Phototherapy for Acne

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Acne phototherapy is touted to be more effective than traditional topical acne solutions such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Although laser technology is still in the early adaptation stage among consumers, technology has been quickly progressing and emerging over the past decade. The popularization of medical and laser spas, which initially focused on laser hair removal and Botox, have been expanding their service menus to include a larger offering of laser skin care solutions and more recently laser acne solutions.

What Is Phototherapy?

Phototherapy, also known as light therapy or laser therapy, is the term used to describe any treatment using laser or light. Phototherapy is used as an alternative skin care treatment for a number of alignments such as hyperpigmentation, eczema, rosacea and acne. It is best known for its inflammation reduction or sebaceous “oil” gland benefits, depending on what therapy is used. The technology is made up of either exposure to daylight or wavelengths of artificial visible light, which are utilized and delivered through lasers, lamps or light boxes.


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There are a number of different laser and lamp technologies in the market today. The initial phototherapy technologies utilized for acne therapy were based on UV light, X-rays, infrared (red) light or ultraviolet light technology. High-intensity blue light was found to be the most effective in destroying acne bacteria with phototherapy. Unlike infrared or ultraviolet light, blue light does not carry the same skin-damaging side effects.


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Phototherapy is used to eliminate the abundance of oil on the skin. Bacteria are stored in the sebaceous glands that secrete sebum, commonly known as oil. In people, sebum is abundant on the face and scalp. Phototherapy light is used to open the pores and exfoliate the skin to allow light to penetrate below the surface of the skin. The light attacking the sebum causes a chemical reaction that is able to destroy the bacteria.

Treatment Plan?

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Treatment plans vary depending on the technology being used and the severity of acne in the phototherapy candidate. The average treatment plan is eight treatments over the course of two weeks. More severe cases may require longer initial treatment protocols with two treatments per week for 12 weeks. Treatment time ranges from 20 to 40 minutes per session. Results from one treatment series are not permanent. As such, candidates should know that ongoing treatments will be required to maintain results. More aggressive maintenance protocols may be required for more progressive or severe cases of acne.


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Just like with the treatment protocol, results vary person to person. They depend on skin type, severity and cause of acne as well as the technology used and the protocol prescribed and administered. Results become visible within one month and typically between the third and fifth treatment session. The primary improvement should be in the production and appearance of sebum or oil on the skin. Other noticeable benefits include reduced inflammation and evenness in skin pigmentation. To ensure the best results possible it is important to adhere to the treatment protocol and schedule recommended by your aesthetician or doctor. Missing treatments in the series can cause inconsistency or quality of results. Responsiveness to treatment can also depend on hereditary and environmental factors. According to an FDA study, if acne does not appear to begin improvement after two or three 15-minute sessions, there is only a 10 percent chance of acne improvement with phototherapy. With studies documenting 80 percent success rates and 60 percent to 70 percent skin condition improvements, acne phototherapy proves to compete with the traditional topical and oral acne solutions.

Side Effects

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Flaky, dry, itchy or red skin are among the mild and regular side effects. Often these side effects are preventable; antibiotics can cause them or other topical skin care therapies can be contraindicated in your treatment protocol. Discontinuing use of all medications for 24 hours before and after treatment can reduce risk of potential side effects. Some technologies can cause burning if phototherapy for acne is not administered properly. Other possible long-term effects include freckling or premature aging of the skin.