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Mayo Clinic - All about light therapy medical procedures


Acne treatments: Emerging therapies for clearer skin

Up-and-coming acne treatments may help clear stubborn acne. Learn more about new acne treatments and what they can and can't do for you.

With the right treatment, you can keep acne under control. But what's the best acne treatment for you? Many options are available, including prescription creams and antibiotics, which target the various causes of acne. But even with the wide range of acne treatments, chronic breakouts may still be difficult to treat.

New acne treatments — such as blue light therapy or diode laser therapy — may be an effective option but are often reserved for people who don't respond to more traditional therapy.

Laser and light therapy

Image showing how acne develops How acne develops Acne develops when sebum (an oily substance that lubricates your hair and skin) and dead skin cells plug the hair follicles. Bacteria can trigger inflammation and infection resulting in complications of acne.

Most laser- and light-based therapies reach the deeper layers of skin without harming the skin's surface. Some laser systems are thought to damage the oil (sebaceous) glands, causing them to produce less oil. Other laser and light therapies target Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), the bacterium that causes acne inflammation. These therapies can also improve skin texture and lessen the appearance of scars, so they may be good treatment choices for people with both active acne and acne scars.

Several types of laser and light therapies exist:

  • Blue light therapy. Exposing the skin to a low-intensity blue light source is believed to destroy P. acnes. This painless procedure is usually done through a series of sessions. P. acnes multiplies rapidly, however, so ongoing treatment is necessary for best results. Possible side effects of blue light therapy include temporary redness and dryness in the treated areas. A newer type of light therapy that includes a combination of blue and red light may be more effective than blue light alone.
  • Pulsed light and heat energy therapy. Together, pulsed light and heat energy is thought to destroy P. acnes and shrink sebaceous glands, which decreases oil production. Side effects of this therapy include temporary redness in the treated areas.
  • Diode laser therapy. Diode lasers can destroy sebaceous glands in the dermis, the thick middle layer of skin, without harming the outer layer of skin. Laser treatment may be painful, but the pain can be controlled with analgesics applied to the skin before treatment. Side effects of diode laser therapy include temporary redness and swelling of the treated areas.
  • Photodynamic therapy. This therapy combines topical medications and light-based therapies. During treatment, a medication, called a photosensitizing agent, is applied to your skin to enhance the effects of light therapy. This is followed by blue, red, pulsed light or another type of light therapy. Side effects can include redness, swelling, crusting and acne flare-ups.
  • Photopneumatic therapy. This therapy uses vacuum suction to remove the oil and dead skin cells from within the sebaceous glands. The targeted area is then treated with blue and red light therapy to destroy P. acnes and reduce inflammation.

Still unknown is who would benefit the most from laser and light therapies, the effectiveness of these treatment options, and what the long-term risks or benefits might be. Furthermore, laser and light therapy acne treatments can be expensive and may not be covered by your insurance company.

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Keep realistic expectations

If you're interested in new acne treatments, talk to your doctor about your options and the risks and benefits of each. He or she can help you create a treatment plan that's right for you.

Regardless of the treatment you use, keep realistic expectations. Acne can't be medically cured, only controlled. You won't start seeing improvements from most treatments for six to eight weeks, and your acne might appear worse before it gets better. But if you stick to your treatment regimen, your patience usually pays off with clearer skin.

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