Erasing Sun Damage
Millions of people suffer from sun damage with excessive sun exposure. Brown spots are one of the most common reasons patients present to an aesthetic clinic. In addition, patients present with texture irregularities, concerns with precancerous lesions and skin cancer. In dermatology, actinic keratosis and superficial skin cancers are the most popular conditions treated with aminolevulinic acid (ALA).
Photodynamic therapy, (PDT), was originally approved by the FDA to treat actinic keratosis and early stages of the most common types of skin cancer (basal and squamous cell carcinoma). It is proving to successfully treat a variety of medical and cosmetic skin conditions like sun damage. Over the past years PDT treatments have become more refined and now provide a safe and effective, non-invasive treatment option for skin rejuvenation.
PDT is a simple office procedure where a chemical called aminolevulinic acid is applied to the skin to be treated. The ALA is applied to the skin after degreasing and exfoliation. It is usually left on the skin for 30 minutes to several hours after application depending on the severity and type of skin condition.
The ALA is absorbed by rapidly growing damaged skin cells such as actinic keratosis (AK). During the incubation time, there is no discomfort of heat or burning sensation. The ALA concentrates in the rapidly growing, sun damaged cells. After the incubation period, a laser or light source is used to activate the ALA. The damaged cells that have absorbed the ALA are destroyed by the light or laser energy. Several studies have shown dramatic and long-term improvement in inflammatory acne lesions due to absorption of the ALA in hair follicles and oil glands as well with PDT.
A mild stinging or burning sensation may be experienced when the laser of light source activates the ALA. Moderate redness that feels like a mild to moderate sunburn can be expected for up to 7 days, depending on the case.
With the advancements in the use of aminolevulenic acid, a photosensitizing agent combined with a laser or light source (ALA-PDT), cosmetic application results in improvement of long-term sun damage in patients. Large areas such as face, neck, chest, arms, and legs and back can be treated safely. All skin types can be treated with ALA-PDT. In addition to treating obvious areas of concern, cosmetic benefits have been observed in the surrounding skin. Patients can expect to experience improvement in the overall appearance of the skin including decreased redness, brown spots, known as sunspots of freckles, reduction in fine lines and improvement in skin texture. One application shows significant improvement, but two may be required for optimal results.
ALA-PDT is an excellent option for those who accumulated excessive sun over the years and desire healthy - more youthful appearing skin. It is becoming a popular way to erase sun damage while erasing some superficial skin cancers.