Blue light therapy is a natural treatment for mild to moderate acne vulgaris. It uses light to kill acne-causing bacteria on the skin.
But is it the right acne treatment for you?
Read on to find out how you can use this non-invasive and gentle therapy to help remove the cause of acne.
How Does Blue Light Therapy Work to Clear Acne?
All light has an effect on the human body. Phototherapy, or light-based treatment, has been used for millennia to treat a variety of physical and psychological concerns.
For many years, doctors have prescribed natural sun exposure as a treatment for acne as well.
Today, we have the technology to isolate specific wavelengths of light to elicit the desired biochemical changes in the body. Isolating blue wavelengths offers the therapeutic benefits of the 400-480 nanometer spectrum without the dangers of UV light exposure.
Acne is caused by oil glands that become clogged with oil and/or dead skin cells. This can create a hospitable environment for Cutibacterium acnes, or C. acnes. These are also known as propionibacterium acnes, or P. acnes. These are the bacteria associated with acne vulgaris.
Once the bacteria have been killed, the body’s inflammatory response, and therefore the acne outbreak, subsides.
Blue Light Therapy: A Powerful Antimicrobial
Blue light therapy is best known for its extremely potent antimicrobial effects.
Many types of bacteria are highly sensitive to blue wavelengths. They are also vulnerable to the effects of blue wavelengths. The antimicrobial effects of blue light on acne-causing bacteria work by causing cytotoxic oxidative stress that de-activate the bacteria. This eventually kills the bacterial cells.
The last 50 years have seen an overuse of antibiotics, leading to mutated and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Because light does not cause bacteria to mutate and become resistant to light, therapies that use blue light could be effective alternatives to antimicrobial treatment.
Blue light therapy for acne can also be a useful approach for patients with sensitive skin and those who don’t tolerate topical or antibiotic treatments well. Other acne treatments, including benzoyl peroxide, can lead to allergic reactions. Meanwhile, the effectiveness of antibiotics reduces when bacteria become resistant to them.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) states that blue light therapy is generally safe and has few side effects when used to treat psoriasis, another inflammatory skin condition that shares some characteristics with acne vulgaris.
Is Blue Light Therapy an Effective Treatment for Acne?
Blue light therapy can be an effective treatment for mild to moderate acne.
Some people experience a dramatic improvement, but results will vary from one individual to another. Simply killing acne-causing bacteria can be a permanent solution. However, ongoing light therapy treatments are necessary to continue killing acne-causing bacteria, which tones down the inflammatory response.
Some may want to make changes to their diet and hygienic practices. This can help reduce skin oil production, cleanse the skin to keep pores clear, and prevent bacterial colonies from forming on the skin.
Blue light acne treatment is generally effective and well-tolerated by those with mild to moderate acne. However, adverse reactions could occur if treatment is combined with a photosensitizing drug. Especially if this is the case, we recommend consulting with a doctor before using blue light acne treatment.
There are two other types of light therapy to consider in severe cases of inflammatory acne vulgaris: photodynamic therapy or a combination of blue and red light therapy.
Photodynamic Therapy for the Treatment of Acne
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) has been used to treat severe inflammatory acne. PDT is a different treatment than blue light phototherapy.
- Phototherapy shines a specific wavelength of light onto bare skin to destroy photosensitive bacteria. This is the type of phototherapy administered using LED light therapy devices, whether the treatment is done at home or in a clinical setting.
- Photodynamic therapy uses topical photosensitizing medications and oxygen to amplify the effects of blue light. This treatment is given by a medical professional.
Photosensitizing medications cause certain bacterial cells to produce light-absorbing molecules called porphyrins. The porphyrins make the bacterial cells more photosensitive, which, in the presence of oxygen, leads to even more severe oxidative stress that will cause them to malfunction and die.
PDT can also reduce the size and activity of the sebaceous glands (the oil-producing glands on the skin), which helps prevent them from becoming clogged and infected.
For most people with mild to moderate facial acne, regular blue light phototherapy can be enough to kill bacteria and reduce inflammation. Visible light does not increase antibiotic resistance. It can be used in case of acne relapses. It also does not cause side effects associated with PDT including pain, burning, crusting, and peeling.
Combined Blue and Red Light Therapy for the Treatment of Acne
If you’re familiar with red light therapy, you may be wondering if a combination of the two could be worthwhile in treating acne vulgaris. The answer is yes.
