Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) combines a topical drug, called a photosensitizer, with a special light source to treat a variety of skin disorders and has recently emerged as an effective treatment for aging skin.

Photodynamic therapy may be recommended to treat actinic keratoses (precancerous skin growths on sun-damaged areas), as well as moderate-to-severe acne, wrinkles, visible blood vessels, rosacea, certain cancers, including skin cancer, enlarged sebaceous glands, and psoriasis.

What happens during PDT?

First, your skin will be thoroughly cleansed before the photosensitizing drug is applied. This scrubbing will help the skin absorb the drug more readily. Then a clear solution called aminolevulinic acid will be applied to the entire surface of the treated skin.

The drug will need time to penetrate the skin. The recommend period of time may from 30 minutes to several hours, depending on your skin’s absorption and the type of light source that will be used. Possible light sources used include lasers, blue or red light, intense pulsed light (IPL), light emitting diodes (LEDs), or even natural sunlight.

During the procedure, you may feel a burning sensation on certain parts of your skin, which can be alleviated by cold air or fans. Afterward, it will be extremely important to protect your skin from light for 48 hours, as it will be very light-sensitive. Avoid going out in the sun during this time if you can, but if you can’t avoid being outside, wear long sleeves and pants, a brimmed hat and a scarf, and thick zinc-oxide-based sunblock.

Are there any complications from PDT?

For the first few days after treatment, you may experience skin redness, irritation, and peeling, as well as mild discomfort that feels like a sunburn. If these symptoms persist or seem severe, contact your doctor.

In addition to the mild side effects listed above, PDT can also lead to skin crusting or prolonged irritation and peeling. More serious reactions can occur in people treated for a large number of pre-cancerous lesion, because their skin is absorbing more of the drug. Complications can also arise in people who fail to protect their skin from the sun after treatment. it’s important to remember that the sun can get to the skin even on cloudy days or inside a car.

Fortunately, these complications usually go away within a week or two and don’t interfere with the treatment’s results.

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Last updated: 5/13/2022