Light treatment : Acne Treatment Guide

Light treatment or light therapy involves using different wavelengths to attack the bacteria that cause acne, ease any inflammation and stimulate healing.


A light box works in a similar manner to a heat lamp in that it projects light waves onto the skin. It emits red and blue light at different wavelengths which then act upon the skin by killing the acne bacterium and promoting healthy healing.

How does this treatment work?

The red light acts as an anti-inflammatory in that they cause the skin to release ‘cytokines’. Cytokines are a group of tiny proteins which are produced by specific cells within the body’s immune system. They work by reducing in size the over-active sebaceous glands and boosting collagen production. This reduces the inflammation and helps the skin to heal.

The blue light acts upon the Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) bacterium by killing it which prevents any further outbreaks.

Proponents of this treatment claim that it is both safe and effective at dealing with acne. It uses light energy to destroy the acne bacterium and start the healing process, as well as reducing the risk of any scarring. It is also a painless form of treatment.

A session lasts for around 15 minutes and involves sitting in front of this LED lightbox, wearing a pair of protective UV glasses to protect your eyes. Repeated sessions are required in order to see any results. It takes a month or more before you notice any difference.

Are there any side effects? Opponents argue that this is a very new form of treatment which means that there are no long term results. It may be too early to say if this is likely to be a safe form of treatment for acne.

It has been suggested that light therapy has an ageing effect on the skin as well as increasing the risk of skin cancer. It is worth researching this beforehand and weighing up the pros and cons before making a decision.

Intense pulsed light (IPL)

This type of light therapy involves the use of a hand held device – similar to a wand which emits red, yellow and green light beams in a series of short pulses. These pulses are then targeted onto the skin.

The red light acts upon the sebaceous glands, preventing any further excess production of sebum (oil).

The green/yellow lights kill the bacteria within the skin which are a major cause of acne. These lights also trigger collagen production which helps with healing as well as improving the appearance of your skin.

This starts to clear any existing outbreaks with no risk of any scarring. The skin starts to show an improvement after several weeks although the number of sessions required will vary between individuals.

How does this therapy work?

You are asked to wear a pair of protective goggles. A cooling gel is then applied to your skin which also acts as a guide for the wand. The wand is placed onto your skin where it emits a beam of light (short pulse).

This is repeated as and where necessary. The gel is then removed followed by the application of a moisturiser. This prevents the skin from drying out after treatment.

A session usually lasts for 30 minutes. Intense pulsed light therapy is often combined with a facial peel for optimum results.

There is minimal discomfort with this procedure with many people comparing it to a tingling sensation on their skin. You may find that your skin is red and slightly sore afterwards although an ice pack applied to the area will help.

Avoid sun bathing for the first two weeks following treatment. This is suitable for most people apart from those with a dark skin or a tanned appearance. Pregnant women and those people taking the acne medication Roaccutane are advised against having this treatment.

Are there any side effects?

Your skin will be red and have a tingling feeling afterwards but this does ease. A blister may form in a few rare cases.

One issue for men is that of hair loss: there is the risk of mild hair loss as a result of this treatment if you have grown a beard. Think about this carefully as even though it is a minor loss it is also permanent. Another option is laser treatment.

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