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Light Therapy for Acne Treatment: How it Works, Side Effects, How to Use, and Before and After Pictures

neutrogena light therapy acne mask

Acne is probably the most annoying thing about teenage and, for some, during certain times of their life such as periods and menopause. Don’t let acne get you down, though, as there are several proven treatments and home remedies that can help to get rid of it. One such as option is blue and red light therapy. Here is a breakdown of everything – hopefully – you need to know about using blue and red light therapy for acne.

Does Light Therapy Work for Acne?

The idea of shining a beam of blue or red light to your skin to make pimples disappear sounds more of fiction than reality, but according to the American Academy of Dermatology, light therapy is effective, accepted and FDA-approved way to control light to moderate acne.

How Does Light Therapy Work for Acne?

Light therapy treatment devices typically use blue and red wavelengths. Both occur within the “visible light” section of the electromagnetic spectrum.

How Blue Light Therapy Works for Acne?

Blue light works by killing the acne-causing bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes. Also known as P. acnes, these bacteria are naturally found on the skin and can cause inflammation. The bacteria are sensitive to blue light. Shining a beam of blue light on the skin helps to eliminate them and reduce the inflammation and pain associated with pimples and papules.

How Blue Light Kills P. Acnes Bacteria

The outer lining of the cell membranes of P. acnes bacteria – the bacteria responsible for acne inflammation – contains chemicals known as porphyrins. These chemicals are light sensitive and when blue light is shone on them, they get activated. The vibratory movement that ensues upon their activation causes the cell lining to burst open. As a result, the bacteria die from the inside out, usually within a span of 48 hours.

How Red Light Therapy Works On Acne Prone Skin

Red light, on the other hand, penetrates deep into the skin and shrink the sebaceous glands which are responsible for the production of skin oil (sebum). This, in turn, helps to reduce the rate at which sebum is produced, albeit temporarily, thus controlling acne.

When produced in excess, sebum mixes with dead skin cells and other debris in the skin to clog the hair follicles, thus causing acne. At the onset, acne begins as whiteheads (closed comedones) or blackheads (open comedones).

The P. acnes bacteria that naturally thrive on human skin may move in to feed on the grime inside the clogged pore. When the immune system moves in to fight back, inflammation-causing chemicals are released leading to painful, reddened spots known as pimples and cysts.

Red and Blue Light Therapy for Acne

Some at-home light therapy treatment devices use the blue light while others use the red light and yet others combine both blue and red light.

Although blue and red light are both effective in reducing the appearance of mild to moderate acne pimples, The American Academy of Dermatologists says that they both (alone or in combination) won’t yield significant results for whiteheads and blackheads, as well as more severe acne types, namely cysts and nodules.

The use of light therapy for acne was traditionally a dermatologist’s office affair, but with the advent of over the counter, cost-effective devices which are suitable for everyday at-home use, such as Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Mask, it is an increasingly popular option for acne control.

At-home light therapy devices differ from the ones used by the dermatologists in several ways. Firstly, home devices use significantly less intense light compared to the ones used by dermatologists. Secondly, at-home devices are safe for long-term used, whereas those used by dermatologists are used over a specified period of time, usually 3-4 weeks.


Pros and Cons of Light Therapy Acne Treatment

acne mask

As with any treatment, using light therapy for acne carries its own merits and demerits as follows:


  1. It is relatively low-cost. At home therapy devices costs as low as $35. In-office therapy by a dermatologist, however, requires 1-2 treatment sessions per week over the course of 3-4 weeks, at about $40 per session. This brings the total cost of dermatologist administered light therapy for acne to between $120 and $320.
  2. The at-home light therapy devices are safe to use every day, all year round. They don’t include UV rays and you thus don’t have to worry about skin damage-related issues such as cancer and premature aging.
  3. Light therapy comes with minimal side effects.
  4. It is easily accessible, with numerous over-the-counter options available to try.
  5. This acne control solution is relatively gentle on the skin. Instead of zapping the pimples as laser treatment would do, it simply kills the bacteria and reduces sebum production, which allows the skin to heal itself slowly over time.
  6. It can be used alongside other acne treatments, with the exception of isotretinoin (Accutane) which require patients to avoid sunlight during treatment.


  1. Light therapy doesn’t work on certain types of acne, specifically whiteheads, blackheads, cystic acne, and nodular acne.
  2. It takes some time to get noticeable results from using light therapy for acne.
  3. The treatment gives temporary results. What is more, the results are often insignificant. As a result, it is often necessary to use light therapy alongside other acne treatment regimen.
  4. At-home light therapy devices are fairly cumbersome to use since they require the user to hold the light to the area of the skin to be treated for a given number of minutes each time.

Top 3 Acne Light Therapy Devices Designed for Use at Home

When it comes to choosing the best light therapy for acne, there are way too many over the counter, home-use devices that you can easily get spoiled for choice. The price ranges from as high as $169 for LightStim to as low as $35 for Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Mask. Price point aside though, you need to be aware of the different variants of at-home blue and red light therapy devices.

To start with, there are acne masks which require you to wear on the face for a specific period of time every day. Secondly, there are hand-held devices that you have to hold to your face for 15 minutes or more. Some devices from the latter option – such as Lumie Clear – come with a flexible design to allow easy use while treating body or back acne. With that said, here are some of for you to consider:

You may also want to review the newly released Neutrogena Light Therapy Spot Treatment.

Neutrogena light therapy acne spot treatment

How to Use Light Therapy for Acne at Home

With various types of light therapy devices available for treatment of acne and even more brands to choose from, it’s only natural that the right use will vary from one device to another. For example, Neutrogena acne mask requires continuous use for 10 minutes each time, whereas Neutrogena acne spot treatment should be shined on a pimple for only two minutes, after which it powers off automatically.

It is important to read the instructions for the device you choose carefully. You will, in particular, want to know if you need to wear goggles when using the mask or hand-held device on the face since red light may have an adverse impact on the retina.

Side Effects of Light Therapy Treatments

The side effect of blue and red light therapy acne treatment are usually mild and may include momentary swelling of the treatment area, dryness, and temporary color change. Most users, however, see no side effects. Of utmost importance is to follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer carefully to avoid any adverse effects.

Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Mask Before and After Pictures

Nothing speaks out the potential results from using an acne treatment regimen louder than a good photo. Here are a couple before and after photo to show you just that.

The photo below shows a London woman before and after 10 weeks of using Neutrogena acne mask.

Light therapy for acne before and after picture 1
London-based fitness instructor, Sofie Langsford, before and after light therapy. Photo courtesy.

The next before and after photo shows Daily Mail writer, Unity Blott, before and after using blue light therapy on her acne prone skin.

Light therapy for acne before and after picture 2
Note how the treatment has improved Blott’s breakout around the chin. Photo courtesy.

Closing Remarks

  • Blue light therapy is considered the most powerful for the treatment of acne, but red light therapy can give an extra punch by shrinking the sebaceous glands.
  • While using light therapy is an accepted and effective way to treat and control pimples in-office or at home, the results are only temporary unless it is combined with other treatments such as benzoyl peroxide.
  • Do not expect overnight results. It takes some time to see significant improvement in the pimples.
  • Light therapy devices may be a good match for people who get occasional pimples but it is not suited for people with severe nodular or cystic acne, more so if they have sensitive skin which can get too dry from using conventional acne treatments.
  • Neutrogena acne mask is arguably the best light therapy device out there, both from customer reviews and cost perspectives.