A Guide for Photodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic therapy is a versatile laser treatment used for acne, wrinkles, and even precancerous lesions on the skin. At WellMedica in Reston, Virginia, photodynamic therapy can address a broad range of medical conditions while also helping our patients achieve smoother, brighter, healthier skin. 

Here, we’ll provide a guide for photodynamic therapy to help you learn more about this time-tested treatment and how it may help you overcome stubborn skin conditions. 

What is Photodynamic Therapy?

Photodynamic therapy, or PDT, is a two-stage laser treatment that dramatically improves various skin conditions, including acne, wrinkles, and psoriasis. It uses a photo-sensitizing agent called Levulan and laser technology to eradicate targeted skin cells. While it’s not widely used to treat cancer today, photodynamic therapy can be used to destroy pre-cancerous cells or thin cancerous cells. 

At WellMedica, we use photodynamic therapy to help our patients overcome various skin conditions and achieve revitalized skin. 

How Does Photodynamic Therapy Work?

Photodynamic therapy works by combining a photosensitizer and a specific wavelength of light energy. The photosensitizer is Levulan, also known as aminolevulinic acid or ALA. It’s applied directly to the skin and activated by a particular wavelength of light. 

Once the light wavelength reaches the photosensitizer, it triggers the production of a reactive oxygen molecule that kills nearby cells. This process makes photodynamic therapy effective against inflammatory skin conditions and some forms of cancer. 

About a week after your PDT session, your body begins to shed the damaged skin, leaving behind new, healthy skin cells. 

What is Photodynamic Therapy Used For?

Photodynamic therapy is used to treat a broad range of medical concerns. With the ability to resolve inflammation and eradicate damaged cells, it’s a good option for:


Photodynamic therapy can treat acne in Reston. The light energy, in combination with the photosensitizer and oxygen, destroys bacteria and acne cells. This process can minimize current acne lesions while preventing future breakouts.

PDT can also benefit acne-prone skin by shrinking the skin’s sebaceous glands, leading to less sebum production. In excess, Sebum is an oily substance that can combine with dead skin cells, clog your pores, and trigger acne. 

Photodynamic therapy is often the most effective for inflammatory acne. In one study, people who underwent PDT had a 68% decrease in inflammatory acne lesions after 12 weeks. 

For our Reston patients, we typically suggest using PDT in combination with other acne treatments and skincare products for maximum effectiveness.

Wrinkles, Hyperpigmentation, and Sun Damage

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) can be used as a rejuvenating treatment for signs of aging, like wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. By eliminating damaged skin and promoting skin cell regeneration, PDT can give you a brighter, smoother, younger-looking appearance. 

Sun damage is a primary cause of premature skin aging. PDT helps restore sun-damaged skin by eradicating cells damaged by UV radiation. Patients with significant sun damage experience a notable improvement in the skin’s uniformity, texture, tone, and general appearance after PDT. 

Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratosis (AK) is a scaly, rough patch or bump on the skin’s outermost layer. Though common, actinic keratoses can diminish the appearance of youthful, healthy skin. Actinic keratoses can harden over time, eventually developing a wart-like exterior. Additionally, in about 10% of cases, actinic keratosis progresses into skin cancer within two years. 

Photodynamic therapy is a common treatment for actinic keratosis. It eliminates the affected skin cells, leaving behind healthy skin. Compared to other actinic keratosis treatments, like liquid nitrogen, PDT is often considered more accessible and practical (especially for people with multiple AK lesions). 

Some actinic keratoses are too thick to be effectively treated with photodynamic therapy. If you are interested in PDT treatment, it is best to consult with your physician in Reston, who can evaluate whether the treatment is suitable for your needs. 


Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition that causes red, scaly, and itchy patches of skin, most often on the elbows, knees, scalp, abdomen, and back. With psoriasis, skin cells accumulate quickly, triggering a skin rash. This condition is thought to result from the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy skin cells. 

Photodynamic therapy can help treat psoriasis lesions by destroying the damaged, accumulated skin cells. This causes the scaly skin to gradually flake away, leaving behind smooth, healthy skin. Similar to acne, PDT for psoriasis is generally the most successful when it’s combined with medications and other therapies to manage the condition. 

