Background  Actinic keratoses (AKs) are common dysplastic skin lesions that may differentiate into invasive squamous cell carcinomas. Although a superior cosmetic outcome of photodynamic therapy (PDT) is advantageous compared with equally effective treatments such as cryotherapy and curettage, the inconvenience of clinic attendance and discomfort during therapy are significant drawbacks. Daylight-mediated PDT could potentially reduce these and may serve as an alternative to conventional PDT.

Objectives  To compare the efficacy of methyl aminolaevulinate (MAL)-PDT with 1½ vs. 2½ h of daylight exposure in a randomized multicentre study.

Methods  One hundred and twenty patients with a total of 1572 thin AKs of the face and scalp were randomized to either 1½- or 2½-h exposure groups. After gentle lesion preparation and application of a sunscreen of sun protection factor 20, MAL was applied to the entire treatment area. Immediately after, patients left the clinic and exposed themselves to daylight according to the randomization. Daylight exposure was monitored with a wristwatch dosimeter and patients scored their pain sensation during treatment.

Results  The mean lesion response rate at 3 months was 77% in the 1½-h group and 75% in the 2½-h group (= 0·57). The mean duration of daylight exposure was 131 and 187 min in the two groups. The mean overall effective light dose was 9·4 J cm−2 (range 0·2–28·3). Response rate was not associated with effective daylight dose, exposure duration, treatment centre, time of day or time of year during which the treatment was performed. Treatment was well tolerated, with a mean ± SD maximal pain score of 1·3 ± 1·5.

Conclusions  Daylight-mediated MAL-PDT is an effective, convenient and nearly pain-free treatment for patients with multiple thin AKs. Daylight-mediated PDT procedures were easily performed and 2 h of daylight exposure resulted in uniformly high response rates when conducted in the period from June to October in Nordic countries.