According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, acne vulgaris affects about 50 million Americans, making it the most common skin condition in the country.
While it’s most prevalent in teens, this emotionally devastating skin disorder can occur at any stage of life and it can linger for decades.
Treatment is often frustratingly ineffective. Meanwhile, the cost of acne treatment can be from $36 to $336 annually for topical products, $72 to $150 annually for oral products, and acne treatment procedures such as laser ablation can run from $167 to $2,509 annually.
This doesn't even include dermatology visits which run $221 on average. The high recurring cost, as well as side effects of many types of acne treatment, has led many people to seek alternative treatments.
Red light therapy for acne is emerging as a powerful treatment that addresses one of the root causes of acne: inflammation.
The main cause of acne is not propionibacterium acnes.
Read on to find out why dermatologists have had it all wrong for so many years and what you can do about it!
Can Red Light Therapy Help with Acne?
In the past, sun exposure was recommended as a natural treatment of acne vulgaris. And, it works for about 70% of people. Once technology allowed us to isolate specific wavelengths of light, UV wavelengths became the preferred light therapy for both mild to moderate acne and severe acne.
But we now know that UV light can cause photoaging, so it must be used with extreme caution (UV treatment of acne is performed by some dermatologists).
Red and near infrared light therapy isolates the therapeutic red and near infrared wavelengths that can be a significant ally in the treatment of mild to moderate acne and even severe acne. This natural acne treatment has proven effective in improving overall skin health with no side effects.
This natural light treatment is best known for its anti-aging properties; but light therapy works exceptionally well as a treatment for chronic skin conditions including psoriasis, rosacea, eczema, and acne vulgaris.
When combined with dietary changes, good hygiene, and doctor-prescribed topical or oral treatments, regular red light therapy treatment will support the body in clearing up acne lesions, reducing the appearance of acne scarring, and restoring healthy skin.
Here's how it works.
How Red Light Therapy Treats Acne
Red light therapy uses a powerful device fitted with precisely calibrated light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to shine specific visible light wavelengths (red and NIR) onto bare skin. This natural light treatment is painless, non-invasive, and free of side effects, which makes it a great alternative for acne sufferers who have had allergic reactions to topical or oral acne medications.
As red and near-infrared wavelengths of light absorb into the skin, the light photons interact with light-sensitive chromophores in each cell. This interaction sparks a chain reaction of benefits that can help clear up chronic skin disorders.
Red wavelengths (630-660nm) are most often used for treating surface conditions of the skin (like acne). But red light is only part of the picture.
Longer NIR wavelengths (810-850nm) penetrate deep into the tissues beneath the skin to support the body’s natural healing mechanisms.
These two wavelength groups are most potent when used together, since they address both the symptoms and causes of acne in all of the layers of skin and below the skin.
Does Blue Light Therapy Help Treat Acne?
Blue light therapy is well known for its ability to kill acne-causing bacteria which makes it a popular treatment for this skin condition. Some light therapy devices specifically intended for the treatment of mild to moderate acne combine blue and red light, and some only deliver blue light.
Blue light therapy can be effective and even more so when combined with red light therapy.
Blue light has very short wavelengths, which means it can only affect the outermost layer of skin, absorbing into the dead skin cells of the epidermis. Nonetheless, this often benefits those seeking acne treatments.
Does Phototherapy Help Treat Acne?
Phototherapy uses blue light along with photosensitizing drugs to effectively kill bacterial infections. Phototherapy is administered by a dermatologist and is a viable treatment for severe acne. Meanwhile, at home blue light treatment using panels can be effective as well. The combination of red light and blue light together with exposure to a panel, can have positive impacts as well.
Red Light Therapy: Acne Treatment Results
Red light therapy treats acne at the cellular level through several key mechanisms which we will explore in this section along with relevant studies.
Here, you will discover why bacteria isn't the main problem; and how red light therapy for acne can be the solution for inflammatory acne vulgaris.
