- Light therapy for acne is a treatment that utilizes specific wavelengths of light to target acne-causing bacteria
- Blue light and red light therapies are commonly used for this skin condition
- Light therapy is considered safe and effective against the symptoms of mild to moderate inflammatory acne
- These treatments can be performed in-office or with at-home light therapy devices
Acne light therapy is a safe, non-invasive treatment for mild to moderate acne breakouts. It involves specific light wavelengths—most often red or blue light, or a combination of the two—to target acne.
What Is Light Therapy?
Light therapy, or phototherapy, treats symptoms of mild to moderate acne. Each color of light employs a specific wavelength (blue or red waves) to treat breakouts.
Blue light therapy targets inflammation, blemishes and the Propionibacterium acnes bacteria that causes acne to help prevent future breakouts. Clinical studies demonstrate that this therapy effectively kills P. acnes.
Red light therapy works similarly to blue light therapy, but does not kill this bacteria. However, both types help tighten pores and regulate the skin’s natural oil production.
Light therapy sessions are short—usually 20–30 minutes—and usually take place in a dark or dimly-lit treatment room. Your practitioner will provide you with goggles to protect your eyes and you’ll either sit in front of or lie beneath an LED light panel that will shine blue or red light, or a combination of both wavelengths on your face.
If you’re going to your first session, expect to feel a sensation of warmth. The device will not touch your skin though, and should be positioned eight to 10 inches away.
Light therapy treatments don’t require any downtime to recover, and there are few side effects or adverse events associated with them.
Light treatments vs. laser treatments
Different types of acne respond to different forms of light therapy and laser treatments. Light therapy and nonablative laser therapy both utilize forms of light to treat acne. Neither type of treatment requires downtime, and you can resume your usual activities immediately.
Light treatments address surface level acne and the bacteria that causes it. They don’t penetrate to deeper layers of skin, and they can’t address noninflammatory acne symptoms.
Laser treatments do penetrate to deeper layers of skin, and help to clear away damaged skin cells and clear pores. Laser treatments for acne encourage cell turnover, new skin cell growth, regulation of oil production and collagen production. They also treat whiteheads, blackheads and certain types of pustules.
Does Light Therapy Work for Acne?
Light therapy is considered both effective and safe for mild to moderate acne: it can help kill bacteria, treat active breakouts and prevent future breakouts. Blue and red light therapies help treat certain inflammatory acne blemishes, but they cannot treat cystic acne, nodular acne, blackheads or whiteheads.
For best results, you will need repeat treatments. It could take up to 12 weeks to see results of light therapy for acne, and it may take several sessions before any improvements are noticeable. Depending on your unique situation, your provider may also recommend occasional follow-up sessions to maintain results.
Blue light therapy for acne
In addition to treating acne, this therapy protects your face from the damage that causes aging. One study also found that blue light reduces cytokine production in skin cells, which alleviates inflammation. This anti-inflammatory property will help to reduce other symptoms of acne such as inflamed skin and redness.
Red light therapy for acne
Red light therapy for acne can help address inflammation, heal damaged skin and reduce the appearance of acne scars. Unlike blue light therapy, red light therapy is not antimicrobial.
Red light can penetrate to deeper layers of skin to relieve inflammation and promote healing. It may be used for chronic skin issues or combined with blue light therapy to address more moderate to severe forms of acne.
At-Home Light Therapy Devices for Acne
It’s possible to purchase an at-home light therapy device instead of going to a practitioner for professional sessions. Blue, red and combination devices are available.
Some scientific research has shown that at-home light therapy devices can successfully treat mild acne. In one study, participants who used light therapy devices at home reported a noticeable reduction in their acne symptoms, particularly in the number of pustules and papules.
However, there is currently no evidence that at-home light therapy devices are as effective as professional treatments. Results aren’t guaranteed and at-home treatments are not administered using professional-grade devices.
Light therapy mask
A light therapy acne mask is a wearable mask that emits blue, red or a combination of red and blue lights. Light therapy masks are considered effective for mild to moderate acne. They should not be used by people who experience migraine headaches, vision issues or have epilepsy.
Light therapy pen
Light therapy pens are small, targeted, pinpoint devices designed to deliver light therapy as a spot treatment, rather than over the entire face. A light therapy pen uses either light color or a combination of both and can be used to target specific pimples.
Light therapy wand
A light therapy wand is a device that’s larger than a light therapy pen and is used to cover a greater area of the face; they are handheld devices that can be passed over the face to treat breakouts.
Light therapy panel
Light therapy panels are the most expensive option of at-home light therapy devices. Some panels come on a stand that you can sit in front of to receive treatments. Other panels are curved and shaped so you can lie down beneath them.
Although red light and blue light therapies are considered safe, there are some side effects associated with them. People who receive light therapy may experience mild:
Sometimes, it’s possible to experience rarer, more serious side effects. These include:
- Hyperpigmentation due to post-treatment sun damage
- Oozing at the treatment site
- Severe pain
If you develop blistering, oozing or a fever after your session, contact your doctor right away; you may have a skin infection.
Can light therapy make acne worse?
For some individuals, it is possible that blue light therapy could worsen symptoms of severe acne. However, there is little information to explain why this sometimes occurs.
Cost of Light Therapy Treatments
The cost of light therapy treatments varies from one type of treatment to another. In-office treatments are the most costly over time, ranging from as low as $25 per session to $800 per session.
During the initial treatment phase, which lasts 4–6 weeks, your provider may recommend two to five weekly sessions for up to 3 months. For maintenance, you may need to have repeat treatments every 2–3 months.
Home light therapy devices are less expensive, but may not be as effective as in-office treatments. Their costs range from $50 to $2,000, depending on the device you choose.
If you’re experiencing mild to moderate acne, light therapy is a noninvasive and safe way to treat your breakouts. Blue light therapy is antimicrobial and can help to kill the P. acnes that cause acne. Red light therapy promotes skin healing and can reduce the appearance of mild acne scars.
You can choose to receive light therapy treatments from your provider in office. Alternatively, you may opt to purchase an at-home device such as a light therapy mask, pen, wand or panel. Many home devices are less expensive in the long-term than professional treatments, but they may not be as effective.
Light therapy for acne has few side effects, but it’s possible to experience mild bruising, redness, irritation, peeling, or pain after light therapy treatments. If you experience more severe symptoms or display signs of an infection, contact your doctor right away.
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