Photodynamic Therapy (PDT or Blue Light Therapy)

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What is a typical skin PDT session like?

You may be given a written procedure consent form to read and sign before your first treatment. The medical staff may take some pretreatment photography prior to applying the photosensitizer medication.

In the treatment room, you may be sitting or comfortably lying back on a table. Often a thorough cleansing of the face is done using alcohol and or acetone to degrease the skin. The less oil on the skin, the more readily the skin will absorb the applied topical medication.

The photosensitizer liquid or cream is applied topically to the whole area being treated (such as the entire face, scalp, back of the hands, back part of the forearms, legs, feet, scalp, chest, or back).

The medication is allowed to air dry for a few minutes, and then you will wait anywhere from 30-60 minutes for the incubation time. Some areas such as chest, back, and particularly forearms and legs require longer incubation times of two to 18 hours, depending on skin pigmentation and anatomical site. PDT requires physician adjustments for specific individualized incubation times and treatment durations.

After the proper incubation time, you are exposed to the light source. There may be sensations of warmth, tingling, heat, or burning in some patients. A fan can be used to help cool off during the treatment. The treatment area is then washed off and sunscreen applied. Instructions are given on how to care for the skin at home.

Preparing for blue-light activation
Preparing for blue-light activation
Using a fan to cool off during blue-light activation
Using a fan to cool off during blue-light activation
Blue-light activation
Blue-light activation

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/19/2016

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