Laser Treatment For Sun-Damaged Skin

In October 2008, University of Michigan researchers announced that a procedure already being performed by many doctors improves the appearance of sun-damaged skin. The procedure involves dabbing the skin with a topical solution produced by DUSA Pharmaceuticals Inc., after which pulsed dye treatment is applied. The study found that this combination therapy stimulates the production of collagen in the skin, helping to make sun-damaged skin look more youthful. Skin affected by wrinkles, fine lines, and sun spots had a much improved appearance after the procedure.

Light Sensitivity

The University of Michigan researchers tested photodynamic therapy on a group of 15 women and 10 men between the ages of 54 and 83 with sun-damaged skin. A clear solution, topical photosensitizer, 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA), known by the trade name Levulan, was applied to the skin of the participants. Levulan increases sensitivity to light. After the Levulan was applied, brief flashes of light consisting of a single wavelength were directed at Levulan-dabbed areas of skin. These beams of single wavelength light are known as pulsed dye laser. This combined therapy of Levulan and pulsed dye laser is known as photodynamic therapy.

Researchers discovered that the therapy increased the skin's production of collagen. Collagen is a protein which is responsible for giving skin good texture and elasticity. Photodynamic therapy caused the top layer of the skin to thicken, improving overall appearance. Dr. Jeffrey Orringer, director of the University of Michigan's Cosmetic Dermatology and Laser Center said, "We do believe that the treatment would, in fact, improve the appearance of patients' skin. It lends molecular or scientific credibility to a procedure that's being done out there, and it's also the first step in understanding how to make this treatment more effective."

In this study, the researchers performed photodynamic therapy on the sun-damaged forearms of the 25 participants and performed skin biopsies before and at various times throughout the procedure. The tissue samples were examined for molecular changes, which were recorded and analyzed. This was the first evidence that the treatment, already performed for the past few years, caused a change in the molecular structure of the skin. Orringer's team found that when Levulan was added to laser treatment, collagen production doubled.

Off-label Use

Levulan received Food and Drug Administration approval in 1999 for treating precancerous skin lesions of the face or scalp known as actinic keratoses. Doctors often use Levulan for the off-label use of photodynamic therapy to improve the appearance of sun-damaged skin. Orringer says that the procedure is a great deal less painful than laser tattoo removal and feels something like a rubber band snapping against the skin. Photodynamic therapy is pricey and can run hundreds of dollars.

Orringer said that the study, which was published in the journal Archives of Dermatology, was not funded by industry money.

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