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Using Light to Banish Acne

First FDA-Approved Acne Treatment Device

WebMD Health News

Aug. 22, 2002 -- A new FDA-approved device might help millions of acne sufferers see the light with a clearer complexion. The ClearLight Acne PhotoClearing System is the first non-drug treatment device approved by the FDA to treat moderate acne. And researchers say it produces results without the side effects of traditional acne treatments.

Although some dermatologists have already been using light and laser-based treatments for acne, ClearLight is the first product specifically approved by the FDA to treat moderate inflammatory acne.

"This whole concept of using a light wavelength to eradicate acne is very exciting, and it offers a whole new armamentarium to acne patients," says dermatologist Linda Franks, MD, assistant clinical professor at New York University School of Medicine.

Acne affects about 80% of people at some point in their lives, and problems with acne are responsible for more than 30% of all dermatologist office visits.

Conventional treatments for mild to moderate acne include oral antibiotics as well as topical creams designed to kill acne-causing bacteria and reduce inflammation. But not all types of acne bacteria respond to antibiotics, which can cause side effects such as sensitivity to light, stomach upset, and yeast infections in women.

Researchers say ClearLight works by targeting the substances in the skin called porphyrins that the P. acnes bacteria feed on. P. acnes is one of the most common causes of inflammatory acne.

The lamp-like device emits a high-intensity, narrow-band bluish light that excites these porphyrins and destroys the acne bacteria without damaging the surrounding tissue or skin. Patients are exposed to the light in 15-minute sessions, and the treatment regimen consists of eight sessions over a period of four weeks.

Compared with traditional treatments requiring daily medications and a complex combination of topical treatments, researchers say ClearLight is much easier.

"They just show up and don't have to do anything at home, and that takes a huge burden off teenagers and college-age students," says Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, MD, PhD, director of research at the Laser and Skin Surgery Center of New York, who is involved in clinical trials of the device.

Alexiades-Armenakas says that although results from head-to-head comparisons with conventional treatments aren't in yet, initial findings suggest the device also offers the advantage of quicker clear-ups. Antibiotic treatments typically take about 12 weeks to produce results, but patients using ClearLight saw results in as little as four weeks.

"By four weeks there is significant decrease in acne [bacterial] counts," Alexiades-Armenakas tells WebMD. "Then we followed them up past that point, and it seems the acne counts continue to decrease even further."

In one published study, there was a 60% reduction in P. acnes counts by eight weeks and an even bigger decrease of 70% after two weeks of follow-up. Alexiades-Armenakas says more recent results show these patients continue to do well six months after treatment with ClearLight.

"And there are no problems with side effects as far as we can tell," says Alexiades-Armenakas.

Franks says she's happy to see a light-based device approved for the treatment of acne because it will spur more research and development into the area to further refine the treatment. But she also warns that there is a potential for misuse as these products grow in popularity.

"This is a laser device and there will be offshoots offered by nonmedical personnel," says Franks, who is also a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology.

The cost of the treatment is unknown and will depend partly on whether insurance covers some or all of the office visits and treatments.

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