Photodynamic Therapy
Photodynamic Therapy

What is Photodynamic Therapy?

Now’s the time to manage your skin damage!

Topically applied Levulan Kerastick [20% aminolevulinic acid (ALA) HCl topical solution] or Ameluz (10% ALA) plus blue or red light illumination using the BLU-U Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) Illuminator (or similar illuminator) is an in-office, FDA-approved / indicated treatment for actinic keratoses of the face and scalp. Actinic keratoses (AKs) are smooth or rough-textured dry skin spots that can eventually become skin cancer. It is important to treat AKs because there is no way to tell when or which lesions will progress to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second most common form of skin cancer. So, now’s the time to manage your skin damage!

Levulan Kerastick (or Ameluz /ALA) and BLU-U PDT (or red light PDT) is a 2-part treatment that uses a light activated topically applied drug therapy to destroy AKs.

How does Photodynamic Therapy work?

Levulan Kerastick topical solution (or Ameluz / ALA) is applied to and absorbed by AKs, and subsequently converted to a photosensitizing chemical that makes the cells extremely sensitive to light. When the AK cells are exposed to the BLU-U Blue Light Illuminator or other similar light emitting illuminator, a photochemical-induced cytotoxic reaction occurs which destroys the AK cells.

The 2-part treatment offers the following conveniences:

  • No prescription to fill
  • No daily medication to remember
  • Treatment is administered by a qualified healthcare professional

Levulan Kerastick (or Ameluz/ALA) PDT can also fit your lifestyle:

The 2-part office treatment is completed within one day

  • Low downtime*
  • High ratings for cosmetic response
  • No scarring reported to date (per manufacturer)

*Patients treated with Levulan Kerastick (Ameluz / ALA) and BLU-U or red light PDT should avoid exposure of the photosensitized lesions to sunlight or prolonged or intense light for at least 40 hours.

Ask us if Levulan Kerastick (Ameluz/ALA) PDT is right for you!

For more information about photodynamic therapy for actinic keratoses, download our PDT Informed Consent & Patient Instructions handout.

What kind of treatment is Photodynamic Therapy?

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) is a medical treatment that uses a light source to activate a topically applied photosensitizing drug (Levulan Kerastick / Ameluz / ALA). Levulan / Ameluz / ALA PDT selectively targets and destroys pre-cancerous and sun-damaged skin cells via activation of naturally occurring reactive oxygen. New, healthy, more youthful appearing skin re-populate the treated areas. This minor, out-patient procedure is performed in an office environment.

PDT requires three steps.

  • First, a light sensitizing drug (photosensitizer) is applied to the target skin areas. 
  • Second, there is an incubation period of up to one or two hours. 
  • And 3rd, the target skin areas are then exposed to a light or laser source which then activates the photosensitizing medication.

What is Photodynamic Therapy used for?

Since FDA-approval for actinic keratoses in 2000, PDT has also been used “off-label” for a variety other skin conditions / problems, including:  acne, rosacea, oily skin, enlarged oil (sebaceous) glands, sun damage / age spots / wrinkles, skin rejuvenation (anti-aging), stubborn warts, hidradenitis suppurativa, psoriasis, and other skin conditions.

Does PDT make me permanently more sensitive to light?

No, PDT causes a temporary sensitivity to light, including natural sunlight and intense indoor lights; but only where the photosensitizer was applied. The light sensitivity typically resolves within 40 hours or less. Avoid sun (both directly and indirectly (i.e. windows) and intense light to the treated areas for the rest of the treatment day and the following day.

How is Photodynamic Therapy used to treat the skin?

PDT using Levulan / Ameluz (5-aminolevulinic acid / ALA) and a proprietary blue or red light, respectively is FDA approved for the treatment of skin pre-cancers called actinic keratoses (i.e. rough scaly spots generally on sun exposed skin of fair skin types.)

PDT is also known as “ALA PDT treatment” or “Super Blue Light”. Intense pulsed light (IPL) activated Levulan / Ameluz (ALA), called a “super photofacial” is not only effective for AKs, but also for age-related sun/skin damage. PDT has also been shown to help decrease the appearance of pores, shrink oil glands, treat stubborn acne, rosacea, and help improve the appearance of small superficial acne scars.

What is Aminolevulinic acid?

5-aminolevulinic acid, also called Levulan, Ameluz or ALA is a naturally occurring protein in all of us, that is found in small quantities as part of our normal heme (blood) synthesis pathway. Larger quantities of ALA are known to increase sensitivity to certain wavelengths of light.

How does Photodynamic Therapy work?

Levulan / Ameluz / ALA is preferentially absorbed by and hence targets abnormal cells for destruction by photodynamic therapy generated reactive oxygen. Normal skin cells are relatively preserved; thus, minimizing side effects. PDT eliminates a significant majority of actinic keratoses in most. After healing from Levulan / Ameluz / ALA PDT, re-examination may be recommended to evaluate for any residual lesions that may need additional treatment or biopsy.

