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BACKGROUND Photodynamic therapy (PDT) has demonstrated high efficacy, minimal side effects, and improved cosmetic outcome when used for the treatment of actinic keratoses (AK), basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma, and photoaging.

METHODS To review the literature on the use of PDT in dermatologic surgery using MEDLINE.

RESULTS Published clinical studies using PDT in the treatment of AKs yield overall efficacy rates ranging from 50% to 71% with one treatment to as high as 88% to 90% with two or more treatments. For superficial BCC, initial clearance rates were 76% to 97%, and for Bowen's disease, initial clearance rates ranged from 72% to 94% overall. The use of PDT for photorejuvenation is a relatively new application of this technology, which has shown promise in improving the appearance of fine lines, pigmentary variation, and telangiectasias.

CONCLUSIONS The advantages of photodynamic therapy include the capacity for noninvasive targeted therapy through topical application of aminolevulinic acid and methyl aminolevulinic acid, with outstanding cosmetic results. Although the theory behind the use of chemical photosensitizers and ultraviolet light to treat a wide variety of skin disorders is straightforward, the practical application of this technology is evolving. Additional research into the precise mechanisms of action for specific photosensitizers and optimal light sources will be highly beneficial to the advancement of this technology.