Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a versatile dermatologic treatment that can address both cosmetic and medical skin conditions, including acne, enlarged sebaceous glands (sebaceous hyperplasia), and precancerous lesions (actinic keratoses).
This guide will cover what to expect during your photodynamic therapy recovery period and the many benefits this treatment offers.
What Is Photodynamic Therapy?
Photodynamic therapy pairs aminolevulinic acid (ALA) with blue light therapy to cleanse and heal the skin. ALA is a topical photosensitizing agent, meaning that it makes skin particularly vulnerable to light and UV radiation.
At the Clinic for Dermatology & Wellness, our light source for PDT is BLU-U®, a high-intensity blue light illuminator. During the procedure, ALA is applied to the skin and “incubates” for up to 200 minutes (depending on the area being treated).
Precancerous cells and acne-causing bacteria will selectively absorb the ALA and convert it into a light-sensitive agent called protoporphyrin IX. These photosensitized cells are then targeted and destroyed by the BLU-U light source, which is applied for a precisely calibrated time of 16 minutes, 40 seconds.
Photodynamic Therapy for Actinic Keratosis
Actinic keratosis is a skin condition caused by long-term exposure to UV radiation—either from the sun or artificial sources such as tanning beds. It manifests as rough, scaly patches that may itch, burn, or sting, especially when irritated or exposed to sunlight.
Actinic keratosis commonly appears where the body is most frequently exposed to the sun, including the:
These lesions are considered precancerous, with the potential to develop into squamous cell carcinoma, a non-melanoma form of skin cancer.
While early intervention is crucial, we may be able to perform photodynamic therapy for cancerous cells if they are superficial and in the early stages of development. For deeper or later-stage skin cancer lesions, Mohs Surgery is often the more appropriate treatment option.
Recovery After Photodynamic Therapy
Although PDT preferentially targets abnormal cells and spares the surrounding healthy tissue, it can create a mild, sunburn-like reaction over the following 2 to 4 days. To protect the skin and promote healing, patients will need to avoid sunlight for the first 48 hours after their treatment.
Peeling after photodynamic therapy is also expected as the skin regenerates healthy new cells to replace the abnormal ones. This peeling can last between 3 to 7 days. It may be tempting to pick at the skin, but this can set back the healing process.
With patience (and careful adherence to all post-procedure instructions), you can enjoy the many benefits of PDT. Outside of healthier, clearer skin, photodynamic therapy can also:
- Shrink pore size
- Reduce excess oil production
- Neutralize acne-causing bacteria
- Improve skin texture
- Reduce redness and symptoms of rosacea
- Spare cosmetically sensitive areas of the face and body by preserving healthy tissue and selectively targeting abnormalities