Blue Light Phototherapy?
Blue light phototherapy involves exposing the skin to intense blue light with a wavelength between 400 and 420 nm. Blue light phototherapy is a useful treatment for acne vulgaris because it kills the bacteria responsible for most acne sypmtoms, Propionibacterium acnes. Blue light excites a bacterial molecule called porphyrin, causing it to release reactive oxygen molecules that damage the bacteria internally. Blue light therapy is an increasingly popular treatment for acne because it is quite safe, simple, inexpensive and can be used in conjunction with most other treatments and medications.
How Does Blue Light Phototherapy Work?
Blue light with a wavelength around 415 nm is absorbed by a molecule called porphyrin. Propionobacterium acnes bacteria contain abundant amounts of porphyrin. The absorption of blue light by porphyrin creates singlet oxygen (free radicals) which are released into the bacteria, killing the bacteria. Frequent or daily treatment using blue light therapy can improve acne symptoms by decreasing the amount of P. acnes bacteria living in the skin. It is important to note that stopping treatment can allow a regrowth of the bacteria and a return of acne symptoms. The efficacy of blue light treatment depends on the specific wavelength of light used, the intensity of the light and the time of exposure. There can be significant variability between different light therapy systems which could account for the large differences in observed effectiveness.
Is Blue Light Phototherapy an Effective Treatment for Acne?
Numerous research reports have indicated that blue light treatment is an effective treatment for acne. Blue light therapy has been proven to decrease bacterial levels in the skin and decrease the number and severity of acne lesions in patients. However, blue light treatment only affects the viability of the acne causing bacteria, P. acnes and does not affect other acne causing factors, such as sebaceous hyperplasia, excess sebum production and immune dysfunction. As a result, blue light phototherapy must be used frequently (preferably daily) to achieve optimum results. Also, the effects are not permanent and discontinuing treatment can lead to a return of acne symptoms. Most of the studies that showed positive results used blue light phototherapy systems that produced intense blue light. Many of the inexpensive at-home photherapy systems may not produce the intensity of light necessary to achieve substantial results. It is conceivable that P. acnes bacteria could develop resistance by decreasing production of porphyrin or increasing production of anti-oxidant molecules, although these possibilities have not been studied.
How and Where is Blue Light Phototherapy Administered?
Blue light phototherapy can be administered in both a clinical setting and at home. Blue light is most often generated by either LEDs or specialized bulbs. Effective treatment requires use of intense light and frequent sessions. It is a reasonably simple procedure with a good safety record. Blue light phototherapy is usually combined with red lightphototherapy and the two wavelengths of light (~415 and ~633 nm) are often co-administered to save time and expense.
How Much Does Blue Light Phototherapy Cost?
The costs of LED based blue light therapy can vary significantly, usually depending on the cost of the system itself. In the clinical setting, the cost can range from 20 to 100 dollars a session. At home systems can be inexpensive, handheld devices capable of spot treatment (starting at 30 dollars) or large LED panels capable of full facial treatment (starting at 300 dollars). While small handheld devices can be helpful for treating individual acne lesions, they are impractical for full face treatment. For preventative and full facial treatment, high intensity LED panels that produce blue and red light are the most effective and practical options. Most clinics use large multi-panel systems of red and blue LEDs that can treat the entire face area in one treatment. You create an LED panel yourself, if you so desire. But the cost savings may not be as high as expected because 415 nm LED bulbs usually cost at least 75 cents apiece and you need a lot of them.
Popular LED Phototherapy Systems.
Acnelamp – A popular manufacturer of LED light therapy products for personal and clinical use.
Dermaglow – Dermaglow manufactures a range of phototherapy products, including clinical LED based applications.
Lightwave- Lightwave manufactures large, LED based phototherapy equipment for clinical use.
Before and After Blue Light Phototherapy Pictures of Acne Patients
A collection of before and after pics for blue light phototherapy can be found here.
An open study to determine the efficacy of blue light in the treatment of mild to moderate acne.
Morton, et al. 2005. For article abstract, click here.
Light-emitting diode 415 nm in the treatment of inflammatory acne: An open-label, multicentric, pilot investigation.
Tremblay, et al. 2006. For article abstract, click here.
Acne phototherapy with a high-intensity, enhanced, narrow-band, blue light source: an open study and in vitro investigation.
Kawada, et al. 2002. For article abstract, click here.
Clinical Efficacy of Self-applied Blue Light Therapy for Mild-to-Moderate Facial Acne.
Gold, et al. 2009. For article abstract, click here.
Use of Lasers and Light-Based Therapies for Treatment of Acne Vulgaris.
Mariwalla, et al. 2005. For article abstract, click here.
Optical Treatments for Acne.
Ross. 2005. For article abstract, click here.
Related Posts @ The Science of Acne
Additional Resources and Links
Light Therapy – Wikipedia
Patient reviews of intense pulsed light therapy @ RealSelf.com
Patient reviews of LED light therapy @ RealSelf.com
LED Light Therapy in Depth
Light therapy reviews @ acne.org