Photodynamic Therapy For Acne: Does It Work?

In photodynamic therapy for acne, drugs called "photosensitizers" are used to make a light-based acne treatment work more effectively.
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Photodynamic Therapy for acne treatment
It’s a type of light therapy, and more and more people are using it to treat acne.

Photodynamic therapy for acne (PDT) is a noninvasive treatment that uses light along with an agent called 5-aminolevulinic acid to make the cells more sensitive to light (ALA). When you put the photosensitizing agent on your skin, it makes your skin more sensitive to light.

After putting on the photosensitizing agent, acne light treatment is performed. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved PDT to treat cancer. It is also often used to treat actinic keratosis, which is rough, scaly skin caused by long-term sun exposure.

It is now being looked at as a way to treat acne that is safe and works.

How Does Photodynamic Therapy For Acne Work?

People think that photodynamic therapy for acne works by making the oil glands in the skin shrink. This can reduce the amount of oil in the pores, making comedones less likely to form. This is good news for people with moderate to severe acne that doesn’t clear up well with traditional topical treatments.

ALA-PDT may also kill the bacteria that cause acne and help dead skin cells shed normally from the follicle. It also seems to improve the texture of the skin as a whole and may help heal acne scars.

Early trials of photodynamic therapy involved a lot of people who said they were in moderate to severe pain. But in modern treatments, gel is put on the skin for a shorter amount of time. Most patients now say they feel a little bit uncomfortable, like they have a slight sunburn.

Most short-contact photodynamic therapy treatments start with microdermabrasion, which removes dead skin cells from the surface of the skin and makes it easier for ALA to get into the skin. The next step is to put the photosensitizing agent (ALA) on the skin. After that, the skin is treated right away with light for 30–60 minutes.

In another method, the skin is treated with blue light for about 16 minutes after the ALA has been left on for an hour. Both treatments have been shown to work just as well, but immediate light therapy is said to be much less painful.

Usually, two or more treatments are done at least a few weeks apart. How many treatments you need depends on how bad your acne is. Some people may see changes after the first treatment. Photodynamic therapy can be used with other acne treatments like retinoids or salicylic acid that are put on the skin.

Advantages of PDT over Standard Acne Medications

When used together, photodynamic therapy for acne works better than oral antibiotics and topical medicines like Retin-A, Tazorac, Benzoyl Peroxide, etc. In severe cases, acne lesions that are red and swollen may need an initial dose of an antibiotic pill, but the photodynamic therapy procedure itself is what works.

With a short series of photodynamic acne treatments, your skin can be mostly clear for up to 18 months, and if you keep getting treatments when you need them, your skin may always look normal. Most of the time, the best results come from two or three treatments spaced out by two to three weeks.

A photodynamic therapy for acne series will also help even out the texture of your skin and reduce acne scars to some degree. By taking care of acne early on, you can stop many of the scars from happening. Acne that isn’t too bad might not need this level of care, and Blue Light alone might be enough to clear it up quickly.

Photodynamic Acne Treatment Procedure

The clear, painless solution of Levulan is put on your skin and left there for 15–60 minutes. Then, a certain wavelength of light called BLU-U or a pulsed laser, is used to turn it on. This second step will take between eight and ten minutes.

Levulan is taken up by active cells like the sebaceous glands that cause acne. This makes the acne cells more sensitive to light. The word “photodynamic therapy” comes from the way the solution and light work together. Levulan will also work on sebaceous hyperplasia, which are small, harmless bumps (1-3 mm) under the skin, and acne rosacea papules.

A big part of the treatment plan is getting blackheads and acne pustules removed by a doctor. This procedure will help your skin get better faster by getting rid of hardened sebum and infected debris from the pores. If your acne is very bad, Dr. Sedgh may give you oral antibiotics to reduce the pain of inflammation before your preparatory and photodynamic therapy for acne procedures.


  • Rapid treatment of acne spots all over the face that don’t leave scars or need to be cut out. 
  • No effects on the whole body. 
  • reduces skin oiliness and reduces the size of pores. 
  • The overall skin texture has gotten better.


Your skin will be red and peel (and crust over if you have skin cancer) for a few days after the treatment. Most of the time, the first day or two are the worst. Our office has pressed mineral base powder that will cover most of the redness. You can’t go out into the sun for at least 24 hours after photodynamic therapy for acne, so you should stay inside the day after your treatment.

Day of Treatment Recommendations and Requirements

When you leave the office, a wide-brimmed hat or cap with a wide bill will give you the extra protection you need. Bring one to your appointment with you. An umbrella will also keep the sun off of you. Your skin will be very sensitive to sunlight, so it’s important to stay out of it as much as possible right after treatment.

Do not use exfoliants or wash your skin very hard on the day of your treatment, either before or after.


The results of using ALA-PDT to treat acne look good. Some studies have shown that acne scars soften and fade, acne breakouts get better, and the texture of the skin gets better. A few people have even said that their acne got better by 50%–75%. photodynamic therapy for acne can be used to treat moderate to severe cystic acne, and the results may be similar to those of the acne drug isotretinoin, which used to be called Accutane.

Possible Side Effects

Short-contact photodynamic therapy for acne can cause the treated area to turn red and/or peel, which is similar to what happens when you get a sunburn. Most of the time, the burn is mild and goes away quickly.

Photodynamic therapy for acne, on the other hand, can cost more than regular acne treatments and are often not covered by insurance. But long-term treatments like isotretinoin, which are usually given for severe acne, have serious side effects that short-term treatments like ALA-PDT do not. Photodynamic therapy for acne could be a good alternative to medications that are taken all over the body.


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