Cryosurgery (freezing with liquid nitrogen) only treats the visible AKs; thereby, leaving subclinical (incipient or not yet visible) AKs untreated. PDT allows for field or blanket treatment of an entire area of sun damage; thus, reducing the risk that undetected pre-skin cancer cells will go untreated.

Photodynamic therapy is a safe, effective, FDA-approved in-office procedure.

What is a typical skin Photodynamic Therapy session like?

After informed consent and thorough cleansing of your skin areas to be treated to allow optimum penetration, the photosensitizer liquid Levulan or Ameluz or other ALA is applied topically to the entire area to be treated (e.g. the entire face or scalp.)

After the photosensitizer dries for a few minutes, incubation is necessary. Up to 60 to 90 minutes of incubation time in a waiting room is usual. Some areas, such as your chest, back and particularly forearms and legs may require longer incubation times for better results. Results vary by individual and treatment location.

After incubation, you are brought back into the light source room and provided protective eyewear to be worn during the treatment. After proper positioning, the light source is turned on and set to 17 minutes of exposure time. During which time, activation of the medication occurs. Some patients may experience warmth, tingling or burning during the treatment.

The treatment area is then washed off and sunscreen applied before leaving. After-care instructions are provided and a follow-up visit is scheduled.

How much improvement can I expect?

Individual results vary from minimal to significant improvement.

Usually, patients with severe sun damaged skin manifested by AKs, texture and skin tone changes including mottled pigmentation, dull or sallow skin, and skin laxity may expect good to excellent improvement with PDT. Large pores, non-pitted acne scars, and active acne may also improve.

Multiple treatment sessions may be required to see optimal improvement. Follow all instructions and recommendations for best results.

How long does a skin Photodynamic Therapy procedure take?

You are generally in the medical office for several hours (average 2 hours) on the day of your Photodynamic Therapy. Facial PDT takes 10 minutes to apply the medication, ~60 minutes to allow proper skin incubation, and ~17 minutes for light application. Other areas may require longer incubation times; you may leave the office (so long as you avoid sunlight) and come back when it is time for the light activation.

Is skin Photodynamic Therapy only for pre-cancerous skin growths (AKs)?

No, PDT is used to treat many conditions in addition to pre-cancerous AKs, including acne, rosacea, sebaceous hyperplasia (enlarged oil glands), psoriasis, fine wrinkles and other cosmetic indications. PDT is not for malignant melanoma, invasive skin cancers, moles or birthmarks.

What are the advantages with PDT for treating skin pre-cancers?

The greatest advantage of PDT is the ability to selectively treat an entire area of skin damage and pre-cancers (i.e. blanket or field treatment). Additionally, PDT demonstrates secondary cosmetic benefits, improving appearance, tone, color, and enhanced skin texture.

In several studies, patients preferred PDT for ease of use and recovery versus alternative treatment chemotherapy creams like 5-fluorouracil (Efudex). PDT side effects may be milder with less down time than 5-fluorouracil.

Cryotherapy combined with PDT (2-6 weeks later) may be more effective than cryosurgery alone, especially in those with extensive sun damage and AKs. Some patients are unable to tolerate the prolonged treatment required with fluorouracil (Efudex) or imiquimod (Aldara / Zyclara) because of irritation, redness, and possible downtime with these topical creams.

PDT is easy, essentially painless, non-invasive (no needles nor surgery) and not only reduces pre-cancerous sun damage, but also enhances cosmesis.

How many treatments of Photodynamic Therapy will I need?

Most patients benefit from 1 to 3 PDT treatments followed by periodic maintenance or touch up treatments. Faces respond faster requiring fewer treatments; whereas, arms and legs may be more resistant, necessitating more treatments.

Can I remove my moles or birthmarks using Photodynamic Therapy?

No, photodynamic therapy is not for mole or birthmark removal. Moles are usually removed by standard or traditional scalpel surgery.

Am I a good candidate for Photodynamic Therapy?

The best candidates for PDT may be those with fair skin and sun damage.

You may not be a good candidate for PDT if you have darker skin that tends to turn brown or discolor with exposure to light or laser treatments. You also may not be a good candidate for PDT if you are very sensitive to light, burn extremely easily, are unable to avoid sunlight for the required 40 hours, or take medications that make you sensitive to blue or red light therapies.

What if I have other health issues?

Contraindications to PDT include pregnancy, porphyria, lupus or any other medications or conditions that promote hypersensitivity to porphyrins (including Levulan, Ameluz or ALA) or blue light therapy; or if you have had a previous adverse reaction to PDT.

An oral anti-viral medication (cold sore prevention pill) may be prescribed if you have frequent oral cold sores (herpes virus infections on your face). Chronic conditions that may affect healing, including chronic infections, such as hepatitis or HIV / AIDs may be additional contraindications.

Generally, other health issues are not contraindications to PDT.

What are alternatives for Photodynamic Therapy?

Alternative or complementary treatments to PDT vary depending upon the condition being treated and other factors.

For actinic keratoses (AKs), treatment options include, but are not limited to: cryosurgery (cryotherapy), surgical removal, chemical or laser peeling, or topical medicines, such as fluorouracil (Efudex), imiquimod (Aldara / Zyclara), and diclofenac (Solaraze).