A combination of blue, red, and near-infrared (NIR) light could yield amazing results because red and NIR wavelengths absorb much deeper into the skin than blue wavelengths.
Red light therapy, which includes red or NIR or both, helps clear up acne by:
- Killing bacteria, especially any infections deeper in the skin
- Reducing inflammation
- Wound healing, diabetic and otherwise
- Promoting blood flow to the skin to support skin health
- Stimulating collagen synthesis, which can help reduce acne scarring
Harness the antibacterial benefits of blue light and the deeper-level anti-inflammatory benefits of red light therapy, and you could potentially say goodbye to acne forever.
Treating acne can be challanging, which often results in over prescription of antibiotics. Antibiotics have side effects that, in some cases, can exacerbate acne or make it even harder to manage, creating a frustrating cycle. The demand for effective and non-invasive treatments is growing as more people want to feel better without reliance on drugs. With proper treatment parameters, red and blue light therapy has potential to offer beneficial healing outcomes for treatment of acne with minimal risk for side effects.
Functional Medicine Doctor of Physical TherapyDr. Alayna Newton, PT, DPT, FAFS
Blue Light Therapy for Acne: The Advantages
In addition to killing C. acnes, blue light treatment also applies anti-inflammatory properties to the keratinocytes, the most common cells in the outer layer of the skin.
Blue wavelengths are very short, so they cannot penetrate deeper into the skin. However, blue wavelengths do have beneficial effects on the surface of the skin. And blue light therapy may offer some important benefits over various prescribed acne treatments.
Here are a number of the benefits:
- Blue light is safe when used as directed
- Self-applied blue light treatment minimizes expensive and time-consuming clinic visits
- It is non-invasive
- It won’t result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria
- It can be used anywhere on the body. LED light therapy devices allow for the convenient treatment of larger areas of the body at once.
- It can be used along with most other acne treatments
- Side effects (if any) are minimal, and the treatment won’t cause pain or scarring
- It can be used while pregnant or nursing, unlike tetracycline and other antibiotics
Blue Light Therapy for Acne: Research Results
Numerous studies demonstrate significant decreases in the number of acne lesions after blue light treatments. As an additional benefit, users often report an improvement in self-confidence as their acne lesions clear up.
The beneficial effects of blue light therapy for acne are clinically proven. The following studies show a number of links between blue light therapy and clinical results.
We recommend skimming through this to check out some of the clinical results.
Our BIOMAX panels now offer blue light therapy and red light therapy combined, for optimal treatment.
In 2003, intense blue light was used to inactivate P. acnes. Cultures were exposed to blue wavelengths for various lengths of time with staggering results: a 99.99% reduction of cell viability after just two illuminations. This decrease in cell viability included structural damage to membranes in the bacterial cells.
In another case, 28 study participants experienced a 64.7% improvement in acne after eight blue light treatment sessions.
Another review in 2004 found that 85% of clinical trial patients demonstrated at least a 50% reduction in lesions after four biweekly blue light treatments and about 20% of patients reported a 90% eradication of acne, with a 70-80% rate of clearance three months after the last treatment.
As time went on, researchers continued to discover blue light therapy to be an effective acne treatment in most cases.
In a 2007 study, 420 nm blue light treatment was given to 10 people with mild to moderate facial or back acne. Treatments once or twice a week reduced acne severity in 8 out of the 10 participants.
A 2008 study showed that 420 nm blue light therapy improved acne symptoms in 21 patients. All patients were given a total of eight treatments (14-minute treatments twice a week for one month). The treatment resulted in a reduction of both inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions, even though the P. acnes colony counts remained constant.
In another study in 2008, researchers found that blue light treatments resulted in significant improvements in patients with moderate to severe acne. Patients receiving LED treatment required about 10 sessions to achieve at least 90% clearing of their acne.
In a 2009 study, 21 people with mild to moderate facial acne self-administered blue light therapy twice a week for five weeks. The treatments resulted in a 64% reduction in acne lesions.
In 2011, 30 study participants received either a placebo or a blue light treatment for inflammatory acne. Four treatments were conducted twice a day. The light treatment group experienced a significantly faster reduction of lesions as well as an improvement in overall skin tone. It only took two treatments before participants reported signs of improvement.
Another study from 2011 revealed that 90% of the 33 study participants experienced significant improvements in mild to moderate acne after twice daily blue light treatments along with certain skin care products. After the eight-week study, most participants reported improvements in overall skin appearance including clarity, tone, texture, and smoothness. 82% were satisfied with this treatment, and 86% reported that it was gentler on the skin than other treatments for acne.
