Light Therapy

Phototherapy

Light therapy sessions are typically done in a medical setting under the supervision of a dermatologist or a trained nurse, but some less powerful light therapy devices are also available for home use. Most light therapy devices used to treat acne emit blue, red, or mixed blue-red light.

  • Available forms:

    • In-office devices available at a doctor’s office
    • At-home devices available over-the-counter

Dosing information:

In-office devices: The frequency and duration of light therapy vary widely, but twice weekly sessions over 4 to 6 weeks are somewhat typical. 

At-home devices: Usually, you would need to use the device 1 to 3 times a day over 4 to 5 weeks.

  • Who is it for?

    • Gender:
      • Males and females
    • Severity of acne:
      • Mild-to-moderate papulopustular acne
    • Age:
      • Children of 12 years and older, adolescents, and adults
    • Other: 
      • Light therapy is one of the major alternative acne treatments for pregnant or lactating females.

Important! Any form of light treatment may reduce your levels of folic acid, so be sure to talk to your doctor before you start light therapy.

How to use it:

In-office devices:

Light therapy is usually performed by a dermatologist or a trained nurse who will give you special goggles to protect your eyes, set up the light therapy device, and direct the light onto the skin that needs to be treated. Commercial sunbeds do not help with acne because they emit a different type of light. A typical session lasts for about 10 to 20 minutes. 

No specific preparation is required unless your doctor instructs otherwise. 

Limit exposure to direct sunlight in-between sessions. Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, especially if you tend to get sunburned easily. Cover your skin while outside and do not apply anything that can amplify the effects of light onto your skin (e.g. cosmetics containing alpha-hydroxy acids).

There is no downtime and you can return to your usual routine immediately afterward. 

You can apply makeup the same day unless your doctor instructs you otherwise. 

At-home devices:

Consult your doctor if you are considering an at-home light therapy device. These devices are less potent than those that dermatologists have and are typically recommended to use 1 to 3 times daily over 4 to 5 weeks. Follow the instructions and do your best to not miss or skip a treatment session.

Be aware of:

  • Before starting light therapy, be sure to tell your doctor about any prescription and non-prescription medications, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are using/taking or have used/taken. Mention them even if it seems irrelevant to you and even if you haven’t taken these for a while.
  • Light therapy can only help with papules and pustules (red “pimples” or “zits” with our without a white / yellow center), it is ineffective against less severe acne (blackheads & whiteheads) or more severe acne (nodules & cysts). 
  • In many people, the skin continues to clear after the treatment is discontinued. You will likely see the best results several weeks after the final session. 
  • Before starting light therapy, inform your doctor if you are sensitive to light or sunburn easily.
  • Cover your eyes with protective goggles because red and mixed blue-red light devices may hurt your retina. 
  • If you consider light therapy and are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, talk to your physician about light therapy during pregnancy.
  • If you consider light therapy and are breastfeeding, talk to your physician about light therapy during this period.
  • You can continue your regular diet unless your physician recommends otherwise.
  • Light therapy is usually not covered by insurance. 

Drug interactions: 

Inform your physician or pharmacist about all the prescription and non-prescription medications, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are taking or plan to take before your first light therapy session. Tell your doctor if you have taken isotretinoin, oral antibiotics, oral contraceptives, steroids, or NSAIDs within the recent several months because these medications may render your skin more sensitive to light. In the case of isotretinoin, if you have taken it within the past year, you may be advised against light therapy.

References
  1. Aad.org. (2018). Lasers and lights: How well do they treat acne? [online] Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne-and-rosacea/lasers-and-lights-how-well-do-they-treat-acne. [Accessed 07 Jul. 2019].
  2. Tsoukas, M., Adya, K., Inamadar, A. & Pei, S. Light-based therapies in acne treatment. Indian Dermatology Online Journal 6, 145 (2015).
  3. Aad.org. (2014). Acne can put a damper on hopes of glowing skin durign pregnancy. [online] Available at: https://www.aad.org/media/news-releases/acne-can-put-a-damper-on-hopes-of-glowing-skin-during-pregnancy. [Accessed 07 Jul. 2019].