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What is light therapy?

Light therapy is the controlled use of specific kinds of therapeutic light to treat certain medical conditions, especially depression associated with winter-onset seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and the skin condition psoriasis.

For example, to treat winter-onset SAD, light therapy might involve the use of a special light box (which usually emits up to 10,000 lux)or wearing a light visor for about 30 minutes each day throughout the fall and winter, when you're most likely to be depressed. Winter-onset SAD can also be treated with a “dawn simulator," a light activated by a timer that turns on early in the morning and gradually increases in brightness, mimicking a sunrise and allowing your body to wake up naturally, without using an alarm. If light therapy helps, your doctor may suggest continuing it until enough sunlight is available, typically in the springtime. Stopping light therapy too soon can result in a return of symptoms.

Light therapy is also used to treat psoriasis, a condition in which skin cells grow at an accelerated rate, causing a scaly build-up of cells on the skin. Doctors may prescribe a special kind of light that emits ultraviolet B (UVB) wavelengths (similar to those found in sunlight). UVB penetrates the skin and slows the growth of affected skin cells. Treatment involves exposing the skin to an artificial UVB light source for a set length of time on a regular schedule. This treatment is administered in a medical setting or at home under a doctor's supervision. No one should attempt to treat psoriasis by using a tanning salon or other devices on their own.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.