A friend asked me if red light therapy could help heal the uncomfortable psoriasis on his neck. Red is just one of three types of light that can reduce signs of psoriasis with an at home treatment.
Several studies show that light therapy helps reduce psoriasis symptoms. In order of effectiveness, these lights reduce psoriasis symptoms:
- Ultraviolet B (UVB)
- Ultraviolet A (UVA)
You can get blue, red and infrared alone and in combination with each other. Red and infrared promote healthy cell proliferation. Blue light promotes unhealthy cell death. UV treatments work in a way similar to blue light, but have undesirable side effects, and are available only at the doctor’s office.
Blue light is available in home devices, but it is dangerous to the eyes. When doing at home psoriasis treatment, wear eye goggles.
Sources: Ultraviolet B (UVB)
Psoriasis Causes and Symptoms
Psoriasis is a skin condition that presents with patches of scaly, flaky, red skin. Psoriasis can erupt when the body produces skin too quickly. New skin grows before old skin dies and sloughs off.
Psoriasis is can be a genetic or an immunity disorder. Once triggered, psoriasis is a chronic disease. The sufferer will go through periods of lighter symptoms followed by flare-ups.
Psoriasis often causes discomfort due to itchiness, dry skin, or soreness of the affected skin. Many sufferers may also feel embarrassed or ashamed because of the effect it has on their appearance.
Psoriasis can appear anywhere on the skin. The most commonly affected areas are the knees, elbows, lower back, and scalp. Neck and face psoriasis is slightly less common.
Psoriasis on WebMD, Mayo Clinic
Psoriasis Treatments: Conventional vs. Light Therapy
Doctors treat psoriasis with UV and blue light therapy. Light has become a “conventional treatment” for psoriasis patients.
Doctors also prescribe topical creams such as emollients, exfoliating treatments, and vitamin D. They reserve injectable retinoids (forms of Vitamin A) for the most difficult psoriasis cases.
Sources: Mayo Clinic
Home Psoriasis Treatment Using Low Level Light Therapy (LLLT)
Low level light therapy (LLLT) is also known as cold laser and photobiomodulation. It is the use of low power light to benefit the body. Is LLLT sufficiently powerful to treat psoriasis symptoms?
In a meta-analysis of low level light therapy (LLLT) using UV, blue and red light to treat psoriasis, researchers found that:
- Low level blue light was most effective at reducing psoriasis symptoms
- Low level infrared, low level red light, and low level UVB had a somewhat satisfactory ability to reduce psoriasis symptoms
In a clinical trial of red and infrared therapy on recalcitrant psoriasis, patients experienced skin clearance rates of 60% to 100%.
LLLT is effective despite its low power compared to lasers. You should know that the face mask and torch devices for home use are usually very weak compared to panel lamps. Psoriasis responds best to very high doses of blue light. To get this kind of treatment from a weak light can take years of your life to obtain. You might need over an hour a day with a weak light. A powerful LED light can treat the spot in 15 minutes. A laser can treat it in a few seconds.
There are over 5,000 studies showing that LLLT is an effective treatment for skin disorders, wound healing and even brain function.
Sources: UVB, meta analysis, recalcitrant psoriasis,
Psoriasis Responds Best to Blue Light
Technically, psoriasis responds best to UVA light. However in home treatment terms, blue is the best color for treating psoriasis.
Blue sits between green and UVB on the electromagnetic spectrum. UV and blue light create similar responses in the body. Where red light enhances healthy cells, UV and blue enable the destruction of unhealthy cells.
Evidence Supporting Blue Light Therapy for Skin Disorders
Several studies show that blue light significantly reduces psoriasis symptoms.
Links lead to EMF Channel Light Therapy Dose Database:
Blue Light Cellular Mechanisms
Blue light has bactericidal and immunosuppressive effects on psoriasis. Each results in death of unhealthy cells.
Bactericidal Mechanism of Blue Light
Chromophores are cellular organelles that absorb light. Protoporphyrin IX (PpIX) is a specialized light absorption molecule found in psoriatic skin but not, for example, Group B Streptococcus (GBS).
When PpIX is not present, the psoriatic chromophores do not absorb the blue light. Whether PpIX is endogenous or exogenous, it absorbs blue light. Absorption stimulates a reactive oxygen species (ROS) cascade that results in unwanted cell death.
Sources: PpIX in psoriasis, PpIX not in GBS
Immunosuppressive Mechanism of Blue Light
Blue light might have some of the immunosuppressive action found with ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB).
Of blue light, UVB and UVA, blue light is the least energetic, and UVA is the most energetic. UVA has the more profound immunosuppressive psoriasis response.
Psoriatic plaques emit a red fluorescence under both UVA and blue light. PpIX absorbs light to cause the effect. Peak absorption occurs at 442 nm, well within the blue range of wavelengths.