In 2012, world-renowned light therapy researcher Dr. Michael Hamblin co-authored a paper that observed the effects of blue light on P acnes. Besides its antimicrobial effects (which do not require the use of photosensitizers), blue wavelengths are much less harmful to human cells than UV wavelengths. UV therapy is another commonly accepted treatment for acne.
Dr. Hamblin et. al. reported that blue light regulates multi-cellular behavior including cellular communication and excited porphyrins in bacterial cells, which cause cytotoxic oxidative stress and premature cell death. The paper cited a study in which P. acnes suspensions were exposed to blue light for 60 minutes. The bacterial viability decreased by 15.7% immediately after exposure, and 24.4% one hour after exposure. To summarize, his research also leads us to believe that blue light therapy strongly impacts acne.
In 2013, researchers treated half of the patients studied with a combination of red and blue light and the other half with a placebo treatment. This was a four-week protocol of two treatments on a daily basis. Patients using the red/blue light treatment saw a 77% improvement in inflammatory acne lesions and a 54% improvement in noninflammatory acne lesions. No significant difference was observed in the placebo group. Researchers found reduced sebum output a reduction in the size of sebaceous glands. In the treatment group, there was a sebum output reduction and a decreased inflammatory response.
A 2016 study used blue light in addition to chromophore gel for treatment. This 12-week clinical trial found that using photo-converter chromophores along with light treatment was effective in treating moderate to severe inflammatory acne. After the treatment, patients demonstrated improvements which were particularly noteworthy in cases of severe acne.
Based on these and many other studies, blue light can be considered an effective treatment for acne and to prevent future acne flare-ups, with minimal side effects.
What Else Blue Light Therapy Treats
Other than acne, blue light therapy may help treat a variety of other physical and psychological conditions.
A Defense Against Other Harmful Bacteria
MRSA, or methicillin-resistant S. aureus are also highly vulnerable to blue light. One study found a 92.1% eradication of one strain of MRSA and a 93.5% eradication of another strain. Both were achieved in less than 10 minutes of exposure.
In fact, 405 nm blue light is phototoxic to many strains of bacteria, including Gram-positive E-coli, S. aureus, Staphylococcus epidermidis, Streptococcus pyogenes, Enterococcus faecalis, and Clostridium perfringens, and Gram-negative A. baumannii, P. aeruginosa, Proteus vulgaris, and Klebsiella pneumoniae.
This shows great promise in the therapeutic value of blue wavelengths in the 402-420 nm range against infectious bacterial diseases. This could also potentially reduce the need for antibiotics, given that visible light does not cause bacteria to become antibiotic-resistant.
PDT for Skin Cancer and Precancerous Skin Lesions
Photodynamic therapy that uses blue light along with aminolevulinic acid (ALA or Levulan) has a similar phototoxic effect on precancerous cells and cancer cells. Treating precancerous lesions can help prevent the development of malignant squamous-cell melanomas.
Putting the antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects of blue light to use in skin wound healing makes sense given that the treatment is non-invasive and has minimal side effects. In vitro studies, animal studies, and human clinical trials confirm that blue light can accelerate the healing of wounds.
Blue Light Therapy at Home: Cost and Accessibility
Today, you can achieve great results using blue light for acne with a powerful medical-grade LED light therapy device. This means you can self-administer the treatment at home without costly co-pays and the hassles of frequent visits to the doctor’s office.
The costs of buying a home blue light therapy device or a combination blue/red/NIR light therapy device are quickly offset by their ability to provide ongoing treatment.
In the long run, self-applied blue light treatments are significantly less expensive than ‘in-clinic visits,’ especially for chronic skin conditions. The cost of a home device is typically less than three or more treatment sessions and panels can be used effectively for years.
We recommend seeking your doctor's advice before starting any self-administered treatment for acne or other skin condition.
Blue Light Therapy Solutions
Platinum Therapy Lights now offers the most advanced therapy panel available in the consumer market, with blue lights and red lights combined.
It includes a 480nm blue light along with powerful red light wavelengths of 630nm, 660nm, 810nm, 830nm, and 850nm. The panels are effective, affordable, and easy to use for home treatment.
Take a look at the BIOMAX series panels for more information.
Also, if you're a sauna user, you may enjoy the SaunaMAX Pro. These are first ever consumer panels designed for interior sauna use.