Shedding Light on Acne
You'd think that, as common of a problem as acne is, we would know by now how to prevent it. While acne continues to affect millions of people, we do have multiple proven treatment options available at this time. If you are tired of struggling with persistent or recurrent acne, schedule a consultation with your dermatologist. In our Seattle and Renton offices, we customize acne treatments to meet each patient's unique needs. One of several treatment options our patients may choose from is light therapy. Here, we discuss what that is and how it works.
How Light Treats Acne
Acne originates from bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes). This type of bacteria lives in the skin and gets trapped in pores along with dirt, oil, and dead skin cells. The debris in the pores clogs them. When pores are clogged, the bacteria cause the swelling that we know as pimples.
The objective of most acne treatments is to control or destroy the bacteria that are causing breakouts. Light is one of several ways we can do this. Studies have found that P. acnes bacteria are sensitive to certain kinds of light. Therefore, shining that type of light on the skin can destroy these microorganisms. In addition to destroying acne-causing bacteria, light can also shrink the oil glands that lead to clogged pores, decreasing the likelihood of frequent breakouts.
Not Just Any Light
If acne bacteria are light-sensitive, why not just sit in the sunshine? Interestingly, doctors used to use standard UV light to reduce acne. While some degree of improvement was noticed, there was also a risk of skin cancer that coincided with treatment. It does little good to reduce acne if the patient is then likely to develop precancerous lesions. Instead of relying on UV light, doctors now use wavelengths of red or blue light to kill acne-causing bacteria. These wavelengths target bacteria without damaging the skin.
How Phototherapy Works
Patients with mild to moderate acne may be excellent candidates for light therapy, called phototherapy. To be a good candidate, a patient must be willing to avoid tanning beds and sun exposure for at least one week before treatment begins and for the duration of the treatment plan. Phototherapy sessions may be scheduled weekly for a time to achieve the best results.
During a phototherapy treatment, the doctor may apply a topical medicine to the skin to make it more sensitive to light. Aminolevulinic acid (ALA) and methyl aminolevulinate (MAL) are examples of common photosensitizers. After the medicine has absorbed, LED light is directed at the skin for 15 to 30 minutes. The purpose of photosensitizing medication is to enhance the effects of light therapy. Depending on the patient's skin type and severity of acne, light may be used on its own.
According to studies, phototherapy can reduce acne and swelling up to 70% in 8 to 10 sessions.