UVA is so far the most effective. Blue light has the most absorption. We might find a blue light recipe that is more effective than UVA.
Psoralen is a molecule used to treat psoriasis. It has a strong UV light absorbing capacity. When UV is applied to psoriasis in the presence of psoralen, the psoralen molecules “enter cells and intercalate DNA.” The action prevents psoriasis cells from proliferating.
Source: psoralen molecules intercalate DNA
The Best Blue Light Wavelengths for Psoriasis
In one study, the use of 420 nm and 453 nm reduced several signs of psoriasis (opens in new window at Light Dose Database). Another study confirmed the use of 453 nm for treating psoriasis.
A comprehensive study of multiple doses of blue light showed that longer treatments had better outcomes. Researchers dosed as high as 800 J/cm^2. As the dose increased, so did the positive Local Psoriasis Severity Index (LPSI).
Sources: Light Dose Database psoriasis 420 nm and 453 nm, Light Dose Database psoriasis 453 nm, 800 joules dose
Home vs. Clinical Psoriasis Treatment
At home blue light therapy is easy, cost-effective (cheap), and comfortable. You are not required to be somewhere at a specific time. There is no social interaction. Your costs cap at the price of the wellness device.
On the other hand, home light therapy devices are not always as precise as we might want. Manufacturer’s overstate light power because “more is better” to the uninformed consumer. The doctor’s office offers two advantages over home treatment. The light treatment will be more precise. The doctor has other treatments to offer besides the use of light.
The distinction about doses is more important with red light therapy. Using red light, the benefits reverse on overdose. Researchers dosed psoriasis patients with up to 800 J/cm^2 — a very large dose by any standards — and the symptoms improved with larger doses. The larger the dose, the more they improved.
Blue Light Therapy Device Types
Light therapy comes in many forms. The best one is the one you find comfortable enough to use on schedule. No matter how good the delivery system is, if you do not use it, it does not work.
Face Mask Blue Light Therapy
When psoriasis is on the face, a face mask can be a good fit. Face masks can be uncomfortable. Learn how to buy a comfortable face mask in my article: The Complete Guide to Buying a Wrinkle or Acne LED Face Mask. The principles apply to psoriasis as well as to wrinkles and acne. However, there is one difference. Psoriasis responds best to strong dosing. You need a powerful light to treat psoriasis.
Source: View Face Mask Buying Guide on my site Best Red Light Therapy
Spot Treatment “Torch” Light Therapy
Torch devices allow you to target areas of the skin. You can put a torch light directly on your skin. This is preferable to avoid light reflecting off your skin instead of absorbing into it. Torches are often weak, and so have the same dosing problem as face masks. A powerful torch will require much less treatment time per day than a weak one.
Handheld Light Therapy
Handheld devices have large circular areas to output the light. They are similar to torches but are larger and usually have more functions. For example, a torch might output one wavelength, whereas a handheld device will output several. These are generally more powerful and are therefore probably the best bet for psoriasis. I prefer them to panels because handheld devices go right on the skin. Panels lose light to reflection and to distance.
Panel Light Therapy
Small, no-EMF panels are just as good as handhelds for psoriasis treatment. You can hold them on your body without losing energetic benefits. Large panels usually bathe the user in unwanted EMFs. You keep 6 inches between yourself and the device to avoid those waves. Large panels are not a good choice for psoriasis treatment.
Dome, Pad or Standalone Blue Light Therapy
A standalone light device positions a panel, dome or flexible pad over the treatment area. The arm of the device holds the light for you, so it is hands free. Treatment is easiest when the subject lies down under the dome or panel. Padded lights fit into holders that shape into a dome over the target area. Domes are hard-sided devices that come in dome shape. Panels are one, two or three panels hinged together, that sit on a movable arm.
Is Blue Light Therapy Dangerous?
- Protect your eyes with opaque or light-filtering eyewear. You can wear completely opaque eye coverings. If you need to see while targeting the therapy device, you can use light-filtering eye protection. Choose wrap-around light filtering eye protection. For pure blue light therapy (not a combination of blue and red light therapy), you should wear a short-wavelength filtering lens that cuts off transmission at 500 nanometers or eyewear with a yellow-orange lens.
- Do not use products that will make your skin more sensitive. Blue light makes your skin more sensitive to retinol, Accutane, and acids. These topicals are likely to irritate the skin and increase redness when their use follows a blue light therapy session. Check with your doctor if your medication or topical treatments will cause adverse effects if mixed with blue light therapy.
- Stay out of the sun. Your skin will likely be extremely photosensitive after blue light therapy. Prevent sunlight irritation after blue light exposure. Some sunscreens will not sufficiently protect your skin from ultraviolet rays. At a minimum, use a physically blocking sunscreen such as zinc, rather than a chemical sunscreen that only transforms the UV rays. Red light is actually photo-protective. It can prevent sunburn.
