Phototherapy: 5 Things to Know

Natasha Burton
Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Touted as one of the hottest skin treatments for 2014, phototherapy allegedly erases away scarring, wrinkles, acne, dark spots, and even unwanted hair. To discover exactly how phototherapy works, and to help you determine if it’s right for you, we talked to Beverly Hills-based dermatologist Patrick Bitter, Jr., who’s performed the treatment on a number of his patients.

It’s helpful to understand the terminology.
According to Bitter, phototherapy is an umbrella term that refers to a number of light-based treatments using different technologies for a wide variety of skin conditions. (Key word being “light” – this is not a laser treatment.) A more accurate term , he says, is “photorejuvenation,” which comes in two forms: Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) or Broad Band Light (BBL) photorejuvenation. BBL is the newer of the two and it’s used primarily to rejuvenate aged and sun-damaged skin non-invasively.

It works by using light and heat.
BBL is broad-spectrum visible and infrared light. The various wavelengths of light energy interact with many different components in your skin, like pigmentation, redness and capillaries. As the light energy is absorbed by these different components, heat is generated and destroys excessive pigmentation, redness and capillaries, effectively causing them to fade away. The end result, Bitter says, is skin that is clearer, smoother and more even-toned, but these results are dependent on the choice of settings, the treatment technique and the number of treatments.

It’s a preventative treatment that can also reverse the aging process.
It’s best to start BBL treatments at the earliest age that someone begins to notice sun damage, uneven pigmentation or signs of rosacea (redness, flushing, appearance of capillaries), typically in your late thirties or early forties.

BBL not only repairs skin, Bitter says, it actually changes the skin’s genetic makeup and works to prevent future issues. From his research conducted in association with the dermatology department at Stanford University, Bitter found that BBL treatments can reverse some of the aging changes that occur in genes of old skin cells, literally making old cells behave like young cells. In researching the long-term effects of BBL, Bitter found that receiving one or more BBL treatments each year over eight years or longer can slow down the appearance of aging—the treatments made participants’ skin look younger and healthier than before they started with BBL.

Most skin types can do it.
Skin types and colors are designated by the Fitzpatrick Scale, which goes from I (fairest) to VI (darkest). Bitter says that BBL can safely treat skin types I through V, so even darker-skinned individuals can benefit from regular BBL treatments.

The potential side effects are minor.
BBL technology is an improvement over the previous IPL technology with easier, faster, safer treatments and better results—but those results depend on the training and experience of the practitioner, Bitter says. The two most common  complications or issues are superficial burns of the skin if the settings are inappropriate for the person’s skin type and a lack of result if the treatment is performed too conservatively. This is why it’s crucial that the person performing the treatment is well-trained and well-versed in what he or she is doing.

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