The use of red and blue light therapy for acne is gaining momentum. More and more acne sufferers determined to clear their skin are turning to this new and available treatment. There are many terms coined for this same treatment.
Although most mean treatment used with LED lights. There is also laser therapy (IPL) and PDT (discussed later). LED light therapy is also known as low level light therapy (LLLT), phototherapy, blue-light therapy, red-light therapy, and LED therapy.
The logic behind red and blue light therapy targets the acne causing bacteria Propionibacterium acnes (P. Acnes). The therapy can either be laser or LED. The difference between them is that laser is cohorent light and LED is not.
Cohorent light is structured, constant light that is at the same frequency. LED light is scattered like sunlight.
How or Why Does Light Therapy Kill Bacteria?
Sunlight has always been good for our skin. It’s when we receive too much that it starts to become a problem. 😎 More pointedly, the blue and red rays out of the visible light spectrum are the most beneficial.
In short, the acne bacteria, P. acnes, contains a chemical, porphyrin. This porphyrin suffers from the blue and red light spectrum as oxygen destroys it. Which is good since they are presumed to be responsible for inflammation and causing acne. Oxygen is released from hemoglobin – when hemoglobin absorbs red and blue light. So to expose the skin to light and diminish the influence of bacteria will reduce acne.
As well as killing acne bacteria, energy from light can help in other ways. Using light therapy can increase blood circulation and mend broken capillaries.
Light therapy was first introduced by NASA in the 1960s. After they discovered its power to heal. It has an effect to a cellular level on the human body which enables quicker recovery.
It was used by NASA astronauts to increase the body’s ability to regenerate. And, repair tissue while on missions. This was highly beneficial as the body’s healing properties are not as efficacious in space. For instance, a 4 day injury might well turn into 2 days using light therapy.
From this technology, doctors discovered new ways of treating psoriasis. As well as some forms of cancer, rosacea, and arthritis, It is also used to relief pain in joints and tissue. Cosmetically, it is able to reduce fine lines and wrinkles and bring more nutrients to the skin.
To treat the skin we need cohorent light. Fortunately, we as humans, turn incoherent light into cohorent light when it hits our skin.
So both LED and laser are effective in their own way to treat acne. Although laser light is supposedly able to go deeper, LED is able to do more surface area at once.
LED light therapy is not to be confused with laser light therapy. Lasers are more resurfacing the outer layer of the skin with a laser to treat acne scars, freckles and hyper-pigmentation.
Light therapy both LED and laser is also not to be confused with photodynamic therapy (PDT). This therapy involves a photosensitizer on top of red/blue lights.
A photosensitizer is usually a topical cream for acne.
For other treatments such as some cancers, it can be in pill form. Hours later the cream (or pill) has worked its way into the body’s blood and overall system.
Then when light therapy takes place, the light activates the pill or cream. The photosensitizer targets bacteria as well as the light.
Which One? Laser, LED or PDT
IPL – Intense Impulse Light or Laser Therapy
*Can also be called Low Level Laser Therapy* (not to be confused with Low Level Light Therapy)
Laser treatment is advantageous in that it reaches deeper into the skin because of its coherent light. However, this is a double edged sword. The human body is used to incoherent light (the sun).
It is used to turning sunlight into coherent light. Therefore, the body’s reaction to laser treatment is foreign in a way.
Another similar factor is that laser treatment uses a small, concentrated (beam) of light. It’s effects are more energized, condensed and localized. Some pain can be experienced by the laser’s intense heat.
LED – Light Emitting Diode or Light Therapy
LED therapy is the opposite to what has just been mentioned for laser treatment. It may not penetrate as deep into the skin. But, it is incoherent light and more natural. It’s a near-infrared light more spread out and able to cover a larger area. It’s potency is lesser than laser treatment.
PDT – Photo-dynamic Therapy
This therapy provides a double whammy of sorts. The photosensitizing agent when activated by the light kills bacteria in combination with the light. It is the most powerful light therapy. Patients are to avoid sunlight 2 days afterwards as the skin can be red, swollen and sensitive.
LED, Laser and PDT therapies all smart alternatives to surgery or injections (botox). Light therapy can also reduce acne scars which is a great, non-invasive choice instead of dermabrasion. There is also no UV (ultraviolet) light with these therapies, eliminating the risk of cancer causing radiation.
As far as strengths and weaknesses go, LED delivers the most.
It can help the skin but doesn’t have the pain associated with laser treatment. It also does not have the change in the skin’s photo-sensitivity as in the case of PDT.