- Do not do blue light therapy while taking photosensitive medications. The side effects of some drugs may include increased light sensitivity, so be sure to discuss medications with your dermatologist, doctor or pharmacist before starting treatment.
What About the Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Mask Recall?
Neutrogena had a popular blue and red light therapy LED mask that used target acne and redness. Consumers saw good results, but Neutrogena had to recall the product after people with underlying eye conditions reported that the mask exacerbated their eye problems.
At first, Neutrogena suggested that users consult their doctor if they had eye conditions and stop using it if they experienced eye pain. A few months later, they decided to recall the product even though the general population did not experience issues.
The instructions for many at-home LED therapy devices say that eye covering is optional, but we strongly recommend using eye protection with any light therapy. These devices do not include harmful UV rays, but daily exposure to blue light therapy without eye protection, especially in the long-term, can cause macular degeneration. Blue and infrared are potentially damaging to the eyes.
Blue and UV Light are Both Effective
Visible blue light is in the spectrum next to invisible ultraviolet light. UV wavelengths are 100 nm to 400 nm wide. Blue light wavelengths are approximately 400 to 500 nm wide. UV light penetrates deeper into skin and is dangerous. Blue is safe when used as directed.
UV light is harmful to our health. In large doses, it can cause premature aging of the skin, damage to the eyes, pigmentation, and skin cancer. Blue light does not have these harmful effects, but it may cause our skin to be extra sensitive to UV rays. When undergoing blue light therapy, stay out of the sun as much as possible.
Blue Light Therapy Treatment Schedules
In clinical studies, blue light has completely cleared psoriasis symptoms. With a powerful light, you can see substantial improvement in four weeks.
Results will vary depending on the wavelength of blue light therapy and the method of use, but you should expect to see a noticeable improvement in your acne or psoriasis within six to eight weeks of treatment.
Source: psoriasis 420 nm and 453 nm study
How Much Does At Home Psoriasis Light Therapy Cost?
For blue light units, a home device costs between $75 for a handheld unit, to $450 for a multiple panel light on a secure base. The secret to the best purchase is to look at the treatment time per session. Manufacturers can make out of the world claims about how powerful their devices are. A device will not work if you use it for the wrong amount of time. The most cost effective device will have the shortest time per treatment.
Does Red Light Therapy Work on Psoriasis?
Red light therapy does work on psoriasis. Red light works with blue and by itself. There is debate as to whether UVB or blue is more effective. There is evidence for all three types of light for reducing psoriasis.
Do You Need Goggles for Blue Light Therapy?
You do need goggles for blue light therapy. Blue light is hazardous to the eyes. Get the light positioned for treatment, don your goggles, and begin. Some face masks come with built-in opaque eye covers. Learn how to buy a light therapy face mask in my Best Red Light Therapy face mask article The Complete Guide to Buying a Wrinkle or Acne LED Face Mask
Do You Need Goggles for Red Light Therapy?
You should wear goggles during red light therapy for protection from infrared, but not from red light. Red and infrared do have positive, healing effects on the eyes. However, this is not proof that it’s also safe.
Infrared can cause cataracts. If you self-treat with light, how do you know you are not also harming your eyes? The Environment, Health and Safety Division at Berkeley Labs says:
The most common eye disease associated with near-infrared radiation is cataracts. Prolonged exposure to IR radiation causes a gradual but irreversible opacity of the lens. Other forms of damage to the eye from IR exposure include scotoma, which is a loss of vision due to the damage to the retina. Even low-level IR absorption can cause symptoms such as redness of the eye, swelling, or hemorrhaging.
If red light bothers your eyes, this would be due to brightness and would be temporary. However, infrared light (which is not visible) can cause cataracts over the long term.
- Efficacy of blue light vs. red light in the treatment of psoriasis: a double-blind, randomized comparative study
- A Systematic Review of Light Emitting Diode (LED) Phototherapy for Treatment of Psoriasis: An Emerging Therapeutic Modality
- The utilization of nonthermal blue (405-425 nm) and near infrared (850-890 nm) light in aesthetic dermatology and surgery-a multicenter study
- A Dynamic Model for Prediction of Psoriasis Management by Blue Light Irradiation
- Ocular hazards of blue-light therapy in dermatology
- The importance of porphyrins in blue light suppression of Streptococcus agalactiae
- Effect of UVA and blue light on porphyrin biosynthesis in epidermal cells
- Repeated exposure to blue light does not improve psoriasis
- Advances in phototherapy for psoriasis and atopic dermatitis
- Psoriatic plaques exhibit red autofluorescence that is due to protoporphyrin IX