Inherent in both plants and animals is the natural porphyrin, Protoporphyrin IX (Pp). Although Pp does not appear to have any intrinsic biological activity, it is a potent natural photosensitizer. When activated with ultraviolet or visible light, this photosensitizer can induce significant photodynamic effects on tissues, cells, subcellular elements, and macromolecules via the production of singlet oxygen. The biosynthesis of endogenous Pp is under strict enzymatic control. It is possible to bypass a rate controlling step and induce large, transient concentrations of Pp by the addition of exogenous 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA). ALA may be administered systemically or topically. Much larger amounts of Pp are produced in certain types of tumor tissue than in adjacent normal tissue. Topically applied ALA can be used to treat a variety of skin lesions, including actinic keratosis, basal cell carcinomas and psoriasis.