Blue-Light Therapy for Treating Acne - Terrible or Terrific?
Author: Martin Hansen
Contemplating how to get that clear beautiful complexion? The latest advance in laser technology could make this more than a pipe dream for acne sufferers. The technique is called BLU-U for short, basically because it involves the use of visible blue light.
How does blue light affect acne?
To answer this question let us briefly recapitulate what acne really is. Acne is simply the term used to describe the clogged pores (pimples, whiteheads, blackheads or lesions) that occur on your face or on other parts of your body. The cause of acne comes from a disorder of the skin's oil glands. These oil glands produce a substance called sebum, which is constantly secreting through openings in the skin.
In some cases cells that are too close to the openings of these oil glands actually end up in the way and block the opening. As a result, oil builds up underneath the skin and provides a wonderful feeding ground for the nasty bacteria that simply multiply and cause acne.
What the blue light does is trigger the proliferation of photo sensitizers (so called porphyrins) in the acne causing bacteria. This creates a toxic environment, which destroys the acne bacteria themselves, thereby eliminating a major culprit in the process of producing acne.
What happens during a treatment session?
Blue-light therapy typically requires 16 minutes per treatment session. Patients sit in a chair while the therapeutic light is applied. Apart from an occasional, slight warming sensation, BLU-U light treatments are described as easy, even relaxing.
Typically, blue-light treatments are given twice a week for four weeks, then once a week for four weeks. Experts in photodynamic therapy generally recommend that patients do not miss any treatment appointments in order to see maximum results. BLU-U effectively clears 70% of moderate, inflammatory acne in 4-8 weeks, and best results are achieved when used with conventional treatments, such as topical creams and oral antibiotics.
BLU-U is FDA approved and is considered one of the safest acne treatments available. It has no known side effects. Some health care professionals like to say that teenagers can expect results to last for a year, while many grown-ups can expect them to last a life time. However, varying results should be expected from one person to the next and your skin type will play an important role in determining the results of blue-light treatments.
Can blue light cure severe acne as well?
In most cases of moderate to severe cystic acne the blue light itself is not enough to treat the condition. In those cases a prescription solution of a photosensitizing agent called Levulan (5-aminolevulinic acid) is applied to the affected skin. After the solution has been allowed time to absorb into the skin (it typically takes from 1-2 hours) the patient sits under a Blu-U light which activates the Levulan. The result is a reduction of acne lesions and oiliness and in turn produces skin rejuvenation.
This sounds exciting, and it is. However, do not forget to be critical. First of all, according to the FDA, a Levulan/BLU-U treatment does have some potential side effects. These include, but are not limited to: a tingling, stinging, prickling, or burning feeling of the treated areas. These feelings should improve at the end of the blue light treatment and should end within 24 hours.
Following blue light treatment, the surrounding skin, will redden. Swelling may also occur. These changes should reach a maximum the day after BLU-U treatment. However, these changes are temporary, should improve markedly by the end of the first week, and should be completely gone by 4 weeks after treatment. Other side effects at the treatment sites may include: scaling, itching, and changes in skin color.
Second, ask critical questions when you talk to your health care provider about Levulan/BLU-U. For example, the treatment regimen dramatically decreases the production of sebum, but is this really good for your skin overall? It may help relieve acne, but what if sebum is important for your skin in other respects? Does sebum help keep the skins elasticity? Does it play an integral role in the anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties of the skin? Does it prevent your skin from becoming to dry? Does it help protect your skin from the sun? Ask questions, and expect thorough answers. After all, it's your skin on the line.
An addition to the arsenal
Blue-light therapy, both by itself and in combination with Levulan, is a very exciting new approach to treating acne. Regardless of skin type or lifestyle, approximately 80% of the population will suffer from acne at some point in their lives. Acne is common in both teens and adults, and effective treatment solutions are in great demand.
BLU-U/Levulan is an exciting addition to the arsenal of those who battle acne regularly. At this point, however, it should not be considered the be all and end all of acne treatment, and both medical and alternative treatments should be considered as well.