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UV Combs for Scalp Psoriasis: Are They Effective?

Medically reviewed by Kelsey Stalvey, PharmD
Written by Suzanne Mooney
Posted on April 18, 2023

As you search for relief from scalp psoriasis symptoms like dandruff, scales, and lesions, you may have come across ultraviolet (UV) combs. Among other treatment options like creams, oils, and shampoos, UV combs are an option that people with scalp psoriasis may try to help combat flakes and itching.

Some members of MyPsoriasisTeam have discussed using UV combs or phototherapy for scalp psoriasis.

So, what are UV combs? How do they work? Can they help with scalp psoriasis? In this article, we answer those questions and more. Always check with your doctor before using a UV comb or other at-home treatments for your psoriasis.

What Is a UV Comb?

A UV comb is a handheld phototherapy device that uses ultraviolet light to help slow skin cell growth. The comb design allows the UV rays from the light source to get past the hair to reach affected areas on the scalp.

A UV comb delivers UV rays to the scalp to treat scalp psoriasis. This type of light therapy can help lessen swelling and slow down the growth of skin cells, which can improve the symptoms of scalp psoriasis. (Adobe Stock)

You can purchase UV combs online and from some big-box retailers, but always consult a doctor who specializes in dermatology before trying home phototherapy for scalp psoriasis or other skin conditions.

Phototherapy for Psoriasis

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, approximately 45 percent to 56 percent of people with psoriasis have scalp psoriasis, so you may already be familiar with phototherapy, also called light therapy, as an effective treatment option. Ultraviolet light B (UVB) is the type of UV light used most often for the treatment of psoriasis.

There are several types of phototherapy treatments that dermatologists may suggest for psoriasis. These include:

  • Narrowband UVB light
  • Broadband UVB light
  • Excimer laser

Narrowband and broadband UVB are types of light therapy that can be administered in two ways: as a full-body treatment — you stand in a special box that emits the UVB light, or as a focused treatment, in which a dermatologist passes a light source over the affected areas of your skin. The difference between narrowband and broadband is the wavelength of ultraviolet light.

To make your skin more receptive to phototherapy, especially if you’re receiving ultraviolet A (UVA) phototherapy, your health care provider might prescribe a medication containing psoralen. You may apply a psoralen cream, soak in a bath, or take pills. Your doctor will tell you when to take it based on your treatment time. The acronym for this combination of psoralen plus UVA light is PUVA.

Phototherapy is also an effective treatment option for skin conditions including vitiligo and many types of eczema, including atopic dermatitis.

How Does a UV Comb Work?

In most cases, when people start receiving phototherapy for scalp psoriasis or plaque psoriasis, they go to a treatment center, hospital, or dermatologist’s office. Because UVB phototherapy is most effective when given multiple times a week, this could mean daily trips to the hospital or clinic and taking time off work or finding childcare.

A UV comb offers the benefit of treating scalp psoriasis from home, eliminating the need for commuting. It also allows for greater flexibility in scheduling treatment when it’s most convenient for you.

Before using a UV comb, you might start phototherapy at a medical facility so your health care provider can monitor you for side effects and assess your progress. When you and your care team agree it’s time to move to home phototherapy, they can help you choose a UV comb, show you how to comb it through your hair for the best results, and schedule regular follow-up appointments.

Can a UV Comb Help With Scalp Psoriasis?

More research is needed on this topic, but the authors of a small study of 44 people with scalp psoriasis say UV combs can help.

Researchers in Norway treated one group with a UV comb five times a week for three weeks, and the other group was treated with a betamethasone valerate solution. Although there was no difference in outcome at the end of treatment, the UV comb group showed a higher rate of remission (decrease or disappearance of symptoms) after two weeks. The study authors concluded that a UV comb is a worthwhile alternative to topical steroids for treating scalp psoriasis.

In general, phototherapy is recommended for psoriasis because it can:

  • Reduce inflammation
  • Slow the growth of skin cells
  • Reduce or eliminate itching

It can also suppress an overactive immune system, reducing its ability to trigger inflammation, plaques and scales, and other symptoms of psoriasis.

What MyPsoriasisTeam Members Say

More than 3,000 MyPsoriasisTeam members have reported trying phototherapy, and some have expressed positive results. “Phototherapy is the only thing that helps me,” said one member. “My phototherapy treatments are working,” said another.

Although several members have asked about UV combs for phototherapy, only a few have reported trying them. This is what they said:

  • “A UV comb helped ease the pain and itch factor for my scalp psoriasis.”
  • “My at-home unit helps me keep a lid on flare-ups!”
  • “I feel much better after my third treatment. My skin is less scaly and soft. I’m so excited about my scalp!”

Another member was interested in trying a UV comb, but their doctor talked them out of it. “My dermatologist said a UV comb is a waste of money, so I haven’t tried it,” they shared.

Will a UV comb help you? It might. Ask your health care provider for guidance. While it won’t replace your other scalp psoriasis treatments, a UV comb could be a helpful addition to your treatment plan.

UV Comb Risks and Side Effects

Although phototherapy is generally considered safe, there are potential risks and side effects. The good news is that a dermatologist can help you manage most of them. These are some risks and side effects to consider before using a UV comb:

  • Red, darker, or tender skin that might look and feel like a sunburn
  • Stinging or burning that is usually mild
  • Increased risk of skin cancer
  • Age spots, wrinkles, and other signs of early aging
  • Freckles
  • Dark spots (more common in darker skin tones)
  • Increased risk of itching

Other potential but rare risks include blisters and burns. A little red or darker tone in your skin is normal after phototherapy, but ask your health care provider when it becomes a cause for concern. Also, ask them to explain the potential risks and side effects in detail before using a UV comb or starting any new psoriasis treatment.

You and Your Doctor Are a Team

There are many prescription treatment options for scalp psoriasis, including corticosteroids, oral medications, injections, and shampoos or lotions containing coal tar or salicylic acid. There are also countless over-the-counter treatments promising to alleviate flaky skin, itchiness, and other scalp psoriasis symptoms.

While your scalp psoriasis treatment plan may be a combination of treatment options, always consult your health care provider before trying something new. This includes UV combs, supplements, coconut oil, aloe vera, and other seemingly harmless products. You and your doctor are a team, and they are the best person to ask for guidance to ensure you get safe and effective care.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 116,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

Have you used a UV comb for scalp psoriasis? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on April 18, 2023
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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Kelsey Stalvey, PharmD received her Doctor of Pharmacy from Pacific University School of Pharmacy in Portland, Oregon, and went on to complete a one-year postgraduate residency at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Florida. Learn more about her here
Suzanne Mooney writes about people, pets, health and wellness, and travel. Learn more about her here

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