Acne & Light Treatment Results


Acne, the most common skin condition in the U.S., affects nearly every teenager and many adults, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Most cases of pimples need no more than a careful skin care regimen and cream containing the active ingredient benzoyl peroxide, which can be purchased over the counter at most drug stores. But some severe cases of acne present far more of a challenge. Dermatologists report that light treatment can clear acne that has become resistant to common acne medications.


Acne results from a combination of three main factors, according to the Mayo Clinic. When the skin sheds dead skin cells too quickly, these can move to irritate delicate hair follicles at the skin’s surface. At the same time, the sebaceous glands, which produce the skin’s lubrication, or oil, might produce too much oil. This oil provides a perfect environment for the acne-causing bacteria P. acnes. The combination of dead skin cells and oil clog the follicles, creating whiteheads and blackheads, and the P. acnes bacteria infection then causes inflammation.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved blue light treatment for acne in August 2002, and dermatologists quickly adopted the technology. According to the AAD, light treatment for acne targets only one of the three main acne causes: P. acnes bacteria. In general, doctors use light therapy in cases where the case of acne seems to be resistant to acne medications, such as antibiotics and antimicrobials.


Studies show the light treatments work for many patients, but not for all. For example, a 2004 study published in the medical journal “Photodermatology, Photoimmunology and Photomedicine” looked at 31 Taiwanese patients treated with blue light twice a week for four weeks. The study concluded that light therapy works for most types of acne, but can worsen nodulocystic acne lesions. The AAD reports that most patients can expect about 55 percent clearance from light therapy after the recommended course of treatment.

Time Frame

Patients need multiple blue light treatments in order to see results; the AAD recommends eight sessions spread over four weeks. Each session lasts about 15 minutes. Side effects, which generally are mild and temporary, can include reddening of the treatment area, slight swelling and dry skin.


In a few patients, light treatment will cure acne permanently, but in most, it only will reduce lesions by about half to two-thirds at best. Also, some patients report their acne worsened again several months after light treatment. The AAD notes that only a few studies with relatively small numbers of patients have looked at the effectiveness of light therapy, and so dermatologists can’t draw firm conclusions. Physicians often recommend a multipronged approach to acne treatment, so therapy might include a topical or oral medication along with blue light treatment.

About this Author

J.M. Andrews has been a professional freelance journalist for nearly two decades. She specializes in health and medical content for both consumers and health professionals, and has written for the magazine “Young Physicians.” Her background in medicine and science has earned her credits in a wide range of publications both online (including eHow) and in print media.