What is Photodynamic Therapy?
Photodynamic therapy is an advanced treatment that combines the power of light energy with photosensitizing drugs to treat certain skin problems. Specifically, the treatment uses Levulan and blue light therapy to reverse sun damage and eliminate precancerous growths.
Also known as aminolevulinic acid, Levulan occurs naturally in the body. Skin doctors administer it to treat rough, scaly patches known as actinic keratoses that can develop from years of sun exposure. The condition typically occurs on the face, ears, lips, scalp, neck, forearms or back of the hands. Actinic keratoses can develop into cancer, so skin doctors recommend removing them with photodynamic therapy.
About Photodynamic Light Therapy with Blue Light
Photodynamic therapy also incorporates the use of blue light therapy, which uses specific wavelengths of light to treat skin problems. Light travels in waves, and scientists measure these wavelengths in nanometers (nm).
The wavelengths of visible light fall between 400 and 700 nm. Light of various wavelengths appear as specific colors. Light traveling in wavelengths of 625 nm to 740 nm appears red to the naked eye, for example, and blue light wavelengths measure 435 nm to 500 nm.
At these wavelengths, light can cause specific effects on living organisms. Exposure to red light can stimulate the production of energy inside body cells, for example. Exposure to blue light can kill the bacteria that cause acne. Blue light can also selectively kill abnormal precancerous cells, like those cells that cause actinic keratoses and skin cancer.
Blue light photodynamic therapy also treats a number of skin conditions, such as acne, vitiligo, psoriasis, and rosacea. When performed by a qualified skin doctor, the treatment is quick, pain-free, safe and highly effective. Recovery is quick, so most patients can return to their normal activities within a day or two.
Photodynamic Therapy for Actinic Keratosis
Applied to the treatment area one to two hours before photodynamic therapy for actinic keratoses, Levulan “incubates” painlessly on the skin. There, sun-damaged cells absorb the medication. During this incubation period, the medication breaks down into light-sensitive molecules. A 20-minute exposure to blue light activates the light-sensitive molecules, which then destroy the abnormal cells.
Photodynamic therapy also effectively reduces the appearance of fine lines, decreases the size of pores, reduces enlarged oil glands, and lessens the effects of certain skin conditions, such as acne and rosacea. The treatment can also improve the appearance of some scars.
For best results, we often recommend undergoing treatments consisting of at least three sessions, depending on the severity of initial sun damage. To give skin time to heal, sessions usually occur at least four weeks apart. Many patients require long-term maintenance treatments to continue the beneficial effects of photodynamic therapy.
Skin doctors often recommend photodynamic therapy for actinic keratoses because it:
- Is as effective as radiation or surgery
- Is painless
- Is noninvasive
- Requires no downtime
- Is an outpatient procedure that requires no hospitalization
- Provides cumulative results over several sessions
- Will not scar or otherwise damage skin
- Is a cost-effective way to prevent the development of skin cancer
- Insurance providers often cover the cost of photodynamic therapy, although coverage depends largely on the particular plan and its benefits.
Photodynamic therapy treats other skin conditions too. Vitiligo photodynamic therapy and photodynamic therapy for other conditions involves the same process as photodynamic therapy for cancer and other conditions: apply Levulan, allow it to incubate, apply blue light. The treatment is highly effective for these conditions – psoriasis photodynamic therapy effectively clears up skin for an estimated 75 percent of patients who try it, for example. The length between treatment sessions can vary according to the specific condition being treated. For instance, patients undergoing photodynamic therapy for actinic keratoses usually have treatments spaced four weeks apart, whereas photodynamic therapy acne patients typically go in for treatments every four to six weeks.
Photodynamic Therapy Side Effects
There are almost photodynamic therapy side effects, and any adverse reactions that do occur are typically temporary. Photodynamic therapy side effects may include red, swollen, tender, and mildly bruised or blistered skin in the treatment area. These side effects usually disappear without further care in a couple of days, and they do not cause long-lasting or negative health effects.
Photodynamic Therapy Recovery
Photodynamic therapy recovery is usually uneventful for most patients. Many patients experience mild dryness and a sensation somewhat like a minor sunburn on the treated area. Sun exposure can worsen the effects, so patients should plan to stay indoors and avoid sunlight for 24 to 48 hours after the treatment.
Most patients are able to return to their normal activities 24 to 48 hours after undergoing the treatment. The level of activity depends largely on the size of the treatment area.
Skin may peel three to four days after treatment; skin will return to normal within seven days of the procedure for most patients. Peeling after photodynamic therapy usually resolves on its own and without further treatment.
For more information about Levulan photodynamic therapy or photodynamic therapy for skin cancer, schedule a consultation or leave us a message using the contact form below.