There are four main ways that red light therapy treats acne and supports skin health.
Red Light Therapy Reduces Inflammation
For a long time, dermatologists believed that bacterial infection was the cause of acne. The conventional thinking was that clogged pores led to acne outbreaks.
However, recent research suggests that bacteria directly causes symptoms (redness and pimples), but it is not the real trigger for this skin disorder.
The real cause of acne is chronic inflammation.
Inflammation is a normal part of the immune response to pathogens. Acute inflammation is temporary and goes away within hours or days. Chronic systemic inflammation, which can last months or years after the initial trigger, can be a big problem.
We may not even recognize that certain systems are inflamed, which is why it’s so sneaky and why symptoms are often attributed to other causes.
But back to acne…
What we see as swollen, red pimples is the secondary inflammatory stage of acne. This is the body's reaction to a bacterial overgrowth on the skin as the immune system sends “all hands on deck” to fight the overgrowth and resulting infection. It’s the sudden abundant accumulation of white blood cells that causes the skin to erupt in painful red and swollen pimples.
Addressing Bacterial Overgrowth
But what causes the bacterial overgrowth in the first place?
New research shows that it’s not bacteria-first-then-acne. It’s rather the case that inflammation causes acne. This gives a whole new meaning to "inflammatory acne."
Here’s why a bacterial overgrowth isn’t at the root of the problem. Inflammation in the skin oxidizes the sebum (oil) in pores and hair follicles, lowering the sebum’s oxygen content. This creates a very welcoming environment for Propionibacterium acnes or p.acnes, which are anaerobic bacteria that thrive in low-oxygen environments.
Once p.acnes find this low oxygen environment in oxidized oil-clogged pores, they start multiplying like crazy and cause infection in the pore or hair follicle. This triggers the secondary inflammation that’s visible as pimples.
Therefore it’s vital to remove the bacterial welcome mat that was put out by systemic (cell-level) inflammation. Shut the door to this, and the skin can begin to heal.
Treating Systemic Inflammation
Systemic inflammation can be caused by poor diet (most notably high-sugar diets and food intolerances), stress, environmental toxins, and autoimmune disorders. This is why positive lifestyle changes along with red light therapy are your best defense against acne.
The first step in the treatment of acne is, therefore, decreasing the systemic inflammation which causes or contributes to bacterial colonization that leads to acne outbreaks. This helps restore a normal oxygen-rich environment where p.acnes won’t find a happy home and won’t multiply. Thus, there will be no secondary inflammatory response in the form of acne outbreaks.
Red light therapy addresses inflammation throughout each layer of the skin and even beneath the skin.
The Anti-inflammatory Properties of RLT
Dr. Michael Hamblin, a researcher from Harvard Medical School (now retired), wrote a landmark paper in 2017 which outlines the anti-inflammatory properties of red light therapy.
Dr. Hamblin wrote that red light reduces oxidative stress in cells. Both animal and human studies show potent anti-inflammatory properties. The treatment has successfully been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis (an inflammatory disorder), inflammatory skin conditions, and even wound healing where a chronic inflammatory response is delaying healing.
Red light treatment reduces inflammatory pain and has been used to treat traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal cord injury, a variety of autoimmune diseases, achilles tendinopathy, thyroiditis, muscle recovery, psoriasis and other inflammatory skin disorders, arthritis, alopecia areata (hair loss), and more.
The PlatinumLED Therapy Lights ‘Learn’ page offers a wealth of information on the many inflammatory conditions treatable with red light therapy.
Dr. Hamblin also said, “... there also appears to be a systemic effect whereby light delivered to the body can positively benefit distant tissues and organs. The versatile benefits of [red light therapy] on the brain and the central nervous system, encourages further study of its ability to reduce neuroinflammation. Chronic diseases of the modern age involving systemic inflammation such as type II diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease and endothelial dysfunction are again worth investigating in the context of [red light therapy].”
