Sun damaged skin

Photodynamic Therapy, or PDT for short, is the process of destroying abnormal skin cells through a combination of chemicals and laser treatment.

The process is particularly useful in Australia where sun damaged (often pre-cancerous) skin appears red, scaly, hardened and wrinkled.

The PDT process is effective in treating some of sun-related effects of ageing, resulting in smoother, less-blemished skin. Interestingly, the bacteria involved in acne also produce a chemical that is sensitive to PDT, meaning that many case of acne can be treated by PDT too.

However, we strongly advise you to see your GP before undergoing PDT as the process requires the use of specialised equipment and a solid understanding of the medical condition being treated. As a result, some skin cancers and skin conditions must not be treated with this technique

Outcomes & Expectations

Once your skin check has been completed and you are ready for PDT, the rest is relatively easy. A compound called ALA will be applied to your skin and allowed to ‘incubate’, usually for about 1 hour. The area is then exposed to either a laser or an intense pulsed light (IPL) device to activate the ALA. This process will destroy the abnormal cells, so you can expect to get some redness, scaling and crusting in the treated areas. These should heal within a few days, after which the treated area should be smoother and have less blemishes.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can be treated by Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)?

An increasing number of conditions can now be treated. Specific skin conditions can be targeted including ‘solar keratoses’ and acne. At Cairns Skin Centre we are actively involved in national trials of PDT for certain skin cancers and pre-cancerous conditions. Because PDT treats the effects of sun-damage, it can also have a rejuvenating effect on skin appearance.

What will I look like after the treatment?

Initially, you will have some redness at the treated sites. After a few days, some of the areas that had abnormal skin cells will start to form crusts and small sores. These will heal usually within a few days. When all the treatments are completed and your skin has healed it should look smoother, less scaly and refreshed.

How many treatments will I need?

Usually there are two treatment sessions involved. These are held 2-4 weeks apart. If you are having PDT for the treatment of a biopsy-proven skin cancer, then it is very important that you have follow up with your doctor on a regular basis. All treatments for skin cancer have a certain recurrence rate and if you’ve had one skin cancer, it means that your skin has been damaged by the sun and so you may be prone to more skin cancers. If you see any new spots or any old spots changing, see your doctor immediately.