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Treating acne with lasers vs. photodynamic therapy: which is best?

Photo above for demonstration purposes only. Similar devices are used in photodynamic therapy for acne.

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Are you looking for a light-based acne solution in Vancouver? Our acne laser treatments in Surrey may be a fit for you!

CALL / TEXT 604 580 2464

Recently, there have been newer treatments available to solve or reduce acne, for both mild and severe cases. Namely, these are light-based technologies, using either photodynamic therapy (PTD) or laser therapy.

While PTD and laser therapy can seem like similar treatments, they come with distinct differences.

In this article, we’ll explain the pros and cons of each of these light-based acne treatments.

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What is photodynamic therapy (PTD)?

Photodynamic therapy is a treatment of light-sensitizing prescriptions combined with specific types of light. It addresses concerns ranging from acne to infections, psoriasis, sun damage and even cancer.

This combination works better than light alone, since the two create a special reaction (oxidization) to be able to kill bacteria or targetted cells.

The prescriptions used to sensitize the skin to light in PTD include aminolevulinic acid (ALA) and methyl aminolevulinate (MAL).

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What happens before a photodynamic therapy (PTD) session?

Days before a treatment session, a patient may be asked to follow pre-procedure protocols. These may include staying out of the sun, or avoiding routine acne treatments (such as using isotretinoin).

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What happens during a photodynamic therapy (PTD) session?

Surrey hydrafacial blue light therapy on female patient - can be used as photodynamic acne therapy
Photo above for demonstration purposes only. Not an actual photodynamic therapy session.

Before performing PTD, a service provider may perform microdermabrasion on the treatment area. This removes dead skin cells that don’t need treatment, and enhances the absorption of topical light sensitizers.

The light sensitizer is either taken orally, through the venous system or applied topically. When treating acne, the method is usually topical.

After an in-office waiting period (which can take hours, depending on the case), the prescribed light form is then beamed onto the affected area for under 10 to 60 minutes.

The type of light used in photodynamic therapy can include light emitting diodes (LEDs) of red or blue light, intense pulsed light (IPL), or laser light. In some cases, sunlight may also be used (though this is rare for acne).

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What happens after a photodynamic therapy (PTD) session?

Post-treatment protocols for photodynamic therapy include staying out of the sun for up to five days. Since the skin will have become extremely sensitive to light, even sunscreen will not be enough protection from the sun during this recovery period. Not following these instructions can result in sun burns or long-term sun damage.

Results begin to show weeks or months after a series of treatments. Treatments must be repeated for up to five sessions at a time, in order for the treatment to work.

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The pros and cons of photodynamic therapy (PTD) to treat acne

Photodynamic therapy comes with both pros and cons. 

The pros of photodynamic therapy are that:

  • It controls the production of sebum by regulating the sebaceous glands.
  • It has shown about 30 – 70% effectiveness in reducing acne.
  • It kills P. acnes bacteria (one of the causes of acne).
  • It can be selective in its target, leaving healthy skin untouched (for cases like cancer treatments).
  • It doesn’t require long-term prescriptions.

The cons of photodynamic therapy include:

  • Pain during treatment. The photosensitizers can produce a burning sensation on the skin.
  • Short-term common side effects such as redness, swelling, dryness, peeling, crusting, etc.
  • The potential for long-term side effects like post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. This can especially happen with continued light exposure (such as from the sun’s UV rays).
  • It doesn’t work on non-inflammatory acne.
  • Treatment sessions are very time consuming.
  • Post-procedure instructions include staying indoors for multiple days, which can be inconvenient.
  • Treatments may need to be repeated to continue to be effective.

It is also of note that, as of early 2023, most photodynamic therapy treatments are not FDA cleared. The one exception is the BLU-U® system. However, the BLU-U® system is not FDA cleared to treat acne along with light sensitizers. The light treatment, on its own, offers roughly 64% effectiveness according to this study, and this study. Multiple treatment sessions are needed.

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What is acne laser therapy?

AviClear acne laser in Vancouver during treatment - front view with hand and technician

Acne laser therapy is a light based treatment for acne using laser wavelengths. 

A multipurpose, 1064 nm ND:Yag laser can be used in medical aesthetic clinics to reduce acne breakouts. Tools like BroadBand Light (BBL™) can also be used (though this is not a laser). These tools largely work by killing the p. acnes bacteria.

