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How Photodynamic Therapy Can Help Conquer Acne

Photodynamic light therapy (PDT) is clinically proven to reduce acne, and different methods are flexible enough to address both mild and severe cases.

Virtually everyone has experienced the untimely appearance of a pimple or two, inevitably right before a crucial job interview or a big date. Few things are as frustrating or embarrassing, and it can feel like everyone is staring at your glaring whitehead or throbbing red cyst until the untimely acne subsides.

Some people consider acne a problem only for teenagers, but acne occurs in adults as well. When a person has ongoing, moderate or severe acne for months or even years, the frustration and embarrassment can develop into low self-esteem and depression.

“Many people who have acne say that their acne makes them feel bad about themselves,” according to experts at Gardens Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery Center. “Because of their acne, they do not want to be with friends. They miss school and work… Many studies have found that teens who believe that they have ‘bad’ acne were likely to think about committing suicide.”

People who suffer from persistent acne may think they have to let acne “run its course," dealing with this frustrating condition for years. Perhaps they seek out various treatments: a wash or lotion that worked for a friend or a product they saw advertised on their social media feeds. However, these products often come at a high cost and without much success.

Luckily, no matter how severe the acne or how long a person has suffered with this frustrating and even debilitating skin condition, there is hope.

“Virtually every case of acne can be successfully treated,” the pros at Gardens Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery Center say. “This does not mean that every acne treatment works for everyone who has acne. But it does mean that virtually every case of acne can be controlled.”

The first step to healing from acne is finding a professional dermatologist who can consult with you to find the right treatment.

One type of treatment clinically proven to reduce acne is called photodynamic light therapy (PDT). There are two methods of using PDT to treat acne. The first, best for mild to moderate acne, involves blue light therapy twice a week for four weeks. It reduces the number of acne-causing bacteria and also reduces inflammation on acne-prone skin.

The second method is used to treat more severe acne. Because it involves a light-activated drug and a light source that help conquer acne by shrinking or destroying the sebaceous oil glands that secrete sebum and can clog the skin’s pores, causing acne. Because of the seriousness of the procedure and the downtime involved, this type of photodynamic therapy is usually only recommended for moderate to severe acne.

How does it work?

Photodynamic therapy involves three steps:

  1. The application of a photosensitizing agent or a cream or liquid that is activated by light exposure
  2. The incubation period or a period of time (up to three hours — the longer the better) to allow the photosensitizing agent to absorb into the skin and sebaceous glands
  3. Light activation, when red or blue light (or lasers or pulsed dye lights) is shone on the skin to activate the agent, kill acne bacteria and shrink oil glands

Dermatologists usually recommend the therapy be administered 3-5 times at 2-4 week intervals for the best results.

What are the side effects?

PDT can be painful and cause temporary but unpleasant side effects. Depending on the photosensitizing agent used, the treatment can cause pain, burning, redness, swelling, itching and peeling of the skin in the days and weeks following the treatment. For patients with dark skin tones, the procedure can also cause hyperpigmentation (skin darkening) that can last a few weeks after the procedure.

Patients who undergo PDT must stay out of the sun and even away from bright light indoors for several days after the treatment.

Despite the side effects, many patients who undergo PDT say the drastic improvement to their skin was worth the pain and discomfort caused by the treatment.

Does it really get rid of acne?

Photodynamic therapy has been performed for several years, and according to, results from studies on PDT “point toward an average reduction in inflammatory acne of about 60 percent after three treatments.”

In 2016, a systematic review was published evaluating all clinical studies performed on PDT, with reviewers concluding the therapy is effective, even for severe cases of acne, and works on body acne, as well.

Ready to learn more? You can find out if PDT is the right treatment for you by contacting Gardens Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery Center to ask for more information and make an appointment.

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