Blue light therapy is a noninvasive treatment for acne that uses light to kill certain bacteria on the skin. Limited research suggests this technique might help with managing acne. However, alternative therapies could be more effective.

A form of phototherapy, some blue light treatments have approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for moderate acne vulgaris that has not responded to other therapies.

There is some evidence that blue light therapy can help treat acne or prevent an outbreak. However, research has not yet confirmed that it is very useful or better than topical retinoids and other treatments.

Blue light also appears to be safe, with only mild adverse effects. It is free from UV rays, and there is no evidence that it increases the risk of skin cancer or skin aging, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

A person can receive blue light therapy in a dermatologist’s office or at home.

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The AAD notes that light therapies show promise as a treatment for acne, with some people experiencing significant improvement. However, the organization also warns that results vary between individuals and that it is unlikely to clear acne completely. Additionally, a person will need several sessions, while results may not appear until several weeks after the last treatment.

Several studies have found that blue light therapy can benefit people with acne. However, a 2019 review notes that many of these studies are small and none lasted more than 12 weeks. The authors conclude that there is not enough evidence to fully support its use and recommend that doctors weigh the benefits and risks before recommending it.

What does the research say?

Findings that support the effects of blue light therapy for acne include the below research.

  • In 2011, 30 people used either a home use blue light device or a placebo device twice daily until their lesions disappeared. In those who used the blue light, improvements occurred significantly sooner than in those who used the placebo.
  • In a 2009 study, 21 people with mild-to-moderate acne received self-administered blue light therapy twice weekly for 5 weeks. The researchers reported that their lesions reduced by 64%.
  • A 2004 study on 28 adults with facial acne who underwent eight sessions of blue light therapy over 4 weeks experienced nearly 65% improvement in acne lesions overall.
  • A Japanese study of 10 people with acne on their face or back reported that targeted blue light therapy once or twice a week led to a significant reduction in acne severity in eight participants. None experienced any harmful effects.
  • In another study, 33 people with mild-to-moderate facial acne self-administered blue light twice daily for 8 weeks, along with certain skin care products. After the final treatment, over 90% of participants reported improvements in overall skin appearance, clarity, tone, texture, and smoothness. The vast majority, 82%, were satisfied with the treatment system, while 86% reported that it was gentler than other acne treatments.
  • In a 2013 study, around half of a group of 35 people in Korea used a light therapy device combining blue and red light twice daily for 4 weeks. They underwent evaluation after 12 weeks, while the other half used a placebo device. Those who used the light therapy device saw a 77% improvement in inflammatory lesions and a 54% improvement in noninflammatory lesions.

It is important to note that the majority of this research involves self-reported outcomes, which may be less reliable than clinical test results.

What are some other ways of treating acne?

Scientists believe blue light therapy may help manage acne because blue light rays help destroy the P. acnes bacterium responsible for producing acne. They may also have an anti-inflammatory effect on keratinocytes, the most common cells in the outer layer of the skin.

Blue light therapy may offer some benefits over alternative acne treatments for the following reasons.

  • It is safe as long as a trained practitioner administers it.
  • It is unlikely to produce long-term complications.
  • It does not involve antibiotics or other drugs.
  • It is appropriate for all areas of the body.
  • It is suitable for use with most other acne therapies.
  • It does not cause scarring.

Blue light therapy may help treat conditions other than acne.

Actinic keratosis is a condition that can sometimes lead to skin cancer. Combining blue light therapy with a drug known as aminolevulinic acid (ALA or Levulan) may help reduce the risk of developing skin cancer. A person applies the medication to the skin, while the light then activates the drug.

According to Mental Health America, blue light may help regulate circadian rhythms, commonly known as the body clock. Melanopsin, a photoreceptor that plays a key role in regulating circadian rhythms, responds strongly to blue light. As a result, some people believe exposure to blue light may help manage sleep disorders. Blue light is present in sunlight, and some scientists have suggested that exposure to artificial blue light may help reduce seasonal affective disorder.

According to the AAD, two small studies have found that blue light therapy improved mild-to-moderate symptoms of psoriasis in people with pale to light brown skin.

A person can receive blue light therapy in a dermatologist’s office or administer it themselves at home.

It is advisable to arrive at the doctor’s office before treatment with clean, makeup-free skin. The doctor will provide goggles to protect the eyes, while the person lies or sits under a blue light for the duration of the treatment. Most people do not experience any pain or discomfort.

Between treatments, people should avoid touching or picking the blemishes on their skin. It is also important to follow the dermatologist’s advice on the use of products and home care techniques during and after the treatments.

A person will usually need follow-up sessions to maintain results.

With correct use, blue light therapy does not appear to pose any serious long-term effects. However, there may be some minor adverse effects, such as:

  • dry skin
  • changes in skin color
  • stinging
  • itchiness and irritation

However, these usually resolve soon after treatment.

Blue light therapy is not suitable for people with porphyria, a rare blood disorder that causes increased sensitivity to light. Similarly, individuals should not undergo this treatment if they have lupus or an allergy to porphyrins.

Additionally, if a person uses it with a photosensitizing drug, they may experience sun sensitivity for 2–3 days, irritation, and peeling.

According to one source, blue light therapy for acne can cost from $40 per session to $1,000–1,500 for a full package, with several weekly sessions.

Most people will need weekly sessions for several weeks, but this will depend on the severity of symptoms and how well the acne responds to therapy. For some people, two to four weekly treatments are enough. After symptoms improve, regular monthly treatment can help manage them.

Medicare and most insurance plans do not cover light therapy treatment for acne.

A person can buy blue light therapy devices for home use online. These may be an alternative option for those with mild acne, although they will be less powerful than a device available in a doctor’s office. They can also be expensive and may not benefit everyone.

It is also important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using these products.

Blue light therapy is a treatment that may help improve the symptoms of acne. Some research has shown that it works, although these involved mostly small, older studies.

A person can undergo blue light therapy at some doctor’s offices or by using a device at home. It does not involve UV light and appears to be safe.