Does Red Light Really Clear Acne?

Ever since those fancy LED light masks started appearing in beauty stores and online ads, there’s been a lot of buzz about “red light therapy” and its supposed benefits for clearing acne. But does it really work? And is it all it’s cracked up to be? Let’s take a deeper look at how this treatment works and what the scientific evidence says.

What Exactly is Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation therapy, involves exposure to specific wavelengths of red or near-infrared light. The light is non-thermal, meaning it doesn’t generate heat like tanning beds. Instead, it’s thought to stimulate key cellular processes that promote healing and reduce inflammation.

The light is typically administered using handheld devices or facial masks with built-in LEDs that emit wavelengths around 600-700 nm, in the red/near-infrared range of the spectrum. Treatment times usually range from 2-15 minutes, 2-3 times per week. The light penetrates the skin up to about 1 cm deep.


How Could It Help Acne?

The proposed mechanisms behind how red light therapy may help clear acne involve:

Reducing inflammation: Red and near-infrared light is thought to inhibit the release of pro-inflammatory chemicals like nitric oxide, TNF-alpha, IL-1beta and more that contribute to acne lesions. This calms redness and swelling.

Boosting collagen production: The light stimulation triggers an upregulation of collagen synthesis, which may help repair pores damaged by acne and prevent future clogged pores and breakouts.

Killing bacteria: Certain wavelengths in the red/NIR range have been shown to destroy common acne-causing bacteria like P. acnes when delivered at sufficient dose and intensity.

Speeding wound healing: The light promotes fibroblast and keratinocyte proliferation, accelerating the healing process for existing pimples, whiteheads and lesions. Faster healing means clearer skin.

So in theory, regular red light therapy sessions should lead to less frequent breakouts, smaller and fewer pimples, and reduced redness and scarring over time as the skin heals.

What Does the Research Say?

There have been several clinical studies investigating red light therapy for acne:

  • A 2016 review analyzed 12 randomized controlled trials and found evidence it reduces inflammatory lesions compared to no treatment or placebo. Improvement ranged from 26-74%.
  • One 2021 study had 60 participants use a red light therapy. Images showed a 36% reduction in acne lesions versus baseline.
  • Another 2016 study gave 45 participants weekly red light treatments for 8 weeks. Acne severity decreased 56% compared to only 14% for placebo.
  • A 2020 review of 11 studies concluded photobiomodulation is effective and well-tolerated for mild-moderate inflammatory acne.

So overall, the existing research does provide support that red light therapy can noticeably diminish acne severity when used consistently over multiple weeks. The effect sizes vary but most people see a reduction of 30-70% depending on acne severity.

Does Red Light Really Clear Acne? The surprising truth about this new treatment that is gaining popularity. Explore how it works and what science says about its effectiveness for treating acne according to published studies.

What to Look for in a Device

With so many red light masks and wands on the market claiming acne-fighting powers, it’s important to consider a few factors when choosing a device:

  • Wavelengths: Look for ones emitting 630-635 nm or 640-660 nm as these penetrate deepest and target the primary acne-related biological processes.
  • Power density: Aim for 30-50 mW/cm2 of power output, as strengths below this may be less effective. Higher intensities are generally safe.
  • Panel size: Larger panels allow you to treat your whole face at once faster. Something that comfortably covers your entire T-zone is ideal.
  • Independent testing: Devices backed by third-party product testing showing they meet manufacturers’ power output claims are best.
  • Money-back guarantee: In case it doesn’t work for you, look for brands with risk-free trial periods.

Stick with well-regarded brands like Neutrogena, Foreo, LightStim and others to maximize your chances of success. Generic no-name masks of dubious quality may not deliver the promised results.

Combining with Other Treatments

Most dermatologists agree red light works best when paired with a consistent daily skincare routine. Consider also:

  • Gentle cleansers to remove oil and dirt without over-stripping skin
  • Non-comedogenic moisturizers to provide hydration without clogging pores
  • Over-the-counter topicals like benzoyl peroxide or adapalene to tackle existing pimples
  • Professional extractions/treatments for stubborn cystic breakouts
  • Dietary and lifestyle tweaks like cutting sugar/dairy or managing stress

Used together with red light therapy 1-2 times per week, a multi-pronged approach can help you get clear, smooth skin much faster than any single treatment alone. Consistency is still key.

Does It Really Work? The Bottom Line

While more high-quality research is still needed, the current science does indicate red light therapy provides real, noticeable benefits for many people struggling with acne when:

  • An appropriate device delivering the proper wavelengths is used
  • Treatments are administered 2-3 times weekly consistently for 4+ weeks
  • It’s combined with a healthy skincare routine and lifestyle habits

For mild-moderate inflammatory acne especially, red light offers a non-invasive, drug-free solution with minimal risk of side effects. Just be wary of inflated claims from shady brands and influence real, peer-reviewed studies in your expectations. With the right device and regimen, red light could be your new secret weapon against breakouts.

So in summary – yes, the evidence does support red light therapy as an effective acne treatment option worth trying. Just be sure to do your research first on devices and how to optimize your protocol for the best chance of clear skin success.

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