Many cosmetic treatments actually begin as medical treatments. In fact, two of today’s most popular anti-aging treatments — Botox and Retin-A — were originally developed to treat muscle spasms and acne, respectively.
In my office, Dr. Brian Morrison, voluntary assistant professor at the University of Miami, is seeing an increase in patients requesting a skin-cancer treatment called photodynamic therapy (or PDT) for skin rejuvenation.
Morrison explains: “PDT treatment starts with the application of a prescription-based topical medication called aminolevulinic acid, or ALA, which goes by the brand name of Levulan. After allowing it to penetrate the skin (and the oil glands) for up to an hour, a special blue light is used to activate the Levulan, and in turn remove precancerous and early cancerous skin lesions. In terms of cosmetic benefits, PDT improves the skin’s appearance and texture, and often results in acne improvement, smaller pores and fewer brown spots.’’
In general, three PDT treatments are recommended for the treatment of precancerous lesions, and when used for these medical reasons it is usually covered by insurance. However, PDT treatment to improve sun damage, acne, pore size and brown spots is considered cosmetic, so each treatment will set you back about $600. (Most doctors will recommend two to three treatments for these concerns as well.)
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If you’re wondering why you should consider PDT when there are so many other light-based treatments designed to improve visible signs of aging, sun damage such as wrinkles, discoloration and rough texture, there are a few reasons.
First is basic anatomy. “The base of the pore beneath the skin is larger than the pore’s visible opening on the skin’s surface,” Morrison says. “As a result, laser-based resurfacing treatments that remove the upper layers of skin can actually cause pores to appear larger.”
Another reason to choose PDT is its proven record for safety and results. “Although the drugs and light sources have changed over time, this method of treatment has been used around the world since as early as the 1970s,” Morrison adds.
PDT comes with a few post-treatment requirements. The treatment leaves your skin extremely sensitive to outdoor and fluorescent light for 48 hours afterward, which means you have to stay indoors — and no driving or sitting near windows.
After the first two days, you should avoid exposing treated areas to direct sunlight for two weeks. Redness, swelling and discomfort are normal for up to five days, and you should allow at least two weeks before any social event.
Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.