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Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

Photodynamic therapy activates a topical drug using a light, producing a chemical reaction that reduces acne, acne scars, wrinkles and other skin conditions.

By Zeel Editorial Staff, Last updated: June 26, 2012

Treatment Basics

Regulatory approval: The photosensitizing liquid agent Levulan was approved by the FDA for photodynamic therapy in December 1999. Metvix, which is cream-based, wasn't cleared until 2004.

As you age, your skin issues change too. In your 20s, you may have acne. In your 30s and 40s, your skin will begin to show sun damage. And by the time 50 rolls around, you've likely acquired more evidence of sun damage. Photodynamic therapy (PDT) can help with all these blots.

The light-based treatment shimmers away these cosmetic and medical abnormalities, ideally leaving behind much improved skin tone. Photodynamic therapy was created in the 1990s to treat pre-cancerous cells. In 2001, PDT began to gain popularity for its skin-improving capabilities.

The treatment may clear problematic skin concerns like acne, acne scars, broken capillaries, warts, rosacea, wrinkles, sun damage, and enlarged pores. How? By activating a topical liquid (Levulan) or creamy drug (Metvix) with light, spurring a chemical reaction that destroys damaged skin, promotes collagen growth, and shrinks oil glands by destroying pore-dwelling bacteria.

What It's Good For

Photodynamic therapy activates a topical drug using a light, producing a chemical reaction that reduces acne, acne scars, broken capillaries, rosacea, wrinkles, warts, psoriasis, sun damage, and enlarged oil glands. PDT can be used to treat skin on the face, scalp, back, hands, arms, legs, feet, chest, and back.

Who it works for: PDT is best for light-skinned individuals, as it tends to brown or discolor darker skin tones. PDT makes use of several laser and non-laser light sources, ranging from 400 to 800 nm wavelengths. Your physician will recommend the right red or blue light-emitting diode (LED), intense pulsed light (IPL), or pulsed dye laser for your PDT treatment.

Red lights may be best for oily skin, while intense pulsed light can access several colors and wavelengths, which can improve a variety of pigment problems from sun damage to broken capillaries.

Can either part of the duo destroy abnormal cells alone? Sure -- red and blue light therapy can be used singularly to improve skin, but they are more when used effective together with the topical photosensitizer.

Recommended age range: PDT is not approved for use in children under the age of eight.

When will I see results?: It could take two to five treatment sessions, spaced four to six weeks apart, to see the improvement you really want.

How long it lasts: Photodynamic therapy can improve skin quality for a year or more if you follow the doctor's orders.

Key benefits of Photodynamic therapy (PDT): PDT can improve the tone and texture of sun-damaged skin, reduce pore size, and smooth shallow acne scars. It can also reduce acne inflammation by up to 70% and reduce moderate to severe breakouts.

Successful PDT will leave skin softer, healthier, and more evenly toned. The treatment is gentler than deep chemical peels and some aggressive skin lasers, and can be used at the same time as other skin aids like topical retinoids and salicylic acid.

Licensed uses: Currently, the FDA has approved two photosensitizing drugs for skin use: Levulan and Metvix. These topical drugs are light-activated. The photosensitizing agent Levulan was approved by the FDA for photodynamic therapy in December 1999. Metvix wasn't cleared until 2004.

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