Everybody is talking about the blue light. It is the latest gadget for treating acne (and admit it, we LOVE gadgets). But can you really treat acne by simply shining a blue light on your skin?
Acne is caused by bacteria that flourish in the pores of your skin. Clogged pores on your skin fill with oily sebaceous material. These warm, oily pits are breeding grounds for P. acnes, the bacteria responsible for acne. Overgrowth of the bacteria leads to inflammation and eventually (quite) noticeable pimples on your face.
Blue light therapy started as an office-based procedure only. Patients with acne would see their dermatologist for treatment. The physician would often apply a sensitizer to the skin called Levulan about 30 minutes before the procedure. Then the patient would sit in front of a blue light source called Blu-U for several minutes. This was repeated several times each week for about 6 weeks.
The therapy worked well. The sensitizing agent penetrated the skin. When treated with the blue light, it absorbed the energy from the light, killing the bacteria and frying the sebaceous glands, decreasing the oil production. It is, indeed, the ultimate dermatologist’s gadget.
So what’s the downside?
First of all, it is expensive. Each treatment costs about $200. A complete course of 8 treatments costs about $1,600. Although it is effective in improving acne, the results might not last, and you may need to continue treatments to keep your acne under control.
A second problem is that the Levulan sensitizes you not only to the blue light but to any light. As a result, you have to be extremely careful about sun exposure for 48 hours after your treatment. Failure to protect your skin after applying ALA can result in a serious sun burn.
A third problem is that the treatment hurts. The combination of the sensitizing agent plus the light treatment will give you a stinging sensation. For most people the treatment is tolerable, but some people find it too uncomfortable to stand.
We now know that light by itself actually kills bacteria; the bacteria produce a natural substance that is similar to the ALA. As a result, the bacteria absorb the blue light and are obliterated. Cool, huh?
Because the sensitizing agent is not necessary, you no longer have to go to the doctor’s office to get treated. Several companies have developed hand-held blue light devices that you can use yourself at home (Woo-hoo, your own personal acne gadget!).
Recent studies have shown that blue light-only treatments are effective in treating acne. What’s the downside here? Again cost might be a factor. A hand-held blue light acne unit might cost about $250 to $300.
The main problem is that you have to use it. In order for the light be be effective, you have to hold it against the skin for about 3 minutes everyday. That might not seem like much, but if you have several areas, like both cheeks and forehead to treat, then it could take about 10 minutes each day.
Considering that the average person brushes his or teeth teeth for just 46 seconds, 10 minutes is a long time.
Photo: Freaksanon (flickr)