Shining a colourful light on acne treatment: does it actually work?

Acne. It’s ugly, painful, and something we want to avoid at all costs. Speaking of costs, we spend a lot of money treating acne (about 3 BILLION dollars a year in the US alone).

But what actually works, and how can we tell what’s worth buying into? A lot of products make claims that sound too good to be true…and usually are.

One of the more interesting treatments currently sweeping the market is light-emitting diode (LED) based therapy. It uses different coloured lights to treat acne and skin inflammation.

Light gets rid of acne? Sounds fake, but ok…

Ok, so if I shine coloured lights on my face I can get rid of my acne? It definitely sounds too good to be true.

But actually, this type of technology has been used by dermatologists for years, and is backed up by some pretty interesting science.

Before we get into how this therapy works, we need to know how acne actually forms.

Behind the pimple

The three main things that contribute to acne are clogged pores, inflammation and acne bacteria.

Pores can get clogged with clumps of dead skin cells, or if your skin is producing excessive amounts of oil. Clogged pores trap acne-causing bacteria in your skin, which then cause inflammation and lead to pimples.

So where does light therapy come in? Well, visible light treatments are actually able to eliminate these nasty acne bacteria and reduce inflammation.

Blue light therapy

Visible blue light (i.e. light you can actually see with the naked eye, not UV rays) kills acne bacteria. The wavelength of the light radiates at the same frequency as some of the protective pigments in the bacteria’s cell membrane. This allows it to break down the membrane, and shut down the bacteria’s energy production!

So instead of trying to get rid of bacteria and inflammation on the surface of the skin (like lots of other acne treatments), light therapy actually penetrates the skin and eliminates the bacteria before it can start causing inflammation.

Blue light is pretty effective at killing bacteria in surface acne, but it can’t reach very far into your skin. So if you’ve got deep-pore acne or cysts, blue light therapy won’t really help to get rid of them.

This is where red light therapy comes in.

Red light therapy

Red light therapy travels further into the skin to treat inflammation. If you use it correctly (i.e. not too much), the red light can actually shrink your sebaceous glands over time, and stop your pores from producing excess sebum!

…Purple light therapy? The best of both worlds!

It’s combo time! The most effective (and common) way treat acne with light therapy is to use a combination of blue and red light. 

And just like with any other treatment, there are guidelines for light therapy. If the light is too intense, or used too much, you’re going to burn or damage your skin. But use it wisely alongside a good skincare routine and you’re likely to see some great results!

One Response to “Shining a colourful light on acne treatment: does it actually work?”

  1. Teresa Hassett says:

    This was so interesting! Great title and structure of the post. I’ve only seen this recently being advertised so wasn’t aware of it’s regular dermatological use.