Blue light therapy for acne: Benefits, side effects, and costs
A form of phototherapy, blue light treatments are FDA-approved for acne vulgaris that is moderate or has not responded to other therapies.
Blue light therapy can be carried out in a dermatologist's office or at home.
- Blue light therapy uses light in the blue wavelength range to kill the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes, on the skin.
- There is no recovery time, and the treatment has relatively few, if any, adverse effects.
- Studies show moderate evidence for the efficacy of blue light treatments for people with mild to moderate acne.
- It should be noted that most studies on blue light therapy are small and do not report on long-term results. There is a lack of data for outcomes in cases of severe acne.
Does blue light therapy work for acne?
Blue light has a frequency that can kill P. acnes bacteria and treat acne.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, light therapies "show great promise in treating acne," with many people experiencing a significant improvement in their skin health after a number of sessions.
Blue light therapy can be used to treat acne that is already present on the skin or to control the condition before an outbreak occurs.
However, the academy warns that acne does not usually completely clear up with phototherapy alone.
Additional treatments are often needed to manage acne symptoms fully.
What does the research say?
Findings that support the effects of blue light therapy for acne include:
- A study on people with mild to moderate acne who were treated with blue light therapy twice weekly for 5 weeks reported that lesions were reduced by 64 percent.
- A 2004 study on 28 adults with facial acne who underwent 8 sessions of blue light therapy over 4 weeks experienced nearly 65 percent 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 application twice daily for 8 weeks, along with certain skincare products. At the end, over 90 percent of participants reported improvements in overall skin appearance, clarity, tone, texture, and smoothness. The vast majority, 82 percent, were satisfied with the treatment system, and 86 percent reported that it was gentler than other acne treatments.
It is important to note that the majority of this research involves self-reported outcomes, which may be less reliable than using the results of clinical tests.
Advantages of blue light therapy for acne
Blue light therapy may offer some benefits over alternative acne treatments, as it is considered:
- safe and gentle
- appropriate for all areas of the body
- suitable for use with most other acne therapies
Unlike photodynamic therapy, there is no requirement to avoid the sun following treatment. Blue light therapy does not cause any scarring.
Blue light therapy for other conditions
A number of other conditions can be treated with blue light therapy, including:
- skin cancer
- skin problems
- mood disorders
- sleep disorders
What to expect
Blue light therapy can also help treatment of sleep disorders.
Blue light therapy can be administered in a dermatologist's office or at home.
In-office treatments are usually carried out 8 times over a 4-week period. Each session lasts 15-30 minutes, depending on the severity of the acne and the size of the area of the body being treated.
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 patient lies or sits under a blue light for the duration of the treatment. Most people do not experience any pain or discomfort.
Following treatment, some inflammation and redness may be noticeable around the treated area, although this should resolve quickly. Makeup can usually be applied immediately, although people should follow their doctor's advice on this.
Results are noticeable within 2-4 weeks, or even sooner in some cases.
Between treatments, people should avoid touching or picking the blemishes on their skin. It is important to follow the dermatologist's advice on the use of products and home care techniques, during and after the treatments.
Follow-up sessions are usually required to maintain results.
Effects and risks
Blue light therapy is normally carried out over a number of weeks.
When used correctly, blue light therapy does not appear to pose any serious long-term effects. However, some minor adverse reactions may be experienced, such as:
- dry skin
People with the rare condition known as porphyria, which is a blood disorder that causes increased sensitivity to light, should avoid blue light therapy. Similarly, it should not be used by people with lupus and allergies to porphyrins.
Self-administered blue light therapy
In recent years, a growing number of blue light products have become available to treat acne at home.
These are less aggressive than in-office treatments but may be more convenient and cost-effective for some users.
Self-applied blue light treatment has been reported to be easy and safe to use.
Cost and insurance
In general, blue light therapy costs between $40-$60 per session. Most insurance plans do not cover light therapy treatment for acne.
At-home devices may be an alternative option, particularly for those with mild acne. Blue light wands and masks can be purchased for as little as $35. It is important to follow the manufacturer's instructions when using these products.