Light therapy for skin: Does blue light therapy for acne really work?

Anyone who’s ever experienced the struggles of acne, as a teen or in their adult years, would have considered all manner of treatments in the quest for clear skin.

One such treatment many people swear by is light therapy treatment.

Light therapy for skin is the treatment of the stars that boasts a potential solution to troublesome skin, keeping your constant desire to hide under layers of make-up at bay.

But how do you know if light therapy works and whether blue light therapy or red light therapy will work best for you?

We have lots of questions, so we consulted dermatologist Dr Garry Cussell, owner of Rejuvenation Clinics of Australia, to find out the ins-and-outs of acne light therapy treatments.

Light therapy for skin – summary:

  • Blue light therapy treats acne by killing bacteria.
  • Red light therapy reduces inflammation and redness, and speeds up the healing process.
  • Expect to see light therapy results after around eight sessions.
  • No down-time, you might experience redness or inflammation after the session.
  • Light therapy sessions start at approx. $50.
  • At-home light therapy products, like the Neutrogena Light Therapy Mask, are a popular alternative.

Beauty journalist of 15 years Leigh Campbell explained everything you need to know about at-home LED light therapy products on the You Beauty podcast, post continues after audio.

What is light therapy?

“It originated in the ’90s,” Dr Cussell said.

“The big breakthrough was the discovery that acne’s bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes or P. acnes for short) – the main bacteria involved with the inflammation and infection and therefore the soreness in acne – can be killed with the blue light, a non invasive light, and not ultraviolet, so it doesn’t cause any damage.

“It basically oxidises a chemical in the cell wall of the bacteria and kills the bacteria, so when that was discovered it started to be used, and there have been a lot of variations since then.”


Blue light therapy for acne.

How does blue light therapy work for acne-prone skin?

“[The blue light] kills the PH bacteria, but they don’t kill the surface bacteria as such,” Dr Cussell explained.

“To explain that – the P. acnes bacteria are normal bacteria found in everyone’s oil, usually they don’t do any harm. What happens with acne is the oil gland is blocked, and the sebum plug doesn’t allow the oil to escape, so oil builds up under the skin, and then you get an overgrowth of P. acnes bacteria and that’s what causes inflamed pimples and cysts and acne. That’s what the phototherapy cures.”

“It’ll help with all acne – but it is better with inflamed acne, where there’s a lot of P. acnes bacteria and the pimples are more inflamed, red and sore to touch, and trapped under the skin,” he added.

“The oral antibiotic we use for acne will kill the surface bacteria and help to reduce the inflammation, but they don’t kill this particular bacteria – which is why light therapy is so successful in treating.

“People who just have trapped oil, without a lot of bacterial infection – that’s more your blackheads – and your non-inflamed acne isn’t going to respond so well. But most of the inflamed acne and most of the adult hormonal acne is very inflamed and that will respond.”

Before and after images from Rejuvenation Clinics of Australia. Image: Supplied.
Before and after images from Rejuvenation Clinics of Australia. Image: Supplied.

How many blue light therapy sessions do you need?

"Generally, we recommend coming in twice a week, every week for four weeks and then you start to see a response then," Dr Cussell said.

"Some people continue with it for eight weeks."

He added: "[The blue and red lights] are combined together - so you only need to have the one session with the one light. Twenty minutes is all you need to kill the bacteria, but the bacteria does keep growing.

"Because the bacteria grow in an environment where the oil can't escape, you need to do it repeatedly. [Light therapy] is not a cure for acne, the bacteria builds up once the oil glands block up - so the most important thing is to try and unblock the sebum plugs with topical treatment, and try and get them to drain out in the first place.

"This is why good exfoliates and cleansers - particularly lactic acid cleansers, oil reducing serums and the vitamin antioxidants - are so important."

What is red light therapy and does red light therapy work for acne?


"The red light is used in the same way, but it doesn't kill the bacteria - it reduces the inflammation and the redness associated with it so helps with the healing process. We use them in conjunction," Dr Cussell explained.

"So basically, the blue light is very effective in killing the main offending organism in causing acne inflammation, which can often cause scarring and pigmentation, and the red light phototherapy, in a different wavelength, helps with inflammation and also promotes healing with a little bit of collagen."

"The red light phototherapy we use for many other conditions apart from acne. It helps reduce inflammation and redness with other treatments using various specific lasers. We use red light immediately afterwards to help with swelling and redness so people can get a quicker recovery - so they're very versatile," Dr Cussell said.


What about LED light therapy at home?

At-home LED light therapy products are becoming more and more popular, but be warned, they're not going to give you quite as good results as a professional light therapy treatment will.

"In my opinion, at-home light therapy isn't quite as effective as going in salon and getting an Omnilux treatment, much like any at-home salon alternative, but it does work and is worth adding to your routine if you want to," Mamamia's beauty expert Leigh Campbell said.

The most-hyped at-home light therapy mask is the Neutrogena Visibly Clear Light Therapy Acne Mask Kit, $70 (you can read our full Neutrogena Light Therapy Mask review here). Other popular at-home light therapy products include the FOREO UFO, $395, the Dr. Dennis Gross Spotlite, $80, the FOREO ESPADA Acne-Clearing Blue Light Pen, $199, and the Neutrogena Visibly Clear Light Therapy Spot Treatment, $39.99.

Neutrogena Visibly Clear Light Therapy Acne Mask Kit Image: Chemist Warehouse.
FOREO ESPADA Acne-Clearing Blue Light Pen. Image: FOREO.
Neutrogena Visibly Clear Light Therapy Spot Treatment
Neutrogena Visibly Clear Light Therapy Spot Treatment. Image: Chemist Warehouse.

Light therapy cost.

Depending where you go and what you're getting light therapy for, how much light therapy costs will differ.

For example, Laser Clinics Australia do $99 for a single blue light therapy treatment and $240 for a four-pack of treatments. Omnilux, which is another popular light therapy treatment, can start from $50 per session.

Light therapy side effects.

"Usually not - but for some people it does backfire and they get an increased inflammation after blue light and red light therapy. That's the exception - but you can never say it's going to work for absolutely everyone," Dr Cussell said.

Does light therapy work for skin?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Yes, but light therapy isn't one-size-fits all.

"We don't want people to believe that simply buying a phototherapy blue light or red light, or even going to a salon, is going to do a lot of things because there are so many factors to do with the control and management of acne," Dr Cussell said, in reference to the at-home masks available for purchase.

The best thing to do is to go to a reputable clinic or salon and get a professional to asses your skin to see if blue light therapy will work for your acne and skin.

Have you tried blue light therapy for acne? What was your experience?

This content was originally published in December, 2018, and was updated in February, 2019.

Want more content on pimples, acne and skincare? Read more here: