In a previous article, I mentioned that blue light therapy (photodynamic therapy) can be used for the treatment of actinic keratoses. Photodynamic therapy uses a light activated medication, which when exposed to a specific light frequency, will cause cell death in the targeted area. Photodynamic therapy has become a more common procedure because it is both effective and relatively painless.
Light therapy (including photodynamic) and laser therapy can also be used for the treatment of acne. Acne develops when hair follicles become clogged with dead skin cells and sebum. Infection from bacteria can cause inflammation and can be a complication of acne. Light and laser therapies are effective because they can target deeper skin layers without causing damage to the surface of the skin. Laser treatments can target the sebaceous glands, reducing oil production to keep acne under control. Other treatments target Propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria responsible for acne inflammation, to reduce break-outs. Both laser and light treatments can also be used to improve skin texture and reduce acne scars.
When used to treat acne, blue light therapy uses low-intensity visible blue light to destroy Propionibacterium acnes. The treatment is painless, but several sessions are required to effectively kill the bacteria, as it multiplies rapidly. Blue light therapy can cause redness and dryness in the affected area. The Mayo Clinic mentions that a new therapy, utilizing both red and blue light, may be more effective than just blue light.
Other methods of photodynamic therapy may be used. A variety of topical medications and photosensitizing medication can be applied, followed by application of pulsed light. The medication used and light wave-length applied determines the effectiveness and possible side-effects. The general side effects of photodynamic therapy include: swelling, redness, irritation, and possible acne aggravation.
Pulsed light and heat energy therapy is another method for acne treatment. In this procedure, the affected area is treated with a combination pulsed light of a specific wavelength followed by targeting the area with heat for a certain period. This targets both the acne and helps to shrink the sebaceous glands. This combined treatment reduces inflammation and decreases the probability of break-outs. Pulsed light and heat therapy can cause redness in the targeted region following the procedure.
Photopneumatic therapy can be used to treat the sebaceous glands and kill bacteria. The treatment applies vacuum suction to the affected areas, removing oil and dead skin from the sebaceous glands. Then the area is treated with blue and red light, killing the bacteria.
The last treatment I will mention here is diode laser therapy. This treatment uses specialized diode lasers to destroy sebaceous glands in the middle layer of the skin (dermis). This treatment can be painful, but does not cause damage to the outer layer of the skin. Use of analgesics applied before treatment can reduce pain during the procedure. Possible side effects include swelling and redness in the area.
Before considering any of these methods, contact your dermatologist and get a consultation. Depending on the severity of your acne, your dermatologist may recommend a variety of treatments.
Chris Gromisch is a Junior Chemistry Major at Trinity College.