Intense pulsed light treatment (IPL) and photodynamic therapy(PDT) for acne.

One of the most common blemish-causing conditions is acne. This can cause both raised pustules and pimples as well as flat blackheads and whiteheads. These happen when a hair follicle gets clogged with a naturally-produced oily substance called sebum, dirt, or bacteria, and can also be caused by ingrown hairs. Most people have acne during puberty, when hormonal changes cause the body to produce too much sebum, which increases the changes of clogs. Over-the-counter (OTC) cleansers and medications can reduce sebum, soothe inflammation, and clean out pores for people with mild or moderate acne, but those with severe acne may need prescription anti-inflammatory and medications to regulate hormonal changes.

IPL is a filtered light of a specific waveform (colour) that is selectively absorbed by the inflamed acne areas. The main contributors of acne are the excess oil produced in the sebaceous glands of the skin, and a particular skin microbe called propionibacterium acnes which invades the glands and turns the oil into pus. IPL creates heat in the acne lesions to control the microbes and oil production in the sebaceous glands. For treating more severe acne, this effect can be magnified many times over by using a specific photosensitising agent called ALA (amino laevulinic acid) applied to the skin. The pulsed light activates this substance and causes it to release strong chemicals called free radicals which selectively destroy the bacterial cells and dry up the oil glands.

Light based treatments also have the long term advantage of improving collagen modelling in the healing skin, thus avoiding or reducing the possibility of scar formation.

Treatment can be used on acne lesions of any severity, both on the face and in other areas prone to acne such as the upper chest and back.

The treatment time depends on the area but is usually less than half an hour. If the photosenitising agent is used, this has to be applied about an hour before the procedure and left on till the treatment is done. No anaesthetic is required and patients usually do not find the treatment unpleasant, describing the sensation as nothing more than a hot pin-prick. Although this is an entirely safe treatment, a test patch may be suggested before the actual sessions are planned, to test the reactivity of the skin.

The skin feels warm after treatment and a reddening of the skin is quite usual, however, this quickly fades. Occasionally the skin may darken or lighten in tone, but these effects are temporary. Some skin peeling may be expected with the more aggressive PDT using the sensitiser. Applying sun screen is advised after the treatment, preferably avoiding the sun altogether for two days if PDT is used.

Depending on the severity or extent of the condition, you may need between one to six sessions at monthly or two-monthly intervals. This will be discussed with you during the consultation