The sun has been a subject of worship and study for thousands of years. Sunlight can lift your mood and make you feel happy. And light can have antibacterial effect.
It was discovered that some of the blue light present in sunlight (415–430 nm) can eliminate acne bacteria from the inside out. When blue light reaches the sebaceous (oil) glands in the skin, it activates porphyrins, which are compounds inside the acne bacteria. These excited porphyrins release singlet oxygen, resulting in self-destruction of the bacteria. Being anaerobic, acne bacteria cannot survive the presence of oxygen.
The USFDA approved for the first time in 2004 the use of blue light as a medical device for the treatment of mild to moderate acne. The first blue light system was based on metal halide lamps custom made to emit most of its energy at 405-420nm. Now, blue light systems use LEDs, with very minimal level of UV light.
The USFDA approval was based on a peer reviewed clinical study on effect of blue light on acne lesions done in Israel on 2003. Current literature points toward blue + red light therapy showing slightly better results than blue light alone. Red light (620-660nm) has been shown to effectively reduce inflammation. A combination of blue and red light provides both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory action. This is the best light therapy option for inflammatory acne breakouts.
Overall improvements of an average 76% for 80% of patients occur over three months. Some studies show that it performs better than benzoyl peroxide and the treatment is far better tolerated. However, approximately 10% of users see no improvement.
At-home light therapy devices require much patience to use: 30 minutes to 1 hour twice daily. With medical grade equipment, 15-minute treatment done 2 - 3 times weekly is recommended. Eye goggles should be used to protect the eyes. No short-term significant adverse side effects have been reported except for redness and irritation for light sensitive individuals, especially those on Roaccutane.
One positive side effect is the significant decrease in melanin levels during the course of treatment, with brightened skin tone and improved skin texture reported by patients in one study.
Conclusion: Light therapy is a safe and effective option for acne clearance. It is most especially useful when patients want to avoid antibiotic medication or are pregnant or breastfeeding. For the first three months it is necessary to have the 15-minute treatment done 2 - 3 times a week. After that, the frequency of treatment can be reduced.
____________________________________________________________________This column was published in the Manila Bulletin Lifestyle Section on April 24, 2012. The author is the CEO of SkinStation. He received the 2011 Outstanding Chemist Award from Professional Regulations Commission for his achievements in the field of cosmetic chemistry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.