Ultrasound and lasers illuminate the path to new spot treatment

American scientists have raised hope for acne-ridden teenagers with a way to prevent spots using ultrasound and lasers.

UCSB spot treatment
Particles are delivered through the skin by ultrasound and then heated using a laser, deactivating the nearby sebaceous gland.

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), have developed a method of deactivating the sebaceous glands that cause spots by producing too much of the bacteria-harbouring substance sebum.

The technique involves using low-frequency ultrasound to push gold-coated silica particles through follicles in the skin into the sebaceous glands. Firing a laser at the embedded particle causes it to heat up and effectively turn off the gland.

“If you deactivate these overproducing glands, you’re basically treating the root cause of the acne,” said researcher leader Samir Mitragotri, professor of chemical engineering at UCSB.

Research published in the Journal of Controlled Release shows the technique, known as ‘selective photothermolysis’, can lessen the frequency and intensity of spot breakouts and is particularly suited to patients with advanced, severe or difficult-to-treat acne.

It also has several benefits over conventional treatments in that it does not irritate or dry the skin’s surface and poses no risk of resistance or long-term side effects that can occur with antibiotics or other systemic treatments.

“It’s highly local but highly potent as well,” Mitragotri said of the treatment. “I think this would be beneficial in addressing the concerns regarding other, conventional treatments.”

Ultrasound is already used to deliver drugs through the skin but this is the first time, according to the researchers, it has been used to deliver other particles.

“The unique thing about these particles is that when you shine a laser on them, they efficiently convert light into heat via a process called surface plasmon resonance,” said Mitragotri.

After the glands have been temporarily deactivated, the skin excretes the sebum, pore-blocking substances and the gold particles as normal.

Other more long-term elements of this therapy have yet to be studied, such as the extent of any follicular damage, what the most effective and beneficial parameters of this treatment may be and what contraindications exist.