Years of exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays damages your skin, but you may not see the signs for years. When you do, you’ll notice small patches of darker skin that sometimes have a rough or scaly texture. Most people call these sun spots, but in the medical community, we call it actinic keratosis or AK.
AK doesn’t put you in immediate danger, but it’s a precancerous warning sign that more serious complications may be in your future, which is why it’s important to treat it and eliminate it as soon as possible.
And that’s what we do here at Easton Dermatology Associates in Easton and Salisbury, Maryland. Our team of expert dermatologists offers a comprehensive line of services to address all your skin’s issues from rashes and rosacea to melasma and melanoma.
When it comes to actinic keratosis, we use a highly effective treatment called photodynamic therapy (PDT). Here’s how it works.
Actinic keratosis 101
AKs are pretty common in the US — more than 58 million have at least one somewhere on their body, typically on their face, shoulders, scalp, or anywhere the sun hits.
Though only about 10% of AKs lead to cancer (typically squamous cell carcinoma), most cases of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) start out as AKs. If you have one AK, you’re more likely than others to get more AKs throughout your lifetime, and you’re at a higher risk for developing cancer.
The good news is that AKs are highly treatable, and we can do it with a quick, noninvasive procedure here in our office.
The science behind photodynamic therapy (PDT)
When the sun shines, the light looks bright and white, but if you looked at it through a prism, you’d see that it’s really a full rainbow of colors that appear white when they all come together.
This white light is only a portion of the entire electromagnetic spectrum, which contains other wavelengths that the human eye can’t see, like the sun’s ultraviolet radiation rays, which are what burn your skin and damage your cells.
It seems fitting that one of the most effective treatments for UV-related sun-damaged skin is to fight back with another type of light — blue light.
Photodynamic therapy uses blue light to activate a medication we apply to your AK. This medication called aminolevulinic acid sits on your AK for about an hour, penetrating your skin and soaking into your cells. It doesn’t do anything remarkable until we hit it with blue light.
All it takes is about 17 minutes of exposure, and the photosensitive chemicals in the medication get to work destroying those precancerous cells. Technically, the blue light’s specific wavelength (450-495 nm) interacts with the drug to create an oxygen molecule that targets and destroys specific cells.
Benefits of blue light PDT
For many years, AKs were treated with radiation or surgery, but PDT is just as effective and comes with the following advantages:
- No side effects
- Precisely targeted
- No downtime
- Little to no scarring
- Safely repeatable
After your treatment, it’s critical that you avoid direct sunlight for a while until your skin regains its normal tolerance. Our team advises you with detailed aftercare instructions, and we’re always here to help if you have any concerns.
If you suspect you have an AK or two, don’t wait for it to turn into SCC, which left untreated can become invasive and life-threatening. Contact us at either of our Maryland offices today to schedule a consultation with one of our PDT experts.