Red Light Stimulates Better Cellular Performance
If you’ve ever been jet-lagged or tried to put in a day’s work after being up all night, you know how hard it is to perform at your best, and that when you’re depleted you’re more likely to get sick. It’s the same with your skin cells.
The cells’ “batteries” — tiny organelles within each cell that generate most of the cell's fuel (adenosine triphosphate or ATP) — may struggle to produce enough energy which directly affects cellular performance. This condition, called mitochondrial dysfunction, could be caused by inflammation or several other factors.
The anti-inflammatory effect of red light therapy is the first step toward the treatment of acne lesions and restoration of healthy skin.
How RLT Boosts Cellular Performance
Light-sensitive chromophores within the mitochondria absorb red and NIR light photons, which stimulates the mitochondria to convert this light into energy. If you remember plant photosynthesis from biology class, it’s a very similar process of converting light to energy.
Enhanced energy production gives cells the boost they need to perform their functions. This includes self-repair and faster cell turnover. Faster cell turnover means that if you currently suffer from acne scars, they could become less apparent in a few months of treatment.
Numerous researchers have studied the mechanisms by which red light therapy boosts ATP production. A recent review says that there is substantial evidence that red/NIR light therapy delivered by lasers or LEDs increase mitochondrial ATP levels.
“How” is still a hotly debated topic; but the treatment shows enormous potential for cell-based therapies where rapid cell turnover is essential. Since skin cells are some of the fastest-regenerating cells in the body, boosting the energy of both existing and emerging cells can be a powerful acne treatment that also supports restoration of healthy skin.
Red Light Therapy Increases Collagen Production
Both red and NIR light are well known for increasing collagen production. If you’ve developed scarring due to severe acne, you know how embarrassing it can be. With regular red light therapy acne treatments you’ll be able to clear up your skin and support the growth of normal skin that will eventually replace acne scars.
Increasing collagen synthesis helps to support normal skin growth that follows as scar tissue naturally sloughs off. This is why red light therapy is so widely used as a skin rejuvenation therapy for people who desire firmer and more youthful skin.
Red Light Therapy Increases Circulation
Another way to support the treatment of acne is to increase circulation. Red light therapy boosts the production of endothelial cells — the cells that make up the walls of lymph and blood capillaries near the skin’s surface. Red light also increases vessel diameter to promote circulation, which brings oxygen to the skin and removes toxins and waste that can contribute to infections.
How to Use Red Light Therapy for Acne
You can administer red light therapy at home as a convenient acne treatment with no recurring costs. With the right light therapy device, consistency, and patience, you can experience dramatic results.
Use a Powerful Light Therapy Device
Treat inflammatory acne with a powerful light therapy device that has the highest possible light energy output.
Power is important! LED light masks don’t have the power to deliver intense light to the skin; this intensity is what’s needed for the maximum amount of light to absorb into your cells. A powerful LED panel translates to faster and more profound results in treating facial acne as well as acne lesions anywhere on the body.
Treat the Skin with Both Red and NIR Wavelengths
Iranian researchers found that red light was more effective than NIR light in clearing up facial acne lesions. However, you’ll benefit from also using deeper-absorbing NIR wavelengths to address any excess inflammatory responses throughout the skin layers and beneath the skin.
The BIOMAX series features a full-spectrum array of the most scientifically validated red and NIR wavelengths delivered simultaneously to bathe the skin in therapeutic light. These panels can be positioned on vertical or horizontal stands for the ultimate in hands-free comfort.
Treat Acne with Short, Daily Sessions
Most studies on red light therapy to treat acne feature short but frequent treatment sessions. You can start with a daily 1-3 minute session and if you like and gradually increase the treatment time to 5-20 minutes. Keep in mind that your schedule and your willingness to create a new habit will be important. Daily sessions are most effective.
If your skin feels tight or slightly red afterward, it’s because of increased circulation; this should go away quickly.
