What should I know about treatments with the drug psoralen?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Psoralen is a type of medication that is used to treat certain skin disorders, including vitiligo, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis. Doctors usually give patients psoralen in combination with light treatments. Psoralen is applied directly to the skin or taken as a pill. Using psoralen in combination with light therapy may increase the risk for severe sunburns, skin cancer, eye damage, nausea, and other side effects.
There are different kinds of therapies for vitiligo which use the drug psoralen. They generally fall under the category of phototherapeutic treatment. Psoralen works by making your skin more sensitive to ultraviolet light. Your skin will become reddened after the treatment with the drug and the light, and then over time the skin tone of the treated areas should become more like the rest of your skin.

One of these therapies called photochemotherapy, or PUVA, involves putting an ointment or cream containing psoralen on your skin and then exposing your skin to ultraviolet (UVA) light. This is used for people with few patches or patches that are not widespread. People with more or more widespread patches may get a kind of treatment called oral PUVA (oral psoralen photochemotherapy). This means that the drug is taken by mouth before the person exposes his or her skin to ultraviolet light.

There are side effects to psoralen treatment, especially oral PUVA. Children under ten should not have oral PUVA because it may lead to cataracts later on in life. There may be other side effects, including nausea and vomiting, hair overgrowth, skin that is darker than the surrounding skin, and becoming so sensitive to the sun that you sunburn. You should avoid sun exposure for at least one or two days after you are exposed to the UV light in order to lessen any possible longer-term risk of eye damage, sunburn, and skin cancer.

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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.