American Journal of Clinical Dermatology

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 311–321 | Cite as

The Role of Photodynamic Therapy in Acne: An Evidence-Based Review

  • Monica BoenEmail author
  • Joshua Brownell
  • Priyanka Patel
  • Maria M. TsoukasEmail author
Evidence-Based Review



Acne vulgaris is a highly prevalent skin disorder that affects almost all adolescents and can persist into adulthood. Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is an emerging treatment for acne that involves the use of a photosensitizer in combination with a light source and oxygen.


We performed a systematic review of the literature and critically evaluated the studies. Sixty-nine clinical trials, four case reports, and two retrospective studies met the inclusion criteria, and seven of the studies were high quality.


The most common photosensitizers used were 5-aminolevulinic acid and methyl aminolevulinate, and both showed similar response. Red light was the most frequently used light source, followed by intense pulsed light, and showed comparable results. Inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions both responded to treatment, with inflammatory lesions showing greater clearance in most studies. Adverse events associated with PDT for acne were mild and included pain on illumination and post-procedural erythema and edema. PDT has been safely used in higher Fitzpatrick skin types (III–IV), although these patients had a higher risk of transient hyperpigmentation.


This review supports PDT as an efficacious treatment for acne and a good adjunctive treatment for mild to severe acne, especially in patients who have not responded to topical therapy and oral antibacterials, and are not great candidates for isotretinoin. Further studies are warranted to evaluate the optimal photosensitizers, light sources, incubation times, and number of treatments for PDT use in acne.


Acne Isotretinoin Intense Pulse Light Acne Lesion Oral Antibacterial 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Compliance with Ethical Standards


No financial support was provided for this work.

Conflicts of interest

Monica Boen, Joshua Brownell, Priyanka Patel, and Maria M. Tsoukas have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of DermatologyUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.College of MedicineUniversity of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA

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