Treat Clean, Bare Skin
Be sure your skin is clean and free of any creams or cosmetics. Red light therapy right after a shower or after washing your face is ideal.
If you use topical acne medication, you can apply it after a red light therapy session.
Consistency is key since light therapy is can take months to see results. For convenience and efficacy, short daily sessions are better than longer infrequent sessions.
Stick with It!
LED red light therapy is not a quick cosmetic fix for inflammatory acne. It doesn’t make the surface of your skin look better while ignoring the causes of acne. While it does need to be applied regularly, it is used to treat the underlying inflammation, boost cellular energy production, increase collagen synthesis, and improve blood and lymph circulation.
Red light therapy gets to the root of the problem. And, there are no signs of adverse effects, even in long-term clinical trials.
Many studies on light therapy for chronic skin conditions like acne vulgaris point to 1-4 months to see dramatic results — which is another reason for short sessions. Short sessions are more likely to be adopted as a daily habit. After your acne lesions clear up, we recommend continuing with daily red light acne treatments as a preventive measure to keep your skin healthy and inhospitable to bacteria.
As a benefit of daily red light therapy to treat acne, you’ll enjoy healthier, more youthful skin as the years go by.
Lifestyle Habits to Treat Acne
In addition to daily red light therapy acne treatments, support your efforts on a lifestyle level.
Practice Skin-Loving Hygiene
The skin produces sebum in the sebaceous glands which are located in the mid-dermis. These glands are almost always connected to a hair follicle. Thorough gentle cleansing helps remove skin oils and any bacteria that is accessible from the surface.
Regular gentle cleansing and exfoliation will remove the dead skin cells on the surface of the skin that could be contributing to clogged pores.
However, improving hygiene won’t necessarily remove all the bacteria, and it won’t prevent future infections if inflammation is still oxidizing the skin oil produced by your sebaceous glands.
Give Your Body Dietary Support
When it comes to what you eat, food is a big part of skin care and the right foods can help acne treatments. Be sure to avoid sugar, which is a highly inflammatory substance. And sugar also feeds bacteria! If you have a sweet tooth, opt for antioxidant-rich berries that help reduce inflammation.
Drink plenty of water to keep your skin cells hydrated (dehydration is one cause of mitochondrial dysfunction).
De-Stress to Support Healing
Stress is a known contributor to systemic inflammation. Meditation, yoga, tai chi, exercise, music, art, and other hobbies shouldn't be thought of as "luxuries" but rather vital self-care practices that help support your body's parasympathetic nervous system in performing its repair and regeneration functions.
Acne Light Therapy Devices
We believe it’s safe to say that getting the most value for your money is a top priority in addition to getting an effective acne treatment. You deserve to experience the benefits of red light therapy for a variety of health conditions and at the same time, get your money's worth.
Red light therapy has treatment applications literally from head to toe, from hair loss to foot fungus and everything in between. Weight loss, muscle recovery, knee pain after running, anti aging, neuropathy, chronic inflammatory skin conditions, low back pain… the Learn page has so much more for you to discover.
The BIOMAX series panels from PlatinumLED Therapy Lights are incredibly versatile. In fact, you’ll be amazed at the many ways you can use red light therapy for better health.
The BIOMAX panels feature:
- FDA clearance as medical-grade red light therapy devices (the same as you'd find in a dermatologist's office)
- The highest light output in their power class
- A patent-pending array of five of the most scientifically validated red and NIR light (630 nm, 660 nm, 810 nm, 830 nm, and 850 nm) in a synergistic combination for the most thorough absorption
- A modular design that allows you to link two or four light therapy panels together to increase coverage
- Easy to use touchscreen controls
- Compatibility with stands and horizontal or vertical racks to customize your treatment
Additionally, the SaunaMAX Pro panels can be mounted in your home sauna for simultaneous treatment.
Which of the BIOMAX red light therapy devices is right for you for treating facial acne and much more? Scroll down to see the differences in the treatment area and light intensity.