by Kristin Scord, M.S., PA-C
What is it?
Light therapies have been a long-time favorite for treatment of various skin conditions–reducing acne, calming inflammation and even helping clear some stubborn immune conditions. The extra wonderful part is that it can be used to help treat sun damage as well–even clearing precancerous lesions and reducing the chance of developing some skin cancers!
ALA-Blue Light is a type of treatment considered photodynamic therapy (PDT). A history of sun exposure can cause us to develop reddish, scaly patches on the skin known as actinic keratoses. These AK’s can develop further into basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinomas skin cancers. ALA-Blue Light Therapy is a way to treat a larger area (think full face, scalp, chest, hands) therapeutically (to clear existing lesions) and proactively (to prevent sun-damaged areas from progressing). An added bonus? It does this all while improving the quality of your skin medically AND cosmetically!
What does an ALA-Blue Light Treatment look like?
On the day of your treatment, we will prep your skin with an acetone wipe and your provider may curette any thickened lesions. Next, your provider will apply a photosensitizing agent (ALA or aminolevulinic acid) onto the area you are having treated. This will soak into the damaged skin for 1-3 hours depending on the area and your provider’s recommendation. One hour may be done for milder damage, sensitivity considerations, skin type, or if it’s your first time. Two or three hours may be done for more extensive damage or areas that have been treated before. We may add heated pads to non-head areas, like the arms or hands to accelerate the process. In general, the more time that you incubate, you will likely expect a stronger reaction and result.
During this incubation time, you will be able to comfortably hang out, hidden from sunlight, in our office. We encourage you to bring some entertainment and snacks if needed! You will have access to our internet, water and coffee, so feel free to bring snacks, your computer, book, or ipad and relax!
You will then go under a Blue Light for 15 minutes. This is where the magic happens as the Blue Light will kill the cells that absorbed the medication. But, this is where things get spicy! During this time, patients describe the feeling as hot, burning, stinging, or uncomfortable, but also bearable. Some patients report a smooth experience while for others it may feel more intense. A lovely assistant will be there the whole time to help you get through it! We have a fan and a cooling water mister along with the art of distracting conversation! We do offer tylenol or ibuprofen for this if desired as well.
The end result from this experience is that the damaged cells will then slough off leaving healthier, smoother skin!
Looking for further cosmetic benefits? An IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) laser treatment can be paired with your Blue Light to help lift stubborn spots of hyperpigmentation, getting a double-benefit out of one healing time! This would be a cosmetic/cash add-on and done before the application of the photosensitizing agent.
What to Expect: The Recovery
ALA-Blue Light will result in a sunburn-like effect, so skin redness, peeling, and irritation is expected. It is MANDATORY to avoid sunlight for 48 hours post-treatment. Close the curtains, Door-Dash, catch up on work or Netflix–no judgment here!
Also during this time, we will have you thickly apply Aquaphor ointment or Avene Cicalfate [a restorative, calming barrier repair and moisturizing cream]. You will be able to wash your face with a gentle cleanser. We will give you a post ALA-Blue Light packet with samples of these included, but it’s a great idea to have some extra at home!
After days 2-3, as your skin dryness improves, you can switch to a gentle moisturizer or continue with Cicalfate (Aquaphor on any raw areas) and start to wear sunscreen.
Your provider may request a televisit follow up in 2-3 days if it is your first time doing this treatment, otherwise a follow up may be done in a month or re-treatment in 4-8 weeks. Call the office if you develop acne-like pustules or have any concerns about how you are healing.
The damaged skin will flake and peel much like a sunburn and your glowing skin will reveal itself in about a week with an improved quality and appearance! In general, 1-2 treatments are recommended; 4-8 weeks apart, which can be discussed with your provider.
Below are examples of two patients’ experiences:
Again, while the treatment experience and the recovery period as a whole can yield great results, the road may be smoother for those with more mild damage, and more intense for those with great or more severe.
Here is a link to a video documenting a patient’s actual ALA- Blue Light treatment who had a history of extensive sun exposure and many precancerous lesions. This patient incubated for 3 hours:
Here are photos documenting another patient’s journey from treatment day to full recovery. This was her second treatment date and incubated for 3 hours. Patient had moderate sun damage prior.: