Why UV Light Therapy Isn’t Used for Acne Anymore

When you’re in the midst of a severe acne breakout, you might be willing to try anything to get some relief. But it’s important to take a step back and consider any and all drawbacks before committing to a therapy.

In your search, you may have come across UV light therapy for acne as a treatment option. Thanks to diligent research and multiple clinical studies, we now know UV light therapy isn’t the best way to treat acne breakouts. Thankfully, there are much safer and more effective light therapy alternatives out there. Read on to learn more.

What Is UV Light Therapy?

Ultraviolet light therapy, or UV light therapy, is a type of phototherapy. During a UV phototherapy session, special lasers emit specific wavelengths of light to expose your skin cells to UV radiation.

UV light is the same type of light found in the sun’s rays, but from an artificial source. It’s also the portion of sunlight that we wear sunscreen to protect our skin against. Because artificial UV light interacts with your skin cells the same way the sun’s rays do, you need to take precautions when exposed to it.

During treatment, patients cover any areas of skin they’re not treating with clothing. It’s also recommended that patients cover their eyes with glasses specifically designed for UV protection. The most sensitive areas of the skin may even need sunscreen to prevent damage.

Infographic: Why UV Light Therapy Isn’t Used for Acne Anymore

UV Light Therapy for Acne

In the past, UV light therapy was a go-to phototherapy treatment option for acne because of its ability to destroy acne-causing bacteria. Removing these bacteria can help reduce the number and severity of new breakouts while helping existing acne heal.

Additionally, exposure to UV light can have a temporary calming effect on acne. The light suppresses your skin’s immune cells, shrinking blemishes and reducing redness.

After just a few sessions of UV light therapy for acne, you may be happy with the results. But that’s where the benefits end.

Continued UV light exposure can worsen breakouts. UV light can actually increase rather than decrease inflammation and redness in the skin, and pimples that do heal under UV light exposure may leave unsightly dark spots behind.

After multiple UV light sessions, you may also notice signs of premature aging, like wrinkles, dryness, and age spots. And just like the sun, excessive exposure to UV light increases your risk of developing skin cancer.

Still, premature aging and skin cancer are long-term effects that you won’t notice right away. The short-term effects of UV light therapy for acne can include itching, burning, redness, headaches, nausea, fatigue, severe burning of the skin, and even cataracts. Signs of a medical emergency include infections, skin lesions, discharge, severe pain, and blistering.

While UV light therapy for acne is no longer common practice, a few skin conditions are still treated using this technology, including vitiligo, psoriasis, eczema, and mycosis fungoides (a kind of lymphoma of the skin).

It’s important to discuss options with your doctor and consider all the drawbacks of UV light therapy before undergoing this treatment. In many cases, other types of light therapy may be equally effective options without the drawbacks.

Can Sun Exposure or Tanning Beds Treat Acne?

Now that you know the drawbacks of UV light therapy for acne, you may wonder if natural sun exposure or using a tanning bed is a better alternative.

Unfortunately, excessive UV exposure from the sun and tanning beds comes with the same risk factors as UV light therapy. Whether natural or artificial, the light that causes your skin to darken as you tan is damaging to your skin cells. This damage can lead inflammation, redness, dark scars, premature aging, and skin cancer.

As your skin darkens, your acne may temporarily be less noticeable, leading you to believe that tanning is working wonders on your skin. However, as you continue to expose your skin to UV light, your acne will likely worsen.

What’s the Alternative?

The alternative to UV light therapy for acne is a different type of phototherapy that uses different wavelengths of light, including blue and red wavelengths.

According to multiple clinical studies, a combination of blue and red light can heal existing acne and prevent new breakouts from occurring with no adverse side effects.

First, the blue light destroys the acne-causing bacteria on your skin. Then, red light therapy reduces inflammation and promotes healing. Existing acne blemishes heal faster, and as they do, you’re left with smooth, rejuvenated skin.

Types of Light Therapy Devices

For several years, blue and red light therapy have been gaining popularity as an alternative to UV light therapy for acne. There are many affordable, at-home devices that harness the power of these light wavelengths for quick, convenient treatments.

One device design is the light therapy mask. A light therapy device in the shape of a mask fits over your face — usually with a strap to keep the device secure — to treat the entire area at once. Masks have gained a following as a convenient, time-efficient option for treating facial acne. Many light therapy masks feature a combination of blue and red light. None use UV light.

A spot treatment device can be a better option if you want to target only specific areas on your face or other parts of your body. Spot treatment devices usually come in the form of a wand that covers an area anywhere from a few centimeters to a few inches. A spot treatment device that uses both blue and red wavelengths will be most effective, and it allows you to treat acne on your body as well as your face.

Consider other features that are important to you when shopping for the best light therapy devices. You might have a preference between a rechargeable device and a device with a power cord, for example. Or maybe you’d like a device that allows you to do other activities during a treatment session — then a panel could be a good option for you.

Ready To Start?

UV light therapy for acne may no longer be common practice, but that doesn’t mean other forms of light therapy can’t effectively treat breakouts.

If you’re ready to try blue and red light therapy, the first step is researching the available options and choosing the one that works best for your goals and budget.

Unlike UV light, multiple clinical studies have concluded that blue and red light therapy are very safe. And because many devices also come with a money-back-guarantee, trying light therapy for acne is a risk-free endeavor!

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