The rationale for the use of vitamin D derivatives in the treatment of psoriasis is based on the observation that patients with hypocalcemia often develop various forms of psoriasis, most notably the pustular form. In one case, a patient who had undergone thyroidectomy developed repeated flares of pustular psoriasis after decreases were made in her dosage of ergocalciferol (Vitamin D 2 ); each episode was related to severe hypocalcemia and resolved after her serum calcium levels normalized. 14 Another patient with osteoporosis experienced dramatic improvement in severe psoriasis after receiving an oral form of vitamin D. 15 This finding, along with the discovery that the bioactive form of 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol has been shown to inhibit keratinocyte proliferation and promote keratinocyte differentiation, 16 has led to the development of vitamin D analogs for the treatment of psoriasis.
Different formulations have been developed in an effort to enhance the delivery of topical corticosteroids. Betamethasone valerate in a foam had superior efficacy for scalp psoriasis and was preferred by patients when compared with betamethasone valerate lotion [ 20 ]. The foam becomes a liquid on contact with skin and is also well tolerated by patients with trunk and extremity psoriasis [ 21 ]. A clobetasol propionate spray is also available; like foams, sprays are easy to apply to large areas [ 22 ]. The main advantage of these newer preparations is likely greater patient acceptance, which may translate into greater adherence; the main disadvantage is cost.
PUVA is a special treatment using a photosensitizing drug and timed artificial-light exposure composed of wavelengths of ultraviolet light in the UVA spectrum. The photosensitizing drug in PUVA is called psoralen. Both the psoralen and the UVA light must be administered within one hour of each other for a response to occur. These treatments are usually given in a physician's office two to three times per week. Several weeks of PUVA is usually required before seeing significant results. The light exposure time is gradually increased during each subsequent treatment. Psoralens may be given orally as a pill or topically as a bath or lotion. After a short incubation period, the skin is exposed to a special wavelength of ultraviolet light called UVA. Patients using PUVA are generally sun sensitive and must avoid sun exposure for a period of time after PUVA. Common side effects with PUVA include burning, aging of the skin, increased brown spots called lentigines , and an increased risk of skin cancer , including melanoma . The relative increase in skin cancer risk with PUVA treatment is controversial. PUVA treatments need to be closely monitored by a physician and discontinued when a maximum number of treatments have been reached.