70 percent improvement in pigmentation in 41 percent of cases- a significant improvement over the control group. The group had no extra side effects from supplementing with khellin.
These studies show that although vitiligo is not completely understood by the medical community, numerous studies show that supplementing during light therapy can make the results more effective, start sooner, and last longer after treatment. Khellin, vitamin B6, B12, C, E, L-phenylalanine, Picrorhiza, and folate were found to have the biggest influence on repigmentation during and after light therapy. Individuals undergoing light therapy for vitiligo can maximize the effectiveness of their treatments by adding these supplements to their treatment routine. Light therapy can be expensive and take several months to years, so adding anything to make it more effective will provide greater satisfaction to vitiligo patients of all ages.
Bedi KL, Zutshi U, Chopra CL, Amla V. Picrorhiza kurroa, an Ayurvedic herb, may potentiate photochemotherapy in vitiligo. J Ethnopharmacol 1989;27: pp.347-52
Draelos ZD, Ertel K, Berge C. Niacinamide-containing facial moisturizer improves skin barrier and benefits subjects with rosacea. Cutis 2005 Aug;76(2):135-41.
Don P et al. Treatment of vitiligo with broadband ultraviolet B and vitamins. Int J Dermatol 2006 Jan;45(1):63-5.
Carlie G et al. KUVA (khellin plus ultraviolet A) stimulates proliferation and melanogenesis in normal human melanocytes and melanoma cells in vitro. Br J Dermatol 2003 Oct;149(4):707-17.
Camacho F, Mazuecos J. Oral and topical L-phenylalanine, clobetasol propionate, and UVA/sunlight--a new study for the treatment of vitiligo. J Drugs Dermatol 2002 Sep;1(2):127-31.
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*Callumae is a Vitiligo Remedy designed to help get rid of white spots on your skin. Use in conjunction with light therapy (or natural sun light) to help get the most repigmentation to your skin.