Blue Light Treatment for Acne: Safe & Effective ?
For centuries, people who had acne were told that they needed the sun to “dry out” their skin. While both dryness and sun are enemies of healthy skin, it turns out the old advice to expose acne to the light of day was partially correct. Visible blue light, it turns out, can kill acne.
*Visible blue light kills acne bacteria.
*Three blue light treatments kill about 99.99% of acne bacteria that the light reaches, although some acne bacteria live deep in pores.
*Red light therapy can help shrink the sebaceous glands that produce the oil that clogs pores.
*Light treatment alone, however, only treats blemishes and pimples after the fact.
*A complete acne care system is always needed in addition to blue light treatment of acne. Blue light treatment helps you get control over acne, but a complete acne care system helps you keep control over acne.
How Killing Bacteria Heals Acne
Before getting into how blue light kills acne bacteria, it is helpful to review how killing acne bacteria cures acne. Many people suppose that if they just kill acne bacteria, all their acne problems are over. The fact is, bacterial infection is just part of the problem of acne.
Skin pores sit on top of oil-producing sebaceous glands. The sebum produced by these glands keeps the skin flexible, and also helps transport dead skin cells from the bottom and the lining of the pore up to the surface of the skin where they can be rinsed away.
Sometimes dead skin cells clump together and clog the pore. Or inflammation of the skin triggers production of excessive amounts of skin oil. When this happens, acne bacteria can be locked inside. The bacteria attempt to “break out” so they can move on to another pore first by consuming excess sebum. They break down skin oils into essential fatty acids that are beneficial to them but harmful to the bacteria. This can keep them in check. But if the problem is the pore is clogged with dead skin, then the bacteria have another way out.
Bacteria release chemicals sensitizing surrounding skin cells to inflammatory chemicals released by the human immune system. The immune system releases histamine and interleukin-8 to attack the bacteria, but winds up attacking the skin. A pimple pops up and provides the bacteria an escape route. Many bacteria are killed by the immune system, but many survive to colonize another pore.
Killing bacteria stops them from making skin sensitive to inflammation. But just killing bacteria does nothing to stop production of excess skin oil or to repair the skin. Killing bacteria is always just part of acne skin care. It’s also necessary to follow a skin care routine to keep the skin in balance.
How Blue Light Kills Acne Bacteria
Acne bacteria are killed by visible blue light, that is, light you can see, not UV light, of wavelengths between 407 and 420 nanometers. The bacteria have pigments in their protective cell membranes that resonate at those frequencies. These pigments break down the membrane, eventually killing the bacterium.
On a Petri dish, three exposures to blue light kill about 99.99% of acne bacteria. In the skin, the kill rate is not as high. That is because blue light cannot reach very far into the skin, and acne in deep pores or in cysts beneath skin are unaffected. Even so, many people who use blue light report noticeable results in as little as a day, because killing bacteria stops inflammation—the immune system stops producing inflammatory chemicals to kill bacteria because the bacteria are already dead.
Red Light Relieves Inflammation
Blue light has an immediate effect on pimples, and a longer-term effect on whiteheads and blackheads. Blue light can keep whiteheads and blackheads from getting worse, although they have to be removed from the skin by other means.
The addition of red light to skin treatment, however, treats deeper pores. Red light can travel further into the skin than blue light. It can also generate heat at the level of the sebaceous glands. If red light is not used in excess, it can shrink the glands and reduce sebum production. If so much red light is used that the skin burns, however, the effect is the opposite greater sebum production.
Using Light to Treat Acne
The best way to use light to treat acne is to use a combination of blue light and red light, but making sure the light is not so intense that the skin burns. It is even better to treat the skin with intense pulsed light, short bursts of multicolored light that can heat and shrink the sebum-producing pores.
A red and/or blue home light treatment lamp is not going to cause any kind of damage to the skin if it is used as directed. People who assume that if a little light cures acne slowly a lot of light must cure it fast usually suffer serious problems from light therapy.
Intense pulse light, however, is riskier. Since it heats glands that lie deeper in the skin, it can cause burns and swelling unless it is used exactly as directed. Never, ever give yourself longer or “extra” light treatments beyond the recommendations of the makers of your lamp.
What You Need to Do In Addition To Light Therapy to Achieve Blemish-Free Skin
Blue light therapy can kill acne bacteria in your pores, and red light therapy can shrink sebaceous glands beneath your pores, but you can’t achieve lastingly blemish-free skin without careful attention to cleansing, moisture, and exfoliation.
It is essential to use the right cleansers in the right way to keep oil from accumulating on your skin. Harsh detergent cleansers, however, can actually increase the production of oil in your skin.
It is essential to keep skin moist to keep it flexible so pores stay open. Even oily skin can dry out, especially around the eyes. You will also maintain a healthier skin color if you keep your skin moist.
Oil and bacteria are not the only things that can block your pores. Flakes of dead skin can tighten your skin and keep pores from emptying, too. Exfoliation can help keep your skin loose and free of fine lines and wrinkles as well as blemishes, but you have to use the right product for your skin, at the right concentration and at the right pH.