So Red or Blue?
Although blue light is most common to kill P. Acnes, red light can give the same results. They both are sometimes used in conjunction in a single treatment.
The use of red and blue light therapy for acne are the most effective out of the common colors used. Although ,there has been success in reducing acne made with green and yellow as well.
Red – The wavelength of red light can penetrate up to 10mm into the skin at 660nm (nanometres). Not only is at able to reduce acne. Red light can also improve the effects of aging and the general look of the skin. It can improve collagen and elastin levels in the deeper parts of the skin. Otherwise known as the dermis.
Red light can reduce the higher levels of oil produced by the sebaceous glands that is associated with acne.
Although it is used for acne, it primarily serves to reduce pigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles. Red light is also great as anti-inflammatory.
Blue – Blue light can’t go nearly as deep as red. However, blue light’s ability to heal acne is still legit. Blue light can penetrate up to 1 mm into the skin at 450nm. Some argue this is not deep enough to kill acne bacteria; however, results prove otherwise.
There is always bacteria on the surface of the face, that oxidizes and dies from blue light. It is the main light used for acne.
**Blue light therapy must work since actress Cameron Diaz (who suffers from adult acne) has her aesthetician perform regular treatments on her**
Verdict – If your main concern is acne then blue light will most likely best suit you. Red light will improve the look of the skin and reverse aging. A mixture of both is ideal.
Negative Side Effects
Although LED light therapy is quite pain-free. There can some small side effects post treatment. These include:
• Transitory blemishes (should disappear quickly)
• Sore eyes (although some eye protection should be worn to avoid this)
Some may be uncomfortable during treatment, although it’s reported as minor.
So Does Red and Blue Light Therapy for Acne . . . Really Work?
With theory behind light therapy quite solid, results still have varied. But really is it a surprise? Acne in my experience is one of the most resilient ailments around. Every time I tried something that I could have sworn was going to work. It never did. Time and again it would crash and burn.
Anti-biotics prescribed to combat acne causing bacteria can even build up a tolerance. Hearing that, I thought “Argh, just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse!”
Studies have proved a success rate of 50%. Any skin type can use light therapy.
Most devices that emit light energy for dermatological purposes have been approved by the FDA. I think that adds some credit. In addition, adding some authenticity to red and blue light therapy for combating acne.
A Typical Treatment, LED (Blue, Red) Light Therapy
Treatment: Administered in a clinic, beauty salon, or doctor surgery.
Dosage: 15 – 20 minutes. Once or twice a week, for 4 – 6 weeks. For severe acne, sessions may last longer, be more often or treatment can go for some months.
Costs: Initial Session – $100 – $200. Following sessions $30 – $60. Can be less expensive if combined with other forms of treatment done in the same session like a facial.
Result: Best for inflammatory acne, can also help hormonal. Results can be noticed after 4 – 8 sessions or approximately 4 weeks . Skin improvements can last up to several months. Redness and swelling can reduce. Acne scars and bumps may diminish and leave healthier looking skin.
Advantages: An experienced and licensed clinician can advise you on the best approach for your skin.
Disadvantages: Draining long-term costs.
Treatment: Administered at home by yourself or someone know using your personal light therapy device. Be sure to have an FDA approved device.
Dosage: 5 – 10 minutes daily.
Result: May not be as successful as a treatment with a clinician but certainly does bring results. They include also include healthier looking skin, a reduction in redness, swelling, acne scars and bumps.
Advantages: Can apply light therapy at one’s convenience and discretion.
Disadvantages: Unaided with a professional’s guidance. However, home therapy used in conjunction with visiting a clinic and using between sessions and under the supervision from your practitioner can be highly beneficial.
Another disadvantage may come in the form of a desire to overuse. This may worsen acne.
Safety: Patients should avoid light therapy if they have prophyria, skin cancer (precautionary), epilepsy. Included in this also is bi-polar as it can affect mood in these patients. Women who are also pregnant stay away from this treatment as well.
This treatment can be used with other forms of acne reducing techniques. Such as taking vitamins, cleansing and moisturizing. However, be aware of using products that can affect the photosensitivity of the skin such as tretinoin (Retin-A Topical Cream), or even St. John’s Wort.
In mentioning the above, red and blue light therapy for acne is among the safest treatments available for acne. With home therapy use, only purchase equipment cleared by the Food & Drug Administration.
I hope the information here has helped in some way. If you have any questions, queries or thoughts about red or blue light therapy to improve blemished skin. Please post them below.