Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)

Light Therapy with ALA

PDT is a non-invasive procedure used to treat a variety of skin conditions. It is a special treatment performed with a topical photosensitizing agent called Levulan (5-aminolevulinic acid or ALA) which is activated with a specific wavelength of light to treat pre-cancers called actinic keratoses (insurance-covered).  It can also be used to treat photodamage, acne, and rosacea (not covered by insurance). This treatment is also commonly referred to as ALA or PDT treatment, Levulan photofacial or Photodynamic Acne Therapy.

PDT combines a special topical medication called aminolevulinic acid (ALA) with light to provide treatment for or to:

  • Pre-cancerous lesions (actinic keratosis)
  • Acne
  • Rosacea
  • Sebaceous gland hyperplasia
  • Reduce or eliminates use of oral antibiotics
  • Eliminate concerns of antibiotic-resistant bacteria
  • Sun damage

How Does PDT Work?

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) in dermatology is a treatment that uses a special topical photosensitizing medication applied to the skin that is then activated by a special blue light in order to provide the desired benefit. PDT is FDA-approved to treat pre-cancerous spots called actinic keratoses. It can as well be used off-label to treat a variety of other conditions including acne, rosacea, and sun damage.  

In treating pre-cancerous actinic keratoses, the medication is preferably absorbed by the hyper-metabolic abnormal cells. The photosensitive agent is turned on when the light shines on the skin and the abnormal cells are destroyed.  

The treated area is red like a sunburn for several days and then the skin peels for about a week. During the first 48 hours after treatment the skin is still chemically sensitive to light so one must plan to stay indoors away from bright windows for that period of time.

The Advantages of PDT

The advantages of PDT include:

  • Provides a confluent more comprehensive field treatment vs spot treating pre-cancers
  • Can be repeated at the same site or different sites as needed.
  • Often improves skin texture and coloration.
  • Potentially preventive in eliminating sub-clinical pre-cancerous lesions
  • Potentially decreased risk of pre-cancers transforming into full-blown skin cancers.

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