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Acne treatment with 405nm Low Level Laser and LED Light Therapy

An Original Article on laser therapy by

Julia Breur, Ph.D., LMFT


All light is part of an electromagnetic spectrum. White light is divided into the colors of the rainbow based on its wavelength. Red light, for example, has a wavelength around 650 nm. Radio waves, X-rays, UV and infrared light are also on this electromagnetic spectrum. Each type of light has its own special properties. Blue light, it turns out, is particularly good for treating some forms of acne.

A blue light laser emits light with wavelengths between 405 and 420 nm. This is within the visible spectrum, that is, your eyes can see this wavelength of light. While 405 nm is frequently called blue light, it is a fairly deep blue, almost indigo or violet (remember ROY G BIV?). At 405 nm, blue light has some interesting effects on biological tissues and cells.

Acne is a disease of blocked skin pores and local bacterial infection. Blue light therapy has been shown to be able to kill one of the major acne causing bacteria, namely Propionibacterium acnes.[1] When applied to acne, the blue light energy is absorbed by specific molecules within this species of bacteria. These specific molecules are called porphyrins and Propionibacterium acnes produces an inordinate number of these molecules. When porphyrins are stimulated by blue light energy, they are disrupted, and the Propionibacterium acnes dies.[2] However because the light energy is within such a small band of the electromagnetic spectrum, other tissues and cells (like skin) are not damaged.

By killing these acne-causing bacteria, inflammatory acne skin lesions decrease by about two-thirds, on average. In other words about 66% of acne improved in the test subjects after eight 405 nm laser light treatments.[1] More impressively, skin that was successfully treated with 405nm light therapy remained acne free for at least eight weeks after the end of therapy, which was the last follow up appointment in the study cited.

Many people have questioned whether blue light treatment can replace creams and other treatments. The gold standard of routine acne treatment is benzoyl peroxide, which is probably why Portuguese researchers chose to use that topical treatment to compare with blue light therapy. It turns out that light therapy in the blue band of the electromagnetic spectrum was as effective as the skin cream, benzoyl peroxide, at treating grades II and III acne (out of four grades; grade III is considered severe).[3] What is more, the blue light therapy was associated with fewer side effects than the traditional topical therapy, such as burning, itching and dryness of the skin.

Laser Therapeutics offers two Acne Skin Care Light products that provide acne treatment in this blue spectrum (400 to 430 nm). One device provides focused light energy through a single, adjustable head while the other provides diffuse light therapy through six light sources. The treatment time with both devices is five to fifteen minutes and can be controlled with a built-in timer. Moreover, both devices have been cleared by the FDA for use on dermatological conditions.

Some lines of evidence suggest that acne treatment may be enhanced with a dual approach, that is, by combining a topical cream with blue light or similar low level light therapy.[4;5] The topical cream, 5-aminolevulinic acid, is known as a photosensitizer. A photosensitizer is simply a compound that makes light energy more effective on the skin. In addition to being a photosensitizer, 5-aminolevulinic acid is really just a run of the mill nonessential amino acid. It is found in many of the foods that we eat, especially vegetables. At any rate, 5-aminolevulinic acid is applied to the area of skin that is affected by acne and allowed to rest for fifteen minutes to an hour. After the cream is washed off, the blue light treatment is started. The beneficial effects of the low level blue light therapy are intensified because of the pretreatment with the 5-aminolevulinic acid photosensitizer. Currently the use of a photosensitizer is available only to dermatologists and is not available for home use.

Reference List

  (1)   Elman M, Slatkine M, Harth Y. The effective treatment of acne vulgaris by a high-intensity, narrow band 405-420 nm light source. J Cosmet Laser Ther 2003;5:111-117.
  (2)    Ashkenazi H, Malik Z, Harth Y, Nitzan Y. Eradication of Propionibacterium acnes by its endogenic porphyrins after illumination with high intensity blue light. FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol 2003;35:17-24.
  (3)    de Arruda LH, Kodani V, Bastos FA, Mazzaro CB. [A prospective, randomized, open and comparative study to evaluate the safety and efficacy of blue light treatment versus a topical benzoyl peroxide 5% formulation in patients with acne grade II and III]. An Bras Dermatol 2009;84:463-468.
  (4)    Nestor MS. The use of photodynamic therapy for treatment of acne vulgaris. Dermatol Clin 2007;25:47-57.
  (5)    Gold MH. Acne and PDT: new techniques with lasers and light sources. Lasers Med Sci 2007;22:67-72.

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