Photo(chemo)therapy in the management of atopic dermatitis: an updated systematic review with implications for practice and research

Br J Dermatol. 2014 Mar;170(3):501-13. doi: 10.1111/bjd.12645.


Background: Photo(chemo)therapy is a common treatment modality in patients with atopic dermatitis (AD), but evidence on its effectiveness has not been recently systematically reviewed.

Objectives: To evaluate the effect of treatment with photo(chemo)therapy in patients with AD and to make treatment recommendations on basis of the evidence.

Methods: We performed an electronic literature search in MEDLINE (OVID), EMBASE (OVID), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), Global Resource of EczemA Trials (GREAT) and prospective trial registers, complemented with a search of PubMed to find recent studies not yet available in OVID MEDLINE. All randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on phototherapy for the treatment of AD were considered for data extraction.

Results: Nineteen studies were included (905 participants). The identified RCTs were generally clinically and qualitatively heterogeneous. Therefore a formal meta-analysis was not feasible. Conclusions must be drawn carefully because of small sample sizes, varying study quality and sometimes the absence of direct comparisons, but on the basis of the included evidence, ultraviolet (UV) A1 and narrowband (NB)-UVB appeared the most effective treatment modalities for the reduction of clinical signs and symptoms. No difference between high-dose UVA1 and medium-dose UVA1 was seen. UVAB was shown to be more effective than UVA and broadband-UVB for the improvement of clinical symptoms, but not compared with UVA1. Other effective treatment options include full-spectrum light, psoralen plus UVA and balneophototherapy. No serious side-effects were reported.

Conclusions: Phototherapy can be a valid therapeutic option for patients with AD. Based on the results of this review, preference is given to UVA1 and NB-UVB. Further well-designed, adequately powered RCTs are required.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / drug therapy*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / radiotherapy
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Photochemotherapy / methods*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Ultraviolet Therapy / methods
  • Young Adult