At Home Phototherapy for Vitiligo

Narrowband ultraviolet B (UVB) phototherapy is one of the standard treatments for vitiligo that can induce repigmentation where vitiligo is present. Phototherapy is not an option for many patients with vitiligo however because it is time-consuming and expensive with many treatments needed over many months in most cases. An alternative is at home phototherapy which makes phototherapy treatment much more accessible to people seeking treatment. 

What is Home Phototherapy?

Narrowband UVB is considered the standard treatment for patients with vitiligo covering more than 20% of their skin. Narrowband means that there is a minimal scope, 311-312 nanometers of the UV spectrum used that is proven to stimulate pigment production. Home phototherapy is the same general treatment that patients receive in-office; however, the patient self-administers the treatment using a small unit and UV light wand at home. Patients with widespread vitiligo can also use bull body panels that resemble dressing screens to treat their entire body at once or even units that offer full body surround. Treatment is usually needed three times per week with results being seen after the first sixty-minute treatment. 

Is Home Treatment Safe?

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Texas recently conducted a study on narrowband ultraviolet B phototherapy. Patients with vitiligo were divided into two groups. One group would receive inpatient treatment while the other group would self-administer at home phototherapy. The study revealed that at home phototherapy is as safe as inpatient treatment. When used in wavelengths of 311-312 nanometers, patients are less likely to have adverse effects. 

There are some side-effects of phototherapy including burning, increased contrast in skin color due to normally pigmented skin also darkening. Eye damage can also be incurred in patients using full body cabinets or panels if they do not use goggles or look into the ultraviolet light. Narrowband UVB treatments both in office and at home have been approved for use on children who are old enough to sit still and can keep goggles on. 

If you choose in-home phototherapy treatment make sure always to follow your dermatologist’s recommendations when it comes to the amount of time you should spend under the light. Times will vary depending on how long you have been treated and the color of your skin. 

Benefits of Home Phototherapy Treatment

There are many benefits of in-home phototherapy treatment for vitiligo. The first benefit is that patients can receive the procedure in the comfort of their own home. The time commitment is also significantly less because patients can self-administer their treatment any time that is convenient for them (as long as procedures are spaced the prescribed amount of time apart). The drive time to and from the dermatologist office and in-office waiting time is also eliminated. 

The cost for in-home phototherapy versus in office was also found by the University study to be different. The average price for in-office treatment over one year was more than $21,000 dollars. The group that received at home treatment incurred a cost of just over $4,000. In the office, treatment was five times more expensive than therapy in the home. 

One of the best things to know about in-home versus in office phototherapy treatment is that the effectiveness was nearly the safe. The in-office patients had an improvement of 45% while at home treated patients was less at 43% showing that there is slightly more room for human error involved in home treatment as well. 

Narrowband UVB phototherapy is also a better option for patients compared to the PUVA system which used ultra-violet light and Psoralen pills or topical gel to treat vitiligo. This treatment had many possible adverse side effects include burning, stomach problems, liver issues, and even cataracts. Patients also must wear special sunglasses on the PUVA system. In-home phototherapy treatment has much less risk and is just as effective.