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Vitamin D therapy describes the use of ultraviolet B (UVB) light rays to produce vitamin D in the body in order to help treat certain symptoms and diseases. Also known as light therapy, phototherapy and UVB therapy, vitamin D therapy effectively treats skins diseases such as psoriasis and eczema. There also is a connection between vitamin D and depression, and vitamin D therapy has helped sufferers of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a specific form of depression.
For many years, UVB light therapy has been used to treat the symptoms of psoriasis and eczema. The treatment is referred to as vitamin D therapy because exposure to UVB rays, whether from the sun or an electric unit, causes the body to produce vitamin D. The increased vitamin D leads to symptom relief over time.
Results of vitamin D light therapy in patients who have psoriasis and eczema include clearing of the skin, lowered need for medication and prevention of skin infections. When used to treat SAD, the effects of vitamin D therapy include improvements in mood, appetite and sleeping. It also can result in increased energy.
Treatments to enhance vitamin D production take place over a period of several weeks and can include two to four sessions per week. Therapy for skin disorders is conducted during a flare-up of the disease when the skin is red, flaky and inflamed with “plaques.” SAD symptoms usually arise during colder seasons, so vitamin D treatments for SAD work best during the months when sun exposure is most limited.
Vitamin D therapy sessions are usually conducted in a doctor’s office using a light unit designed to produce rays that boost vitamin D production. Bulbs in these light units give off UVB rays, which leads to vitamin D creation. Light therapy units are available for home treatment but are still used under the guidance of a specialist.
During a vitamin D therapy session, the patient is exposed to the UVB rays for a certain length of time. Depending on the severity of the illness, exposure can last from five minutes to 20 minutes. Overexposure can lead to burning or drying of the skin, which is why vitamin D therapy requires professional guidance.
The side effects of vitamin D therapy can include dry, flaky skin and itchiness, which usually goes away within the first week or two of treatment. Additionally, most dermatologists believe that any exposure to UV light increases the risk of skin cancer. Light therapy uses UVB rays, which do not penetrate the skin deeply and are less damaging than UVA rays. Dermatologists also suggest that long-term light therapy might lead to premature skin aging.