Aminolevulinic Acid for Acne
Aminolevulinic acid is categorized as a photosensitizing agent, which is a substance that makes skin more sensitive to light, explains MedlinePlus. Used by doctors as the brand Levulan Kerastick in a procedure called photodynamic therapy, aminolevulinic acid treats a skin disorder that can lead to skin cancer. Many dermatologists also use it for treating acne.
How It Works
When aminolevulinic acid is applied to skin, the body converts it to a potent photosensitizer. Used in conjunction with special blue light, aminolevulinic acid can eliminate actinic keratoses, small crusty bumps on or under the skin that develop from exposure to sunlight and can turn into skin cancer, according to MedlinePlus. A similar procedure is effective for acne treatment.
In a study published in the "Journal of Investigative Dermatology" in 2000, participants with inflammatory acne on the back were treated with aminolevulinic acid plus red light. These 22 individuals experienced significant clearance of acne in the treated areas for at least 10 weeks after one treatment, and at least 20 weeks after multiple treatments. The therapy also eliminated excretion of sebum, the skin oil produced by the sebaceous glands, for several weeks and reduced it for 20 weeks after the therapy.
Types of Light
Doctors began replacing the red light with a special blue light for acne treatment, due to severe damage to sebaceous glands and significant side effects associated with the red light therapy, as noted by research published in the August 2003 issue of the "Journal of Drugs in Dermatology." Other lights also can be used, such as ClearLight or intense pulsed light. In this study, Blu-U light combined with aminolevulinic acid pre-treatment showed effectiveness at treating mild to moderate inflammatory acne, and achieved better results in certain measurements than Blu-U light without the aminolevulinic acid.
A photodynamic procedure for acne treatment begins with application of Levulan to your skin at the dermatologist's office, explains Beverly Hills Dermatology. The aminolevulinic acid is allowed to sink into pimples, cysts and overactive sebaceous glands for up to 60 minutes. Afterward, you're placed under Blu-U or ClearLight. The Total Dermatology website notes that Omnilux Red Light is an alternate treatment at their clinic, used for driving Levulan further into acne blemishes.
Because aminolevulinic acid causes photosensitivity, you'll be very sensitive to sunlight and even bright indoor light after treatment. Beverly Hills Dermatology only schedules these treatments late in the day so patients can leave when it's dark. Additionally, you must stay out of the sun for 48 hours after the treatment. If you follow these instructions, your side effects will probably only be mild pinkness and flaking for up to three days. Going into sunlight soon after photodynamic therapy can cause significant redness, burning and peeling.
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