(This article is part of our new series – “A closer look at medical treatments for acne.”)
For those with mild, moderate and moderate-to-severe acne, light and laser treatments can help and offer an option that does not involve taking oral medications such as pills.
Devices that emit blue light, red light, LED light, or intense pulsed light (IPL) are used, as well as various lasers. Since only the top layer of the skin is affected, side effects are generally mild and temporary.
There is preliminary evidence of good short-term results. However, as with any recent treatment option, more studies are needed on the long term effectiveness and safety of these options.
Researchers have questions around how long results last for these treatments, how these compare to conventional therapies and who these options will work best for. Study results continue to come in and add to what is known.
Topicals (medications applied to the skin) may be prescribed along with these treatments.
How these work: Light treatments work by reducing bacteria in acne spots and lessening inflammation. Bacteria produce chemicals called porphyrins which are sensitive to light. When exposed to light sources, such as blue or red light, these chemicals absorb the light and the bacteria are destroyed. Light treatments are also presumed to work through heat that can help to reduce acne bacteria.
For light treatments, a regimen of 2 treatments a week over 5 or 6 weeks is usual.
How these work: Laser treatments similarly work by reducing bacteria in some acne spots. You will likely need a several treatments. Effects are not long lasting.
Side effects: since these devices do not penetrate the skin deeply, side effects tend to be minimal and temporary, particularly for light treatments. Expect mild redness and swelling. Hyperpigmentation (patches of the skin get darker) can occur. There can be more serious side effects from lasers, such as burning and blistering due to deeper penetration into the skin with possible scarring of the skin.
Dos and don’ts: Some require avoiding sun exposure for several days. Do consider having your treatments performed at a medical clinic supervised by a physician.
Expect results: within a few weeks.