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Can LED Therapy Actually Clear Acne? What Studies Say

Brand courtesy / Dr. Dennis Gross
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LED therapy face-masks turned many heads lately, and more and more people are using them at home. It’s no surprise considering the manifold benefits these devices hold, such as helping to treat acne, diminish wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. Guess what? Even if you’re not looking to treat specific skin issues, you can still use LED therapy to maintain healthy skin. But today’s focus stays on the benefits of LED therapy for acne and whether or not it can actually kill acne-causing bacteria.

What is LED therapy?

Light-emitting diode (LED) therapy was commonly used by aestheticians and dermatologists as an in-office treatment to help minimize breakouts, reduce inflammation after facials, and give an overall boost. It became incredibly popular among celebs too — hey, Kate Hudson! Today, lots of people use light-based therapies to treat acne-prone skin. Unlike topical treatments that work on the skin’s surface, light therapy gets beneath the skin, helping eliminate acne-causing bacteria before it starts to feed on the sebaceous glands. Curious? Here are the best LED masks to tackle acne.

Is LED therapy effective for acne?

Definitely! Helped by varying LED wavelengths, this skincare technique was shown to help kill acne-causing bacteria and diminish acne scars. This study of The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology concluded that phototherapy using LEDs is beneficial for a broad range of medical and aesthetic conditions. If you have acne, you may be the perfect candidate for this. While LED masks can have up to 8 color spectrum with different benefits, blue and red lights work best for acne.

Blue LED Light

Blue light is ideal to address breakouts. The reason is that blue light has antimicrobial properties having the ability to kill acne-causing bacteria, P. acnes. Blue light also helps to purify the skin and soothe inflammation, while decreasing other acne symptoms, such as redness. In 2009, The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology published a study concluding that blue light therapy “reduced the number of acne lesions significantly.” Another research found that blue light reduced acne-causing bacteria in 77% of cases after 5 weeks of therapy. This study also confirmed that blue light phototherapy significantly reduced acne severity score without any side effects. 

Red LED Light

Even though red light does not have antibacterial effects, it can reach down into all the skin layers, it promoting healing and working to decrease acne scarring through its collagen-boosting effects. A few studies compared the blue-red light treatment to conventional acne therapies. Results reported a mean improvement of 76% in inflammatory lesions treated with blue-red light compared with benzoyl peroxide or blue light alone. “We have found that phototherapy with mixed blue-red light, probably by combining antibacterial and anti-inflammatory action, is an effective means of treating acne vulgaris of mild to moderate severity, with no significant short-term adverse effects,” concluded P. Papageorgiou, the study author.

How effective is it?

One study case done in May 2015 has summarized more than 20 clinical trials investigating blue light or blue-red light for acne treatment. All studies reached the same conclusion. Say what? Yes, they found high-intensity light (405–420 nm) applied for 8–20 mins twice weekly for four weeks to reduce inflammatory acne lesion count in 60%–70% cases. That’s how good light therapy is for pimples. Do you still have doubts? LED therapy is relaxing, pain-free, without side effects, and affordable, probably the reason it’s the first favorite choice for so many. 

What to expect after LED therapy

Check out the following before and after images to see the gradual results achieved by using LED light therapy for acne.

Is it safe?

First of all, the American Academy of Dermatology considers the procedure safe. The treatment itself is a result of many experimental pieces of research that have tested the efficacity of these devices in treating comedones, acne, and blackheads — resulting in significant success and high satisfaction levels, with no side effects. Since the method is non-invasive, it’s safe without the need for recovery. Also, the LEDs do not contain UV rays, making it a safe procedure that won’t cause skin damage. Dr. Glynis Ablon at the Ablon Skin Institute in Manhattan explains, “one of the most important aspects of LED phototherapy devices is their safety. LEDs are nonablative and nonthermal, and when used, do not cause damage to the epidermis or dermal tissue. When LED phototherapy is used alone, patients do not experience redness, peeling, blistering, swelling, or pain,” adds Dr. Glynis. 

When you should not use LED therapy

Obviously, there are some don’ts when it comes to LED therapy. You should avoid LED therapy:

  1. When applying topical products that cause sensitivity to light (think retinol)
  2. If you have an active rash or psoriasis
  3. If your skin is easily reactive
  4. If you take certain medications, such as Accutane

In case one of the above is your situation, you may want to talk to your doctor before starting the therapy. Also, call your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms after the treatment: increased inflammation, redness, pain, hives, rash.

Where can I use LED therapy?

Technically, LED therapy can be used on any part of the body, but the most popular usage is for the face and neck. Because the complexion is more exposed to environmental factors than other body parts, it’s more prone to develop acne, hyperpigmentation, and wrinkles. Neck and décolleté are also areas that need more attention.

How do I prep my skin for LED therapy?

First thing first, your skin has to be cleansed, without any makeup or dirt residues. It’s best if you apply an oil or serum before you start the therapy so that light can penetrate better the skin tissue.

Also, don’t forget to protect your eyes from the lights. Most devices come with protection goggles, but if the one you pick doesn’t include a pair, separately buy eye protection.

Summary

There’s no doubt, LED light devices can kill acne-causing bacteria and are safe for home use. However, they don’t substitute your usual skincare regimen. Have a skincare regimen according to your skin type to support the light therapy. LED treatment is not a monotherapy, but it helps as long as it’s used with concern-related topicals and in-office procedures.

References
  1. Gold MH, Andriessen A, Biron J, Andriessen H. Clinical Efficacy of Self-applied Blue Light Therapy for Mild-to-Moderate Facial Acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2009;2(3):44-50.
  2. Ablon G. Phototherapy with Light Emitting Diodes: Treating a Broad Range of Medical and Aesthetic Conditions in Dermatology. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2018;11(2):21-27.
  3. Pei S, Inamadar AC, Adya KA, Tsoukas MM. Light-based therapies in acne treatment. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2015;6(3):145-157. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.156379.
  4. Kawada A, Aragane Y, Kameyama H, Sangen Y, Tezuka T. Acne phototherapy with a high-intensity, enhanced, narrow-band, blue light source: an open study and in vitro investigation. J Dermatol Sci. 2002 Nov;30(2):129-35. doi: 10.1016/s0923-1811(02)00068-3. PMID: 12413768.
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