For acne, complementary and / or alternatives to blue light or PDT include: oral and topical anti-acne medications, facials, peels and lasers or intense pulsed light (IPL / photofacial), among other treatments.

What about insurance coverage and costs?

Photodynamic therapy for skin actinic keratoses of the face and scalp is a covered insurance benefit of Medicare and most other insurances. Medicare Advantage Plans may have different coverage rules than traditional / standard Medicare.

Other uses or body locations are generally not covered benefits. However, insurance benefits and reimbursement vary by insurance carrier and plan.

How do I prepare for my Photodynamic Therapy procedure?

No special preparation is required for most patients.

Stop using any topical retinoids (e.g. Differin, Epiduo, Retin-A, Tazorac) for at least several days to a week before PDT. According to the manufacturer, there have been no consistent adverse reactions to concomitant photosensitizing antibiotic use or other medications.

Wash and shave (if applicable) the area/s to be treated. Avoid make-up, moisturizer and sunscreen on the day of treatment. (Also, practice sun protection of the areas to be treated for at least one to two weeks prior the day of treatment.) Eat your regular diet and take all of your regular daily medications. Bring a wide brimmed hat and UVA & UVB SPF 30 or > sunscreen with you on the day of treatment.

Wear comfortable casual protective clothes for the sites to be treated. Bring gloves or a long sleeve shirt if having hands or forearms treated.

You do not need a driver unless you are planning on taking a sedative.

Since you may be at the office for a couple of hours, you may want to bring along water and reading material or an iphone / ipad to help pass the time during your PDT incubation period.

How is recovery?

Recovery is relatively easy and uneventful for 95% or more of patients. Most patients have a faint to mild sunburn-like reaction associated with mild dryness of the treated area/s. A small percent of patients may experience a more intense reaction. Some of these patients may have had inadvertent sun exposure for only a minute or two during the immediate post treatment period promoting a more severe reaction. Remember to avoid all sun exposure for 40 hours after photodynamic therapy. Otherwise, you may resume all normal indoor activities immediately. After 40 hours, you may resume outdoor activities with proper sun protection.

Can I return to work or school?

Most patients are able to return to work or school 40 hours or more after PDT, when the extreme photosensitivity has diminished.

How do I take care of my treatment area after PDT?

Please refer to our PDT Informed Consent / After-Care Instructions handout. You will be asked to go home and stay indoors for the rest of the day and the following day and wear an SPF 30 or > sunscreen daily until healed.

Keep the area cool with frozen gel or ice packs as instructed. Cleanse with a mild, gentle cleanser (e.g. Aquanil) twice daily. (Avoid harsh or abrasive cleansers.) Avoid picking / peeling and scrubbing. A dilute vinegar solution may be recommended for any crusting if present. Use a moisturizing cream (e.g. Vanicream) or Aquaphor as needed for dryness. Avoid make-up, hot tubs, pools and spas until healed. Topical antibiotics and/or hydrocortisone cream / ointment may be recommended. OTC ibuprofen or acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be taken for any discomfort. OTC anti-histamines may be taken for any healing-associated itching.

Notify us of any signs or symptoms of infection (fever, increasing pain), cold sore outbreaks, excessive swelling or any other adverse reactions.

What is the chance that my skin pre-cancers will recur?

PDT clearance rates are reported as high as 60-90% with even one treatment. Although PDT is very effective, new and recurrent AKs will continue to occur. Underlying layers of sun damage from prior years continually rise to the surface over time. Thus, additional successive or periodic treatments are recommended due to the ongoing development of new and recurrent AKs.

There are no treatments for AKs that provide an indefinite or 100% cure. Because some AKs will develop into dangerous squamous cell skin carcinomas; ongoing, periodic dermatologic evaluation and treatment is recommended.

Patients should perform monthly self skin exams and any changing or new growth should be promptly evaluated by one of our dermatologists.

Contact us at or call us at (702) 243-6400 to schedule a skin examination or PDT consultation.

Why Choose Us
At Strimling Dermatology, Laser & Vein Institute, we are committed to providing the highest quality, personalized care in a safe, friendly, caring, respectful and state-of-the-art environment; as we ourselves would want to be treated.
We respect your time and endeavor to provide prompt appointments with sufficient time to listen to your concerns, answer your questions and help you understand your condition and management or treatment options.
Services are provided or supervised by our highly experienced, board-certified dermatologists. With over 25 years experience, our “Award Winning Cosmetic Surgeon” Dr. Robert Strimling, MD is one of the most experienced cosmetic dermatologists in Las Vegas. Our dermatologists have been selected or voted “Best Dermatologists” in Las Vegas and nationally many times.
From Las Vegas or out-of-town, our patients come from all walks of life. Other physicians, CEOs, celebrities, politicians and others have sought our services.
All patients are welcome, including those without insurance. Medicare and most insurances are accepted.
We are appreciative and grateful for all our patients who entrust us with their care. Thank you!
Contact us at or text or call (702) 243-6400 to schedule your personalized consultation.