Light Treatment for Acne
Conventional medical treatments for acne include the use of prescription topical and oral antibiotics. However, light-based treatments, an emerging therapy for reducing acne, may help patients avoid the hassle of applying acne creams in impossible to reach areas or remembering to take oral medication. With little discomfort to patients, and few side effects, light treatments for acne show great promise, says experts at the Mayo Clinic.
How Acne Forms
Acne is caused by a variety of factors which, when they all come together, can result in red, inflamed lesions more commonly known as pimples. The American College of Osteopathic Medicine cites excess sebum production caused by hormone surges and fluctuations, dead skin proteins that clog pores and bacteria as the three primary causes of acne. Milder forms of acne may be resolved with over-the-counter topical medications. But more resistant acne requires medical intervention.
About Light Treatment
The American Academy of Dermatology lists blue light therapy, pulsed light and heat energy (LHE) therapy and a combination of light therapy and 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA) as three methods of photodynamic therapies that may be used to treat acne. Each works in a slightly different way. Blue light therapy involves directing a narrow-band, high-intensity light at the skin to kill the P. acnes bacteria that cause acne. Pulsed light and LHE therapy integrates heat to reduce two causes of acne: bacteria and excess sebum. Currently under investigation, according to the AAD, is the application of ALA to the skin in conjunction with blue or red light therapy, with both techniques being effective. However, the AAD notes that red light therapy has some undesirable side-effects, such as temporary hyperpigmentation and folliculitis.
How It's Done
Light therapy for acne is delivered through a series of treatments. The AAD states that patients are typically given eight treatments during a period of four weeks, each of which lasts around 15 minutes. Side effects after treatment may include mild pigment changes, swelling and dryness. If ALA is used during the course of therapy, it is applied to the patient's skin first and left on from between 15 minutes and an hour before light treatment is delivered. Because ALA does cause sun sensitivity, patients are encouraged to use sun protection for at least two days after treatment.
What Studies Show
As the AAD points out, research conducted on photodynamic therapies is scant, and study pools small. An early study conducted on blue light therapy in 2004 indicated that when 25 patients with acne applied topical clindamycin on one half of their face and received blue light therapy on the other half, the side treated with light therapy showed a 39 percent improvement compared to the clindamycin side, which showed a 22.25 percent improvement. However, after treatment was discontinued, those who used clindamycin were able to sustain results for a longer period of time. A more recent study on the use of ALA and light therapy in 2009 determined that all 14 participants experienced complete resolution of acne after a series of treatment sessions.
Light treatment may seem like a desirable option. But the AAD notes that it doesn't work for everyone with acne. Blue light therapy, for example, is ineffective for those with cystic acne and can even make it worse. Also, the AAD points out that adult patients appear to be the best candidates for light therapy. Photodynamic therapy that incorporates light or laser beams is considered experimental in nature, and will most likely not be covered under a health insurance plan. As of February 2010, the AAD noted that the cost of a regimen of blue light therapy could cost between $800 and $1600.
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