April 12, 2007 -- A novel approach to treating acne, which combines
light therapy with skin suction, shows promise in an
In the small study, 15 patients with severe acne
experienced significant improvements in their acne lesions after as few as two
to three weekly treatments, researchers say.
Study researcher Gilly Munavalli, MD, is slated to report the findings
Friday at the 27th Annual Conference of the American Society for Laser Medicine
and Surgery (ASLMS) in Grapevine, Texas.
Known as photopneumatic therapy (PPX), the new approach combines pulsed
light treatment with skin suctioning using a vacuum device. Munavalli tells
WebMD that the suctioning helps clean clogged pores and intensifies the effects
of the light treatment by bringing oil glands closer to the skin’s surface.
“The suction really unclogs the pores, which allows the oil to flow more
normally to the surface,” he says. “The light helps kill the bacteria that cause acne.”
The treatment was recently cleared by the FDA for use in several types of
acne. But because laser and light therapies are procedures and not drugs, the move did not require clinical studies
showing the treatment to be effective.
The American Academy of Dermatology considers light therapies promising, but
unproven, for the treatment of acne.
A position statement posted on the Academy’s web site pointed out that the
data from clinical trials are, at present, limited, and that insurance
companies generally do not pay for the treatments because they are considered
“With time, research, and experience, laser, and light therapies may
eventually be light years ahead of traditional acne therapies,” the statement
reads. "... Until more is known, laser and light therapies offer an alternative
for individuals whose acne has not responded to traditional acne
California dermatologist Wendy Roberts, MD, has used laser and light to
treat acne for the past three years.
She considers the treatments highly effective but says the new study did
little to convince her that adding suction improves outcomes.
Roberts is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at Loma Linda
University Medical School, and she practices in Rancho Mirage.
“This was not a very rigorously done study, “ she tells WebMD. “There was no
way to tell if the improvements were due to the light treatments alone.”
Less Acne, Fewer Blackheads
Conventional acne treatments include topical creams and cleansers and oral
and topical antibiotics.
The fifteen patients included in the study had all failed to show
improvement with these traditional treatments. The patients received two to
four facial PPX treatments, with each 15- to 20-minute treatment delivered at
one to two weeks apart.
Facial photos were taken before the start of treatment, just before each
treatment session, and a month after the treatments ended to assess
Munavalli reported that overall acne activity was visibly noticeable after
two to three treatments in most patients, with reported reduction of acne
cysts, pimples, and blackheads.
No skin blistering was reported, and facial redness resolved within a few
hours of treatment.
The suction plus light approach also proved to be less painful than other
laser treatments, Munavalli says, because lower levels of energy are
Munavalli is medical director of a dermatology clinic in Charlotte, N.C.,
and he is a clinical instructor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins University in
He says he has used the light and vacuum approach in the treatment of about
100 acne patients, often in combination with conventional acne treatments.
SOURCES: 27th Annual Conference of the American Society for Laser Medicine
and Surgery, Grapevine, Texas, April 11-15, 2007. Girish S. Munavalli, MD,
medical director, Dermatology, Laser, and Vein Specialists of the Carolinas,
Charlotte, N.C.; instructor, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. “Are laser
and light treatments really light years ahead of conventional acne therapy?”
American Academy of Dermatology, AcneNet article, AAD web site.