If you are a regular reader of Perfect-skin, you know that there are many dermatological procedures and treatments available. One treatment in particular that is gaining popularity is blue light therapy, which is different from the protective sprays that many people use for screen exposure. Instead of blocking it, this procedure takes advantage of the best properties of blue light.
Dermatologists often use blue light alone to treat acne, but it can also be combined with a broader, more complex regimen to treat precancerous and sun-damaged skin. But how well does blue light treatment for sun damage really work, and what do you need to know before considering it for yourself? In front, two dermatologists share all the details.
Meet the expert
- Elisabeth Hale®, is a board certified dermatologist and associate professor clinic of Dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Center.
- Jessica WeiserMD, is a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University.
What is blue light therapy?
Blue light is a specific wavelength of light that is part of the visible light spectrum - yes, the same light spectrum you learned about in science class back in the day. But more than just its visibility, blue light actually has effects that experts have discovered are beneficial to the skin in some ways.
"[Blue light] can be used therapeutically during in-office acne treatments to kill acne-causing bacteria, which is how it is most commonly used," says board-certified dermatologist Elizabeth Hale, MD. In addition, when blue light therapy is combined with photodynamic therapy (PDT)it can be used to remove damaged precancerous cells - more information on both treatments below.
Benefits of blue light therapy
Blue light therapy can be used in a variety of ways to treat skin conditions. Both are in-office treatments performed by many dermatologists.
In a dermatologist's office, blue light therapy can be used to kill acne-causing bacteria on the skin. This is an FDA-approved treatment for acne vulgaris, which is the technical name for the condition that is more commonly referred to simply as "acne".
"The bacteria associated with acne produces [compounds called] porphyrins in the bacterial cell," says a board-certified dermatologist Jessica WeiserMD. "When exposed to a blue LED, these porphyrins are photosensitized to produce oxygen, which kills anaerobic bacteria."
To treat damaged skin
When combined with photodynamic therapy, blue light therapy can help eliminate precancerous, sun-damaged areas of skin called actinic keratoses. These areas of skin often appear as red, scaly patches that can later develop into skin cancer. Treatment involves applying a medication called a photosensitizing agent to the skin, allowing it to penetrate for up to two hours, and then shining a blue light on the skin. Blue light therapy works by killing and destroying atypical and precancerous skin cells that have absorbed the photosensitizing agent. The damaged skin may then flake off.
Can blue light therapy help treat sun damage?
Blue light therapy alone is not used to treat sun damage, but when combined with another form of treatment called photodynamic therapy, it can be used to get rid of precancerous and damaged skin cells, Hale says. In short, this means that blue light treatment for sun damage has the potential to be effective, but you should always talk to your dermatologist about which plan would be most helpful for your specific situation and needs.
Potential side effects
As an acne treatment, blue light therapy is fairly simple and doesn't have many side effects, say dermatologists. However, there are a few things to keep in mind if you are considering treatment. The first is that people who take medications that increase light sensitivity may be more sensitive to blue light treatments. In addition, Hale says that people who regularly use retinol or other retinoid products may be more sensitive to all forms of light, including blue light therapy. "It's important to note that people should stop any light-sensitizing medication a week before any in-office treatment," Hale says.
When blue light therapy is combined with photodynamic therapy to treat damaged skin, more side effects are likely to occur, the most notable being severe skin sensitivity that may last for about two days after treatment. In addition, damaged skin may become red and feel like it is peeling or flaking for a few days to two weeks. "This is a much more intense form of treatment and not considered basic blue light therapy," Weiser says.
What to expect during blue light therapy
When used to treat acne, each blue light therapy session typically lasts between 15 and 20 minutes. The treatment is painless with no downtime afterward, Weiser says, and your skin won't be visibly red, hot or irritated after treatment. Several sessions may be necessary to achieve the best possible results.
Blue light treatments for sun damage can vary in duration depending on a number of factors, including the size of the area being treated. Blue light can be applied for 15 to 90 minutes.
Blue light treatment for sun damaged skin or acne may or may not be covered by insurance. As with many other medical expenses in the United States, the actual price can vary greatly depending on the practitioner you see as well as your health insurance plan, if you have one. Be sure to ask your doctor for a cost estimate before treatment so you don't receive an unexpectedly large bill later.
Certain products can help protect your skin from blue light. Hale recommends using Meaningful Beauty Anti-aging day cream with environmental protection SPF 30 (65 $), a moisturizer and broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen specifically designed to reduce damage from the sun's rays as well as infrared and blue light.
The last takeaway
Blue light therapy can be helpful for sun damage, but only when used in combination with another form of treatment called photodynamic therapy. However, on its own, blue light therapy can help treat acne. For both uses, multiple treatments may be necessary. Before trying blue light therapy, whether for sun damage or acne, it's a good idea to talk to a dermatologist to learn more about the treatments and whether they're right for you.