Light therapy

It is well known that acne can be improved by sunlight but, go out in the summer sunshine and your skin will begin to dry out and soon go on to burn, flake or peel. This excessive exposure to UV light, associated with ageing of the skin and an increased risk of skin cancer, happens at the same time that red and blue rays of sunlight are helping to clear up acne, so it is an easy mistake to assume that drying out the skin is what heals acne.

The reality is that acne-prone skin starts to heal itself when there is less oil produced along a lowering in the number of bacteria in the pores.

Blue light stimulates the production of collagen, while red light is known to combat acne by reducing blemishes, redness and rosacea, shrinking enlarged pores and tightening the skin.

Research from the Department of Dermatology Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, stated in conclusion: "Combination blue and red LED therapy appears to have an excellent potential in the treatment of mild to severe acne. Treatment appears to be both pain and side-effect free."

Laser treatment works best for people with mild to moderate acne and is especially suitable for those who have tried the usual treatments with creams and antibiotics with little or no success. Laser treatment is not suitable for severe, cystic or scarring acne.

If your acne is severe, your GP may refer you to a Dermatologist (a doctor who specialises in treating conditions that affect the skin), who may consider light therapy as one form of treatment.
Your Dermatologist may suggest light therapy only if other treatments for your condition haven't worked and it can be used in combination with other treatments, including some medicines.

Light therapy involves short but regular sessions, two or three times a week for a couple of months, at a hospital or dermatology clinic. You will need to take extra care to protect your skin before and after sessions.

The therapy is a pain-free, low-cost way to get rid of blemishes on acne-prone skin. Unlike lasers, which ‘zap’ the skin, light therapy kills acne bacteria and shrinks oil-producing glands to give skin a chance to recover on its own.

The real benefit of exposing your skin to red and blue light is its ability to reduce inflammation. Even whiteheads and blackheads are slightly inflamed, and reducing inflammation in the walls of these pores helps them open.

It’s worth noting that, if you use a lamp to deliver red and blue light acne treatment, you don’t get better results by holding your face so close to the lamp that your skin dries out or burns.

This also means that causing inflammation in your skin by exposing it to too much blue and red light is counterproductive.

A relatively new method of light therapy removes the potentially damaging ultra-violet rays and instead uses blue and red wavelengths produced by a light box which the patient can use for 15 minutes each day.

These systems don’t generate the kind of wavelengths of light that cause cancer, nor will they burn the skin if used as directed (although over-zealous new users of acne light treatment kits can suffer self-inflicted burns). They are safe, but they are slow and they don’t do all the work of acne skin care treatment.

But it is worth mentioning that some “light” treatment devices are really just hand-held heaters for the skin. These low-cost lamps are good for melting the oil in a pore so a blackhead will pop out, but an effective alternative is to hold a cotton bud under hot water and rub it over your skin.

As with all acne treatments, speak to your GP, who will be able to review your acne and advise on the options available to you.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence-based articles are certified by the Information Standard and our sources are available on request. The content is not, though, written by medical professionals and should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands, or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 1 May 2018

Next review: 1 May 2021