Ask a Dermatologist: Is LED Light Therapy a Safe Way to Treat Acne?

Updated 07/26/19

Dermatologists and estheticians have been using LED lights to treat various skin concerns for years. You're probably familiar with it already, but just in case you're not, let's cover the basics, shall we? The practice is called LED therapy (or light therapy), and it involves shining colored light onto the skin to achieve a specific result. Red light is used to treat—and sometimes even reverse—certain signs of aging like fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging skin. Blue light, on the other hand, is used to treat acne, since that specific wavelength of light kills acne-causing bacteria.

While LED therapy can range in efficacy and price, know that it's something you can do in the comfort of your own home, thanks to a multitude of brands that have launched at-home LED devices. So, yes, they're available for at-home use, but should they be? That's the real question. New safety concerns have risen after Neutrogena recalled its insanely popular anti-acne LED mask, citing a "theoretical risk of eye injury" (although in a statement the brand assures its customers that the mask is safe when used as directed and in the absence of underlying eye issues).

So what does that mean for us? Is LED therapy for acne actually safe or could it be slowly yet surely harming our vision? Should we forgo LED therapy in favor of other, more traditional acne treatments? We had to get to the bottom of it, so we asked the experts.

According to board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Rita Linkner of Spring Street Dermatology, LED therapy can be a safe and effective treatment for acne if it's used correctly. The problem is that it's not always used correctly. "We use Blu-U blue light technology to combat severe acne. It’s a great beginner treatment for someone who is new to these types of procedures as it is highly effective with little downtime. The light is specifically calibrated to emit blue light wavelength, which has been shown to have anti-bacterial effects on the specific microbe called 'P acnes,' which causes breakouts. According to Linkner, Blu-U blue light is a great in office treatment for those who have severe acne (and it's one of their most popular treatments).

"However," she continues, "excessive, consistent amounts of blue light if used incorrectly is not safe for the retina of the eyes. We always provide patients with protective eyewear during these procedures to prevent the light from affecting sensitive structures in the eye, like the retina. We also make sure to calibrate the device to have it offer the safest treatment possible."

To make a long story short, LED therapy works as an effective anti-acne treatment when it's provided by a professional. When we're talking about at-home devices in particular...well, that's where things get a little more complicated. Take it from board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Sapna Palep, also of Spring Street Dermatology. "At-home LED devices use lower frequencies, so [they] haven’t proven to be as effective or the results as dramatic as in office treatments like the Blu-U blue light. Since patients often times require multiple treatments and over exposure to this light can be potentially dangerous to your vision, I like to recommend consumers always visit a board certified dermatologist who is expertly trained to administer these types of treatments to ensure they are done safely for the health of your eyes and skin."

In other words, at-home devices can work, they'll just take more time and more treatments to work as well as an in-office device. The most important thing to remember, though, is to use them as directed—ALWAYS. Because if you're not using them as directed (AKA you're using your anti-acne LED mask multiple times a day or putting it over your eyes), you could be setting yourself up for potential vision issues.

At the end of the day, it's always a good idea to consult a skincare and/or medical expert before enlisting the help of a LED therapy device to treat your acne. After all, it's better to be safe than sorry, and while acne can be annoying, it's not worth harming your vision over.

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