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Can Light Therapy Clear Acne Prone Skin?

Light therapy is a non-invasive treatment that kills acne-causing bacteria on the skin. This might be the answer to your acne that does not respond to every other solution you’ve tried.

Nearly 50 million people in the US suffer from acne. However, many are unhappy despite receiving treatment. Sometimes, there are undesirable and intolerable side effects from medications.

For the past 20 years, dermatologists have used light therapy, also called phototherapy, to combat acne. There are now enough studies to convince us that using visible light devices is an effective treatment. Not only is it safe, but also relatively free from side effects.

Do You Need Phototherapy for Acne?

Millions of pores cover your skin and sit at hair follicles. The pores connect your skin’s surface to an underlying sebaceous gland, which produces an oily substance known as sebum. As it is constantly released, sebum can get mixed with dead skin cells and go to the surface of the pores. Excess sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria can block the pores, causing pimples.

Several things can also lead to acne or make it worse, such as:

  • Fluctuating hormones around the time of a woman’s period
  • Diet, which you can easily modify
  • Clothing and headgear such as hats or sports helmets
  • High humidity and air pollution 
  • Using oily or greasy personal products, such as heavy creams, lotions, or hair pomades and oils
  • Stress or increased cortisol level
  • Certain medications
  • Genetics

What is Phototherapy?

Phototherapy is a process that uses a specific type of light to kill acne-causing bacteria and make your skin less oily. It is remarkably effective in treating blemishes unresponsive to other treatments.

Doctors once used UV radiation from the sun to treat acne. However, while it can clear up acne, it can also cause skin cancer

Today, they use specific wavelengths of visible light for various skin conditions without causing harm. “Visible” light means seeing the color emitted—red or blue.

When is It Used for Acne?

Phototherapy is a last resort kind of treatment. Even so, it may not be for those who are:

How Does Light Therapy Work?

Light therapy uses light-emitting diodes (LED). Though present since the 1960s, they have only been used for skin problems recently.

Different wavelengths of LED lights penetrate the skin at different depths. This triggers healing processes and rejuvenation in our skin.

Currently, its ability to increase collagen production makes phototherapy a popular option. This can smoothen your skin, reduce wrinkles and age spots, and help prevent other skin problems.

The Spectrum of LED Lights

Blue Light Therapy

Blue light is the best option for acne treatment. One study found that people suffering from acne treated with blue light therapy devices for five weeks saw a 77 percent improvement in their disease.

It has three distinct properties that make it an effective anti-acne weapon: antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and reduces excess sebum.

Blue light therapy eliminates free radicals that damage and age your skin. In fact, when combined with a compound called aminolevulinic acid (ALA), it may reduce your risk of getting skin cancer.

Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy is not antibacterial but also has anti-inflammatory benefits. It promotes healing, repairs damaged tissue, and reduces the visibility of scars.

It is the best for conditions like actinic keratosis, which develops from prolonged sun exposure. But you may consider red light therapy if your acne is due to a chronic disease.

How are Light Therapy Treatments Done?

LED light therapy may be done at home or in a professional’s workplace. Pulses of light therapy will be applied to various parts of your face in a circular fashion. Each session may last 15-30 minutes and is generally not painful.

Devices in clinics can deliver more intense pulsed light than at-home devices. This makes professional treatment more efficient.

How Much Do LED Light Home Treatments Cost?

LED light home kits can cost $25 to $250 or more. Neutrogena costs around $38. Other brands like Tria, Foreo, and LightStim are available at $149 to $169.

How Often Do You Need to Use it to See Results?

Different types of light treatment and laser therapy may significantly reduce the number and severity of facial acne.

LED Light Devices

You would need several sessions of phototherapy over four to six weeks to treat mild-to-moderate acne outbreaks.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved some home-based LED devices. Because of the limited strength, it may be necessary to use the device twice daily, for 30-60 minutes, for up to five weeks.

Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)

PDT is ideal for severe acne. Dermatologists have helped the skin of patients with severe acne improve over a few years.

This involves a solution that makes the skin more sensitive to light. The solution is left on the skin for between 15 minutes and 3 hours per session. The dermatologist then applies light or laser on those areas.

PDT may be done over months with each session held 3-4 weeks apart. You may see results weeks after the last treatment.

What to Expect with Light Therapy?

While LED devices are now considered the most effective and safest way to treat skin inflammation, such as whiteheads and blackheads, everyone will react differently. 

With red light, your skin will be tighter. The anti-inflammatory properties will help prevent chronic acne and photodamage. This is helpful for skin conditions, including actinic keratosis.

With blue light, your skin will be radiant. There will be fewer bacteria and less grime that can clog your pores.

Despite these benefits, it is best to consult your dermatologist before you try this treatment. Natural treatments are available if LED light therapy is not appropriate for you. Learn more about clinically proven supplements in this eBook.

Known Side-Effects of Light Therapy

Light therapy is generally considered safe, but there can be side effects.

However, if your symptoms persist or you notice hives or inflammation after LED light therapy, consult your doctor immediately.

Does Light Therapy Cause Purging? 

Skin purging refers to a reaction when an active ingredient increases the skin cell turnover rate.

Red LED light therapy on the face triggers cellular processes that promote cell turnover, causing mild skin purging.

Conclusion

Light therapy significantly helps with skin improvement. The most popular benefits are related to dealing with acne, wrinkles, fine lines, and other skin conditions. In addition, you may enjoy a relaxing and pampering treatment at home.

Whether you choose self-treatment at home or undergo sessions at a clinic, always include preventive measures in your routine. Consuming vegetables and fruits regularly and using natural remedies will pave the way to getting clearer skin. In fact, it might enhance the benefits of undergoing phototherapy.