However, in 2022, a 1726 nm wavelength on the AviClear™ laser was introduced to the industry. It was designed specifically for treating acne by targeting the sebaceous glands only. 

AviClear™ works by heating up the sebaceous glands with laser energy. By doing so, sebaceous glands are down-regulated to produce less oil.

The major advantage with AviClear™ over other acne therapy lasers is that it doesn’t affect surrounding skin structures. This translates to fewer risks of side effects (such as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation).

FDA clearance was given for the AviClear™ laser after clinical studies proved its effectiveness and safety.

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What happens before an acne laser treatment?

Weeks before a laser acne treatment, patients may be asked to stay out of the sun, and to stop other acne treatments, especially if they are skin irritants (such as astringents or retinols). 

Patients will be asked to come to their sessions clean shaven, if they have facial hair.

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What happens during an acne laser treatment?

AviClear acne laser treatment in Vancouver close up view of cheek on female patient

During a laser acne treatment with AviClear™, the face will be wiped with acetone. Water may be applied via wet gauze pads. The water works with the laser’s cooling mechanisms, to avert potential pain.

No anaesthetic is needed for laser acne treatments with AviClear™. The laser can get to work right away. 

Sections of skin will be pulsed bit-by-bit, until the entire face has been in contact with the laser beam. This takes about 30 minutes.

Afterwards, the face will be wiped clean, and broad-spectrum, high SPF will be applied.

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What happens after an acne laser treatment?

AviClear laser acne treatment before and after 6 and 12 months - available in Vancouver

There is no downtime associated with AviClear™ laser acne treatments. Patients can go back to their normal activities right away.

However, patients will be asked to continue to reapply broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher every two hours. A typical, at-home skin cleansing and moisturizing routine will also be recommended.

Results become visible starting four weeks after the last treatment. With AviClear™, three treatment sessions, spaced four weeks apart, are required. Results are expected to gradually improve for at least 12 months. 

Other types of acne laser treatments may require more than three sessions.

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The pros and cons of laser therapy to treat acne

Acne laser therapy also comes with pros and cons.

The pros of acne laser therapy are that:

  • It controls the production of sebum by regulating the sebaceous glands.
  • In most patients, it has shown to be at least 50% effective in reducing acne at 3 months (for 80% of patients). Over 90% of patients responded to treatment by month 12, in a clinical study.
  • It works long term, on current and future break outs.
  • It is selective in its target of the sebaceous glands, leaving surrounding tissues untouched during treatment.
  • It doesn’t require any prescriptions.
  • It works on mild, moderate and severe acne.
  • Treatment sessions last roughly 30 – 60 minutes.
  • It does not require any anaesthetic to relieve pain during treatment. Patients in a clinical study found the treatment tolerable, though not painless.
  • Only three treatment sessions are required.
  • It doesn’t require any downtime – patients can go back to normal activities right away (as long as they apply sunscreen every 90 minutes and avoid hot environments).

The cons of acne laser therapy include:

  • Short-term common side effects such as redness and swelling. 
  • The potential for rarer side effects such as dryness, peeling, crusting and hyperpigmentation. All side effects are temporary, though they sometimes require additional post-treatment care.
  • There is about a 50% chance that acne will get worse before it gets better after treatments.

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Acne laser therapy is the clear winner over photodynamic therapy

AviClear vs other acne treatments chart - available in Vancouver in Surrey

As we’ve seen above, photodynamic therapy for acne is extremely time consuming and painful. It also requires multiple sessions to be effective. It does not work on inflamed acne.

On the other hand, acne laser therapy, especially with the AviClear™ 1726 nm wavelength, requires only three sessions lasting 30 – 60 minutes each. It’s also tolerable and requires no pain aversion techniques (though it is not without any pain). It works on mild, moderate or severe acne.

AviClear™ is also prescription-free.

Both light-based acne treatment options require careful sun care after sessions. However, photodynamic therapy requires staying indoors for days. Meanwhile, AviClear™ only requires using sunscreen diligently.

Based on the above comparisons, laser acne therapy with AviClear™ is the much easier and more effective method for treating acne.

Even if opting for an Nd:Yag laser to treat acne, it would still be easier to tolerate and undergo than photodynamic therapy.

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Are you looking for a light-based acne solution in Vancouver? Our acne laser treatments in Surrey may be a fit for you!

CALL / TEXT 604 580 2464

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