Photodynamic Acne Therapy

What Is Photodynamic Acne Therapy?

Photodynamic therapy, or PDT, is a 3 step process that treats moderate to severe conditions of the skin. This is done through the use of a photosensitizing medication, Levulan, and a light source, BLU-U light, that activates the medication. PDT can be used to destroy abnormal cells that are linked to cancerous conditions or minimize pores and reduce oil glands. When targeting pores and oil glands photodynamic therapy inactivates the bacteria that triggers acne, exfoliates the skin to unclog pores, and alters the production of oil in the skin.

Photodynamic Acne Therapy San Francisco | Acne Treatment

How Does Photodynamic Acne Therapy Work?

Photodynamic acne therapy is believed to affect the oil glands in the skin, reducing the amount of oil that accumulates in the pores. When there is less oil, fewer comedones, or pimples, may develop. Additionally, the inclusion of aminolevulinic acid, or ALA, as a photosensitizing agent may destroy the bacteria that causes breakouts. This chemical also improves the regulation of skin cell shedding in the follicles, which decrease the amount of cellular debris that may clog pores in the future.

Advantages of PDT Acne Treatment

Patients appreciate that photodynamic acne therapy provides a way to:

  • Destroy the acne-causing bacteria that lives on the skin
  • Target specific skin cells and microbes, leaving healthy skin intact
  • Reduce the size and production within oil glands
  • Fade acne scars
  • Complement other acne therapies (excluding Accutane)
  • Treat coexisting conditions such as rosacea or sun damage simultaneously
  • Treat acne without oral pharmaceuticals

I really enjoy visiting Skin Med Spa! Everyone is so personable and knowledgable. I feel like I really get specialized treatment for my skin. – Samantha C.

Candidates for PDT

Photodynamic therapy may be appropriate for patients with inflammatory acne, as well as for people with severe sun damage, rough skin, and moderate to severe rosacea or precancerous lesions. Women who are pregnant and people who have been treated with isotretinoin or who have an active cold sore or skin infection need to speak with their doctor to determine an appropriate time for PDT treatment.

Photodynamic therapy is not appropriate for people with an internal defibrillator or pacemaker. Because treatment causes photosensitivity, it should be performed during a time when the skin is not tanned or exposed to the sun.

Photodynamic Therapy Treatment

Photodynamic Acne Therapy San Francisco CA

To start this 3-step therapy process our staff at SKIN Medical Spa will first apply a photosensitizer called Levulan. Levulan is made of aminolevulinic acid which is a naturally occurring substance found in your body. It can be injected into the skin or applied topically. Depending on the patient Levulan can be left on from one to several days to allow your skin to absorb the solution.

After absorption, a wavelength light source, BLU-U is used to activate the Levulan. The light source is used to target the patient’s affected tissue. During this step, patients can experience burning, tingling or warmth in the treatment area. Once the activation step is complete patients can wash the treated area and return home. Most return to work within a day or two of completing a treatment session.

What to Expect After Acne Therapy

There are minor limitations that patients must adhere to after photodynamic acne therapy. Primarily, it is necessary to stay indoors and out of the sun for 2 days after each treatment session, as the skin will remain highly photosensitive for approximately 48 hours. Exposing treated skin to sunlight or other UV light (tanning bed) poses a risk of severe burn. Sunscreen is not an adequate protective measure when the skin is so photosensitive.

After photodynamic acne therapy, the skin may appear red and may feel sunburned. After some time, slight peeling may occur. We discuss the use of topical lotions, creams, acne products, and makeup during each consultation. If you have questions about how to care for your skin after your PDT acne treatment, contact our office for assistance.

How Many PDT Treatments Will I Need?

Acne Therapy San Francisco CA

For ideal results, SKIN Medical Spa recommends a series of 4-6 treatment sessions. The number of sessions will depend on the severity of the condition. Patients can space treatment sessions about 2 to 5 weeks apart to continuously maintain results from the first session. PDT can produce a long-lasting improvement and is a very safe alternative to Accutane treatment.

How effective is this acne therapy?

Clinical studies suggest that ALA and photodynamic therapy provide promising results for people who struggle with persistent acne. Patients who have undergone a series of treatments state that they have enjoyed softer skin and fewer breakouts. Improvement may range from 50 to 75%. This is comparable to the results achieved with Accutane but without the risks associated with the oral drug therapy.

Photodynamic Acne Therapy Side Effects

Photodynamic acne therapy is considered a safe treatment but there are some side effects that come with any other medical procedure. These side effects typically subside within a few weeks and are mild in nature. Side effects include:

  • Bruising
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Infection
  • Localized redness
  • Scarring

Schedule a Consultation

To learn more about photodynamic acne therapy, schedule your consultation today. Give us a call at (415) 409-6500 to reach our office. SKIN Medical Spa serves San Francisco, CA and surrounding areas.

Call Today 415.409.6500
For information on any of our services or to schedule an appointment. We provide non-invasive cosmetic laser and skin rejuvenation treatments in a chic, modern spa setting.

We Are Here To Help…

Request an Appointment

Get Driving Directions

Hours of Operation


Skin Medical Spa
1825 Union Street Second Floor
San Francisco, CA 94123
> Directions