Can Using Blue Light Therapy at Home Actually Clear Acne?

Dermatologists share everything you need to know before you try blue light therapy at home.

stitched photo of two women using different types of blue light therapy at home

If you have acne, you've likely heard of blue light therapy before — it's been used in dermatologists' offices for over a decade now to help zap acne-causing bacteria at its source. And for several years, pricey at-home devices have used to same technology to deliver similar benefits for a fraction of the cost. But now, with some devices ringing in at under $40, blue light therapy at home has truly become accessible.

So, beyond serving as a cool and futuristic addition to your next self-care Sunday (and making for some weird selfies), how do the at-home blue light devices on the market actually work to give you a clear complexion? Here, it's all broken down by two derms.

Why Blue Light?

Blue light is a spectrum of light (wavelength of 415 nanometers, to be exact) that's clinically proven to be effective in eradicating acne at the source and healing skin from within, notes Marnie Nussbaum, M.D., a New York City–based dermatologist. How? "Blue light has been shown to penetrate the skin's hair follicles and pores, which harbor bacteria and can cause inflammation, and therefore acne. Bacteria are very sensitive to the blue light spectrum — it shuts down their metabolism and kills them," she explains. Unlike topical treatments that work to decrease inflammation and bacteria on the surface of the skin, light treatment eliminates the acne-causing bacteria (otherwise known as P. acnes) within the skin before it can feed off the oil glands and cause that redness and inflammation, adds Dr. Nussbaum.

Benefits of Adding In Red Light

If you're wondering why some visible light devices (called "visible light" because you can see the colors) seem to give off more of a purple glow, that's because some options on the market actually use a combination of red and blue light. "Red light has traditionally been used for anti-aging purposes because it helps stimulate collagen. At the same time, it helps reduce inflammation, which is why it is useful alongside blue light in treating acne," explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. (Red, green, and blue light therapy can also have therapeutic benefits.)

Best Uses for Blue Light Devices

Experts agree that at-home blue light treatments are best for mild to moderate acne — not severe cystic or scarring acne. These devices are also not effective against blackheads, whiteheads, acne cysts, or nodules, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Read: They're best for your traditional red, non-pussy pimples, as long as they're not significantly deep or painful, says Dr. Zeichner. And although applying light to the skin might seem harsh, it's actually more gentle than traditional topical products. (Just stay away if you have a skin condition such as rosacea, advises Dr. Nussbaum.)

While clinical results show that at-home devices can be just as effective at treating mild acne, they offer lower intensity than what can be achieved in an office, explains Dr. Zeichner. However, this also means that they can be used more frequently (most devices recommend they be used on a daily basis), and thanks to the small portable nature and affordable price point, they're more convenient to incorporate into your routine. Not to mention, a typical treatment in a derm's office can range anywhere from $50–$100 per session, and patients are typically advised to come in twice weekly for several months, making it an expensive endeavor, adds Dr. Zeichner.

Blue Light Therapy at-Home Device Options

The FDA has cleared several at-home visible light LED devices (blue, red, and blue + red light devices) for mild to moderate acne. Some popular options? Tria Beauty's Positively Clear 3-Step Skincare Solution (Buy It, $149, triabeauty.com) is a small option that's great for getting into hard-to-reach parts of your face and is cartridge-free. Then there's the Me Clear Anti-Blemish Device (Buy It, $39, amazon.com) which uses a combination of blue light, sonic vibration, and "gentle warming." Other options include the DRx SpotLite (Buy It, $52, drdennisgross.com) from celeb-approved skin-care brand Dr. Dennis Gross. The LightStim (Buy It, $169, dermstore.com) is another red and blue light device that, in addition to reducing inflammation and destroying acne bacteria, also promises to increase circulation, along with collagen and elastin production.

While the length of time you'll need to use each device varies (so follow the instructions for proper use to make sure you actually reap the acne-fighting benefits!), the time investment for most at-home devices ranges from about 6 to 20 minutes daily to see results, depending on how many sections of the face you want to treat. So, while it certainly adds a time-consuming step to your skin-care routine, it's definitely way less time than you spend in bed scrolling through Instagram on a daily basis, not to mention probably less harsh than other at-home beauty processes you may undergo on the reg, such as a bikini wax.

How to Choose Your Device

Always look for an FDA-approved light device which was tested and approved for proper use, says Dr. Nussbaum, who recommends the Tria device since it's more powerful than other at-home blue light treatments. That said (just like with any acne cleanser you might buy), the price of the product doesn't necessarily correlate with effectiveness, adds Dr. Zeichner. "Without head-to-head studies comparing the effectiveness between different light therapy products, we really just don't know which work better," he says.

How to Incorporate Blue Light Therapy Into Your Current Skin-Care Routine

While the Tria system comes with a cleanser and spot treatment that work complementary with the device (the spot treatment contains niacinamide and black tea rather than salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide which can irritate the skin, says Dr. Nussbaum), you can also simply add one of these devices to your normal skin-care routine. Add in blue light therapy at home to complement traditional acne products for an additive benefit, recommends Dr. Zeichner. For mild acne, light therapy may be effective even by itself, he adds.

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