Undo Sun Damage with a New "Burn"

HealthGal Health Guide
  • Sit in the sun from childhood through adulthood and then some, for enough hours and you will likely accumulate an awful lot of visible and invisible sun damage.  One particular skin issue that may arise are red or brown crusty,flaky areas or yellowed spots, usually found on the face and scalp called actinic keratoses.  They are the precursors to skin cancers.  The newest treatment for these skin abnormalities?  You kind of create a burn to get rid of the damage caused by the sunburn.


    It's called Levulin PDT (photo-dynamic therapy) and it involves coating the skin with a topical solution, the levulin, and then burning it with blue light exposure.  What's the benefit over freezing or lasering the areas?  Levulin PDT kills not only the visible actinic keratoses - it also kills the the cancerous cells you cannot see.  So it's the ultimate in skin cancer prevention.  How is it done specifically?  The skin is cleansed thoroughly and then the levulin is applied.  The solution is left on for 1-5 hours (depending on the patient's skin condition).  The longer it is left on - the more it penetrates.  A chemical reaction occurs that produces porphyrins. When the doctor shines the blue light on the levulin coated areas - it instigates the porphyrins which damage the cells and cause cell death.

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    The downside? Everyone's tolerance for the skin sensation or burn caused by the levulin/blue light reaction differs.  Some can barely stand the sensation for 10-12 seconds; others can lie there and tolerate a full treatment.  The doctor will offer a cooling fan during the treatment and afterwards patients say it feels like a "humdinger of a sunburn."  Another prevention bonus? The levulin remains active for an additional 24 hours after it is removed. 


    The caveat?  After treatment you need to use full sunblock everyday and minimize sun exposure in order to prevent a recurrence of these pre-cancerous patches. 

Published On: August 05, 2008