Skin Cancer

As mentioned earlier in this article, photodynamic therapy isn’t one of today’s most widely used cancer treatments. However, some treatment centers still offer it, and it’s commonly used for pre-cancers of the skin. 

PDT works for precancerous skin by targeting and eliminating abnormal cells in the affected area. The photosensitizing agent can be applied directly to the area of the skin with suspicious cells. Compared to other treatments for pre-cancer of the skin, PDT is minimally invasive, poses little risk of long-term adverse effects, and causes little to no scarring. 

Research is being conducted to explore the use of photodynamic therapy for treating other types of cancer that can be targeted with light-based energy. Examples include malignant pleural mesothelioma and mycosis fungoides, a form of skin lymphoma. Some physicians currently use PDT for these cancers, among other medical conditions, although it hasn’t yet been FDA-approved for these uses. 

How to Prepare for Your PDT Appointment

If your Reston physician determines that PDT is right for you, you’ll need to follow the following steps on the day of your treatment session before heading to your appointment.

  1. Cleanse the treatment area thoroughly with soap and water. Do not apply lotions, creams, serums, or makeup. 
  2. Wear comfortable, casual clothing that can easily cover the treatment area. For example, bring a comfortable scarf if you’re undergoing facial PDT. 
  3. Eat your regular meals and take medications as usual unless otherwise advised by your physician. 

Photodynamic Therapy Recovery Period

While most people can return to normal activities right after photodynamic therapy, it’s essential to protect your skin adequately after the treatment. Doing so will ensure the best possible results from PDT while preventing skin irritation. 

Light Exposure

Stay indoors in the first 48 hours after your photodynamic therapy session and avoid the sun (even through the windows). You must also avoid bright or fluorescent indoor lights during this period. PDT temporarily makes your skin much more sensitive to bright lights and sunlight; exposure to these light sources can lead to skin damage. 

Additionally, apply physical sunscreen (containing zinc oxide) every two to four hours until your skin heals. After your skin has fully healed, you can return to your regular sunscreen regimen. 

Skin Cleansing and Moisturizer

When cleansing skin after PDT, only use a gentle cleanser free of potentially drying ingredients. Softly pat the area dry; do not rub or scrub your skin. Apply a gentle moisturizer twice daily (or as needed) to soothe your skin as it heals. 

Avoid any potentially drying products, such as retinoids, exfoliants, and antibacterial soaps, for at least two weeks after PDT. 


Avoid shaving until your skin has fully healed from PDT. You should only shave when your skin is no longer red, irritated, or sensitive. 

What Will My Face Look Like After Photodynamic Therapy?

Immediately after photodynamic therapy, the treated skin is likely to appear red, similar in appearance to sunburn. You may experience peeling and flaking as the dead skin cells are shed in the following days. Depending on the individual, this redness and flaking can last anywhere from a few days to two weeks. 

After this period, you’ll be left with brighter, smoother, clearer skin. 

If you undergo photodynamic therapy for acne, you may experience worsened acne for about one week after the treatment session. This can indicate that the skin’s sebaceous glands are responding to the treatment. In most cases, the worsened acne resolves on its own. 

Will I Have Side Effects After PDT?

Photodynamic therapy is very safe and effective when performed by an experienced, licensed physician like Dr. Dima in Reston. However, like most laser therapies, it can cause a burning or stinging sensation post-treatment. Side effects, if any, usually subside shortly after the treatment session.

If you experience discomfort after PDT, apply an ice pack or cool water spray mist to the treatment area. 

Am I a Candidate for PDT?

You may be a good candidate for photodynamic therapy in Reston if:

  • You may be struggling with acne, wrinkles, sun damage, psoriasis, actinic keratosis, or certain precancerous lesions. 
  • Your physician determines that your skin tone is a good fit for PDT. Some people with darker skin tones aren’t the best fit for PDT. 
  • You can avoid sunlight for at least 48 hours after the treatment session. 

PDT For Healthier Skin in Reston

Dr. Dima at WellMedica in Reston has a 25-year history of excellence in non-surgical aesthetic medicine. She can help determine if photodynamic therapy is the right fit for your needs and will guide you through the treatment process. Contact us today to schedule a consultation! 

Contact Info

1801 Robert Fulton Dr. Suite 540
Reston, VA 20191
phone# 703-787-9866
Fax #  703-787-9861

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