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

Am J Clin Dermatol. 2017 Jun;18(3):311-321. doi: 10.1007/s40257-017-0255-3.


Background: 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.

Methods: 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.

Results: 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.

Conclusion: 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.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris / drug therapy*
  • Acne Vulgaris / pathology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Hyperpigmentation / etiology
  • Photochemotherapy / adverse effects
  • Photochemotherapy / methods*
  • Photosensitizing Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Photosensitizing Agents