Topical 5-aminolevulinic acid combined with intense pulsed light in the treatment of photoaging

Arch Dermatol. 2005 Oct;141(10):1247-52. doi: 10.1001/archderm.141.10.1247.


Background: The adjunctive use of 5-aminolevulinic acid (5-ALA) with intense pulsed-light (IPL) treatments has been suggested to increase the benefit of IPL for photoaging; however, to our knowledge, no controlled trials have been performed.

Design: A prospective, randomized, controlled, split-face study was designed. Twenty subjects participated in a series of 3 split-face treatments 3 weeks apart in which half of the face was pretreated with 5-ALA followed by IPL treatment while the other half was treated with IPL alone. Two additional full-face treatments (with IPL alone) were then delivered 3 weeks apart. Assessment of global photodamage, fine lines, mottled pigmentation, tactile roughness, and sallowness (on a scale of 0-4) was performed by a blinded investigator before each treatment and 4 weeks after the final treatment. Patients also completed an assessment at the conclusion of the study comparing their results with pretreatment photographs.

Results: All 20 volunteers completed the study. Pretreatment with 5-ALA resulted in more improvement in the global score for photoaging (16 [80%] subjects vs 9 [45%] subjects; P = .008) and mottled pigmentation (19 [95%] subjects vs 12 [60%] subjects; P = .008) than IPL treatment alone. More successful results were achieved on the side pretreated with 5-ALA compared with the side treated with IPL alone for fine lines (12 [60%] subjects vs 5 [25%] subjects; P = .008) and mottled pigmentation (17 [85%] subjects vs 4 [20%] subjects; P < .001). While there was noticeable improvement over baseline scores with respect to tactile roughness and sallowness, pretreatment with 5-ALA did not seem to enhance the results of the IPL treatment. The final investigator cosmetic evaluations (P=.0002) and subject satisfaction scores (P=.005) were significantly better for the 5-ALA-pretreated side. Both treatments were well tolerated, with little difference in the incidence or profile of adverse effects with or without 5-ALA pretreatment.

Conclusions: The adjunctive use of 5-ALA in the treatment of facial photoaging with IPL provides significantly greater improvement in global photodamage, mottled pigmentation, and fine lines than treatment with IPL alone, without a significant increase in adverse effects. This combination treatment enhances the results of photorejuvenation and improves patient satisfaction.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aminolevulinic Acid / adverse effects
  • Aminolevulinic Acid / therapeutic use*
  • Edema / pathology
  • Erythema / pathology
  • Esthetics
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Photochemotherapy*
  • Photosensitizing Agents / adverse effects
  • Photosensitizing Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin Aging / drug effects*
  • Skin Aging / pathology


  • Photosensitizing Agents
  • Aminolevulinic Acid