Light Therapy for Acne Is a Real Problem, but Is It Worth Trying?

Shining a purple light on your face to combat acne sounds more like a gimmick than a science. But it turns out that products like the Neutrogena light therapy mask may actually be effective, though not for everyone.

Light therapy is a common treatment for acne, according to two dermatologists we spoke to: Dr. Caroline Jacob of Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology and Dr. Tina Alster , director of the Washington Institute for Dermatologic Laser Surgery and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Georgetown. University Hospital. For example, you might be treated in an office with bright light and sensitivity medications. But there are also devices approved for home use that work on the same principles.

The Neutrogena Mask isn’t the first light therapy device to be approved and marketed for home acne treatment, but it does seem like the cheapest at $ 35 . Competitors include the O’Cimple Light Therapy System at $ 299 and the Omnilux Clear-U at $ 195 . So are these devices really worth your money? Differently.

Blue light kills certain bacteria; Red reduces inflammation

Red and blue visible light can treat acne, particularly raised red spots. They don’t do anything with whiteheads, blackheads, or cystic acne. And yes, it really is just colored light. There are no UV rays.

To understand how light helps with acne, we must first remember how acne is formed. This video will walk you through the basic steps : First, your skin is producing too much oil and your pores are clogged with this oil along with some of your skin cells. So far, these are black dots or white dots. This progresses to painful redness as bacteria begin to eat up the dirt in your pores and your immune system begins to fight off the bacteria. Not everyone produces excessive amounts of oil or develops such an aggressive immune response, but if this is you, you have acne.

Red light seems to suppress your immune system’s response, reducing redness, pain, and swelling in every pimple. Meanwhile, blue light targets a specific type of bacteria, Propionobacterium acnes , that inhabit our skin. This species is good when it lives on the surface of our skin, but it also usually eats the clogged oil in our pores. These bacteria contain compounds called porphyrins , and a strong enough blue light can cause these porphyrins to release oxygen free radicals that ultimately kill the bacteria from the inside out.

Light therapy at home won’t work miracles

Blue light does kill P. acnes in test tubes , and many studies show that red light, blue light, or a combination of both can reduce the severity of acne on real people’s faces. So in that sense, it’s legal. But how much will it really help you personally? Harder to answer.

Neutrogena did a study with their mask and claims that 98 percent of people had “fewer breakouts” after using the mask for 12 weeks. Some are said to have shown results within a week. The company has not released the full results of this study, so many questions remain. For example, we don’t know how much these people have improved. And since there was no control group, we don’t know if their results differ from those of people who didn’t use the mask, or even people who chose a different type of acne treatment, such as benzoyl peroxide cream.

On the whole, the evidence in favor of light therapy are, but not very strong. A 2016 Cochrane review covered 71 studies of different types of light therapy for acne and concluded that “it is unclear whether light therapy has beneficial effects in studies.”

Neutrogena showed me two articles on human trials supporting their claims: one from the Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy, which found that subjects had 81 percent fewer acne at 12 weeks, and another from Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, which showed a 78 percent improvement after eight weeks. weeks. Both studies received treatment in the office twice a week.

There is no guarantee that home devices will give the same results. However, the dermatologists we interviewed believe that light therapy is at least somewhat effective. “I don’t think [the home appliance] is the same, but it does something,” says Dr. Alster.

How does a light mask fit in with the alternatives?

The Neutrogena mask seems cheap at $ 35, but after every 30 uses, you’ll have to throw away the battery and buy a new one for $ 15. They say this is necessary to provide a constant and correct amount of energy, which makes sense as it is a medical device that has been tested under certain conditions. However, this means that 12 weeks of treatment will cost you a total of $ 75 (including the initial purchase of the mask), and if you choose to use the mask every day all year round, it will be over $ 200 per year. The office visit will of course cost a lot more, but a tube of benzoyl peroxide costs about five dollars.

On the other hand, flashlights have no serious side effects. Since they don’t include UV wavelengths, you don’t have to worry about damaging your skin, and the dermatologists we spoke with couldn’t think of any significant medical risks of using a mask or similar home device. Judging by the stories ofpeople who have tried the mask , it seems that the most annoying thing is spending ten minutes with it every day. Although there is a window for your eyes, it is small, making it difficult to take action. Some of those who viewed it said they used this time for meditation. That’s fine , but you can meditate for free on acne treatment with over-the-counter cleansers and creams.

And benzoyl peroxide might not be worse; one study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that a cream worked almost as well as a visit to a light therapy room. Dr. Alster notes that benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and other topical acne treatments can dry out or irritate the skin, so a big plus of light is that they don’t irritate people with sensitive skin. Or, you can use light therapy and other treatments and seem to reap both benefits.

Dr. Jacob says we don’t know why some people have worse acne than others, but the main treatments for acne are to make your body produce less fat, kill bacteria, and reduce inflammation. Red and blue light treatments cover two of the three. Washing your face with oil can help, and both dermatologists immediately noted that a variety of medications and treatments are available if your acne is severe enough to seek professional help.

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