After treatment, your skin may become more sensitive. Therefore, you might have to stop using exfoliants and scrubs for a few days. Remember to apply sunscreen during the daytime!

Partner light therapy with a healthy lifestyle and a good skincare routine for the best results. If you are overwhelmed with where to start, check out this informative eBook.

FAQs

Q: Is red light or blue light therapy better for acne?

Professionals may prefer blue light for acne breakouts. It is more effective against acne caused by bacteria. However, red light is suitable for rejuvenating your damaged skin.

Q: How long does it take for light therapy to clear acne?

Most people with acne will see improvements in four to six weeks of regular sessions.

Q: Can you do acne light therapy at home?

Yes, some devices are FDA-approved to treat breakouts. You may use them for 30-60 minutes twice daily for up to five weeks. However, the results of self-treatment may differ from what can be achieved when you go to a clinic.

Q: Is there an FDA-approved light therapy for acne?

Yes. Both blue and red light therapies are safe, drug-free, FDA-approved alternatives for managing acne vulgaris.

Q: What is the best acne light therapy device?

DeMarkQ POP LED Light Zone Acne Treatment is one of the most popular light therapy devices for home use. It uses medical-grade LED lights, both blue and red, to reduce the appearance and severity of acne.
Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Treatment is a more affordable option.

Q: Can light therapy be used for cystic acne?

LED light therapy is only effective for inflammatory acne with red bumps or pustules. It does not treat cystic or hormonal acne.

Sources: 

  1. “Skin Conditions by the Numbers.” American Academy of Dermatology, https://www.aad.org/media/stats-numbers
  2. J;, Elman M;Lebzelter. “Light Therapy in the Treatment of Acne Vulgaris.” Dermatologic Surgery : Official Publication for American Society for Dermatologic Surgery [Et Al.], U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14756640/
  3. Ablon, Glynis. “Phototherapy with Light Emitting Diodes: Treating a Broad Range of Medical and Aesthetic Conditions in Dermatology.” The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5843358/
  4. Dai, Tianhong, et al. “Blue Light for Infectious Diseases: Propionibacterium Acnes, Helicobacter Pylori, and beyond?” Drug Resistance Updates : Reviews and Commentaries in Antimicrobial and Anticancer Chemotherapy, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3438385/
  5. “PDT: What Is PDT?: Photodynamic Therapy.” American Cancer Society, https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/radiation/photodynamic-therapy.html. 
  6. Gold, Michael H, et al. “Clinical Efficacy of Self-Applied Blue Light Therapy for Mild-to-Moderate Facial Acne.” The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2923954/

Sorbellini, Elisabetta, et al. “Photodynamic and Photobiological Effects of Light-Emitting Diode (LED) Therapy in Dermatological Disease: An Update.” Lasers in Medical Science, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6133043/

Need more help? Ask our team!

I’ve helped over 2,500 people clear their acne naturally. If you cannot easily find an answer to your question on the website, please reach out to me by email ([email protected]) or send me a message on Instagram or Twitter. I will reply within 24 hours.

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sam wood is GoodGlow's Chief Editor
Analyzed by Sam Wood

Hi I’m Sam Wood. I’m the chief editor, lead acne expert, and health coach behind GoodGlow. I’m also an author of one of the top selling acne books on Amazon, a husband, father of two, and a pretty good cook!

I’m so glad you found GoodGlow and hope the information I have spent the last 10 years cultivating will help you clear your skin and improve your overall health.

I began experiencing acne breakotus as a sophomore in high school, but unlike most of my friends, my acne actually got worse as I got into my 20s. I exercised regularly, ate healthy (or so I thought) and spent hundreds of dollars a month on high end skincare products and supplements to help clear my skin. Despite these measures my acne breakouts and scarring only got worse as the years wore on.

This greatly wore on my self confidence and mental health. Simple things like taking pictures or going out with a large group made me feel self conscious. So I avoided these situations whenever I could help it.

As a last ditch effort I decided to try an extremely restrictive diet recommended by a close friend with an autoimmune disease. After following this diet for about two months my skin started to clear for the first time in over 8 years. The good news is that this restrictive diet is not actually necessary for 99% of people to permanently clear their skin, and over the course of a few months I was able to add back about 90% of my “normal diet”.

After clearing my skin I spent the next 4 years self experimenting on myself with different diets, supplements, skincare products to try and find a pattern for what was triggering my acne breakouts. I even tried different meditation, ice baths, and accupuncture to try and isolate the root cause of the breakouts.

In the end I realized that an extremely restrictive diet was not necessary for clear skin. The most important thing to do is to avoid inflammatory foods in your diet. Some common examples of this are fried foods, alcohol, sugar, and dairy.

Most impoirtantly I stopped reading trendy websites for skincare advice and began reading medical journals authored by dermatologists and nutritionists. Although the information in the articles was great the information was not easily understandable to most readers (including me). I spent hours dissecting individual posts and looking up terms I did not understand. Over the next 6 months I gradually began to understand these journals and started self experiemting some of the research on myself.

After experiencing quite a bit of success personally, I started sharing my research on forums and with close friends struggling with acne. When I shared the research it was in easy to understand, plain English. Everyone I talked to loved what I had to say and kept asking more and more questions. So I decided to start a blog so I could just send someone a link when they asked a question instead of rewriting something I had sent 100 times before 😅

While the same directional principles apply to everyone, acne is very personal and should be treated on an individual basis. That’s ultimately why I created GoodGlow. To help everyone reverse engineer the root cause of their acne and clear their skin permanently.

To date I’ve helped over 2,500 people clear their skin using a natural, holistic approach. If you are unable to find an answer to your question in any of the articles my team has written please reach out and I will do my best to guide you to the proper information and resources so you can make a thoughtful, informed decision.

Read more of Sam's articles.

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