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Does Light Therapy Really Work for Acne?

When I see a young person burdened with acne, I just want to pull out a therapy light to help them. Home treatment is easy and safe.

Red, infrared and blue light therapy reduce acne symptoms. Red and infrared reduce inflammation, redness and bumps. Blue light kills the bacteria P acnes. Blue, red, or infrared work alone and in combination.

Red and infrared light also reduce signs acne scars. Red light therapy smoothes out texture and evens skin color.

What is Light Therapy?

Compared to lasers, LED lights are cheap and easy to make. Over 5,000 studies overwhelmingly show that low energy light from LEDs creates the same health benefits as do lasers. Cold laser, or low level light therapy (LLLT), is the use of targeted wavelengths in sufficient doses to affect the body in a positive way. The combination of laser and LED therapy today is now known as photobiomodulation (PBM)

Infrared and red light therapy stimulate mitochondria to product adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Some pathways trigger the production of nitric oxide. Red and infrared light prompt the proliferation of healthy cells.

Blue light therapy triggers apoptosis of unhealthy cells. When applied to acne, blue light kills P acnes bacteria. This stops the overproduction of oil that results in acne breakouts.

I have detailed the mechanisms of red and infrared light therapy in EMF Channel articles (these links open in new windows):

Blue light is an important and effective therapy for psoriasis. Treatment of psoriasis and acne are similar. I have detailed blue light apoptosis mechanisms in EMF Channel articles (links open in new windows):

Does At Home Light Therapy Work for Psoriasis?

What Is Acne?

Acne occurs when pores and hair follicles fill up with a mixture of oil and dead skin cells. It presents as bumps (pimples) and red, irritated skin.

Severe and persistent acne can stretch pores, creating scars and pockmarks. Scarring can also occur if the sufferer picks at or squeezes pimples, thus damaging the skin.

Acne occurs most commonly in puberty when an influx of hormones can increase the production of sebum. However, bacteria such as P Acnes may also cause acne.

Bacterial acne persists until the bacteria dies. Acne most commonly occurs on the face but may also occur on the chest or back as well.

How Does Light Therapy Compare to Current Acne Treatments?

Doctors prescribe topical retinoids, antibiotics, and hormones for acne treatment. Dermatologists add chemical peels and light therapy to those treatments. The effectiveness of treatments alone and in combination depends on the acne cause and severity.

Best Home Device Wavelengths for Acne

I have documented several successful acne light therapy studies. You can view study summaries and links to the original studies in the EMF Channel Light Dose Database.

The table below lists the wavelengths used on acne during light therapy trials.

585 nm yellow

Reduced redness

420 nm blue

Decreased acne symptoms

415 nm blue, 633 nm red

Reduced inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne, reduced melanin, brightened tone, improved texture

635 nm red, 670 nm red

Reduced acne lesion counts

Multiple wavelengths in red

Decreased acne lesions, decreased skin sebum excretion

415 nm blue, 830 nm infrared

Reduced inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesion counts

630 nm red, 890 nm infrared (infrared was not effective here)

Significant reduction in moderate acne

420 nm blue

90% to 100% reduction in inflammatory lesion count

420 nm blue, 660 nm red

reduced inflammatory and non-inflammatory lesions, reduced sebum output, reduced inflammatory markers, decreases sebaceous gland size

470 nm blue, 660 nm red

Significant decrease of comedones, papules and pustules

Is Light Therapy for Acne Safe for the Skin?

Although light therapy is safer than many modalities, it is often sold as 100% safe. That is not accurate.

Photosensitive Medications and Light Therapy

Photosensitive medications can cause issues for people doing light therapy. Skin reactions can be severe, according to Omnilux Medical. People with light-induced headaches and eye conditions should work with their doctor to do light therapy, or avoid using it.

Red Light Therapy for Acne Skin Safety

Except for these caveats, red light therapy is safe for the skin. There are no known side effects using red light.

Infrared Light Therapy Skin Safety

To do infrared therapy safely, you should ensure you do not feel heat from the infrared lamp. Photons of light heal rather than heat. Heat is a healing modality, but it is not present in photobiomodulation.

Infrared can cause a pigmentation increase in some people. Steps that might stop the increase in pigmentation:

  1. Ensure that you are not feeling heat from the infrared light. You want the photons, not the heat from this lamp.
  2. After treating with infrared, follow up with a blue treatment. You can do the blue the same day or within a few days. This method can go either way. Sometimes blue light combined with red is protective against pigmentation. Other times, blue light is a contributor to pigmentation along with infrared.
  3. Try combining topical curcumin with blue and red light

Infrared Light Therapy Eye Safety

There is controversy whether infrared light in therapeutic form can hurt the eyes. In energetic, bright flashes, infrared can cause cataracts. Some people draw the conclusion that because infrared has so many therapeutic uses for eye health that it is also safe. We cannot draw that conclusion. I error on the side of safety. Wear goggles using infrared.

Blue Light Therapy Skin Safety

In a study assessing safety and effectiveness of blue light therapy for acne, researchers found the only side effect was dry skin. Blue light is close to ultraviolet on the electromagnetic spectrum. One study found similar cell changes under blue light as one sees under UV. Authors speculate that blue light is similar to UV in its ability to create wrinkles. Blue light can increase melasma symptoms.

Blue Light Therapy Eye Safety

Blue light stops melatonin production. It interferes with healthy sleep cycles. Use opaque eye protection when using blue light therapy.

Sources: Circadian Rhythm,

Can Acne Light Therapy Make the Skin Worse?

Acne light therapy does not make acne worse, but it can increase redness and inflammation. To the observer, this might appear as if the light made the acne worse.

Blue light therapy kills P. acnes bacteria that contributes to sebum overproduction. Blue light therapy can cause skin irrigation, redness, a feeling of burning, sun sensitivity and peeling. (source)

Can Red Light Therapy Heal Acne Scars?

Dermatologists reduce acne scars with laser phototherapy. Use of LED light therapy to treat acne scars is not well studied. There are several successful studies using light to reduce acne scars, but the researchers used lasers rather than low powered devices. There are few to none studies demonstrating LLLT on any scar, regardless if acne caused it.

Use Caution with At Home Blue Light Therapy

Avoid getting blue light in the eyes. Avoid sunshine after blue light treatment. Consult your doctor if you are taking medications that might be photosensitive.

Avoid Blue Light Risks

  • 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. Blue light can create sensitivity. Sunlight can make the irritation worse. 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. Learn more about blocking vs. chemical sunscreens. Your best action after blue light therapy is to stay out of the sun. Photosensitivity is not a typical problem of red light therapy, which can actually be photoprotective.
  • 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.
  • 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.


  • Regulation of lipid production by light-emitting diodes in human sebocytes
  • The clinical and histological effect of home-use, combination blue-red LED phototherapy for mild-to-moderate acne vulgaris in Korean patients: a double-blind, randomized controlled trial
  • A study to determine the effect of combination blue (415 nm) and near-infrared (830 nm) light-emitting diode (LED) therapy for moderate acne vulgaris
  • Handheld LED array device in the treatment of acne vulgaris
  • Blue and red light combination LED phototherapy for acne vulgaris in patients with skin phototype IV
  • Phototherapy
  • Light-based therapies in acne treatment
  • The utilization of nonthermal blue (405-425 nm) and near infrared (850-890 nm) light in aesthetic dermatology and surgery-a multicenter study
  • Safety and Effectiveness of a New Blue Light Device for the Self-treatment of Mild-to-moderate Acne
  • Ocular hazards of blue-light therapy in dermatology

Does Light Therapy Really Work for Acne?