Should Red Light Acne Treatment Get the Green Light?

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Red light acne treatment is a fairly new version of phototherapy that’s now being used for teens and adults with acne. The red LEDs (light-emitting diodes) used in this treatment appear to have an anti-inflammatory effect on facial skin. This means the therapy may help reduce the redness associated with acne lesions. Exposure to red light has also been linked to a reduction in sebum production, making skin less oily. Researchers are still experimenting to find out the correct amount of exposure, the precise wavelengths to use, and the intensity of the light output (measured in joules) that will deliver the best results.

Blue and Red Together Offer Optimal Outcome

There have been quite a few comparative studies on red light acne treatment. The results have given dermatologists a pretty clear picture of the potential benefits of this particular therapy. For example, red light seems to offer the greatest improvement for acne patients who are also receiving blue light phototherapy. Blue light has long been used for killing off the bacteria (P. acnes) that is implicated in most pimple breakouts. If the bacteria on the skin aren’t kept in check, they will simply keep re-colonizing and reproducing in the oil glands and on the skin’s surface. This leads to the formation of new pustules.

In contrast, with the bacteria load reduced by blue light, the skin has a chance to respond to red light therapy. Red light penetrates deeper into the skin than blue light (because the red wavelengths are longer and don’t get blocked as easily). This means the combination phototherapy may deliver results that help skin heal from the inside out. The red light can also target sebaceous glands that blue light can’t reach. So far, it appears that blue/red light acne treatment has no side effects and causes no discomfort. Mild microdermabrasion is often done to prepare the skin for treatment, so any slight dryness or redness after the first session may be attributed to this procedure.

ALA/PDT Combination Treatment

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) using methyl aminolevulinate (MAL) has also been tested in combination with red light. However, in one study the side effects from the MAL (a topical photosensitizing agent) were so unpleasant that a number of participants dropped out. In another study, PDT and MAL were used on one side of patients’ faces and red light alone on the other. Both therapies had comparable results. This may mean that red light acne treatment can offer an alternative to the harsh chemicals used in traditional PDT. However, this does not mean that at-home red light therapy is effective. Many of the devices being sold for home use fail to deliver a high level of joules per centimeter and may not use the correct portion of the red light spectrum. At this time, patients will probably see the best results with in-office treatment using dermatologist-tested equipment.

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