Light therapy has emerged as one of the safest and most effective treatments for many common health conditions, including depression, skin issues, insomnia, and pain.
But with so many options available on the market (featuring both red and blue light therapy), it’s tough to know what’s right for you.
Many readers present with the same questions: What is blue light? How does blue light therapy help your skin? What does the treatment involve?
In this article, we’ll give you those answers and explore everything you need to know as you embark on your blue light therapy journey.
What is blue light therapy?
To start, we need to take a look at what blue light therapy is all about.
Blue light therapy uses natural violet or blue light to help treat conditions on or directly under the skin, which is why it’s often prescribed for skin disorders. It’s a pain-free procedure that can help you get back to your best.
It’s also a vital component of an innovative treatment known as photodynamic therapy (PDT), which teams blue light with light-sensitive drugs to kill cancer cells – using the light to ‘turn on’ the drugs so that they can get to work.
What conditions does blue light therapy treat?
Blue light helps with several different skin complaints, including:
The most common use of PDT and blue light is to treat sun damage and help prevent skin cancer.
The treatment works by removing pre-cancerous skin lesions and cancerous ones that haven’t spread to other parts of the body. Blue light penetrates the surface layers of the skin without damaging them (all without hurting), making it a gentle and natural way to heal sun damage.
You can also use blue light therapy to help with a variety of skin disorders, including acne.
The light therapy smoothes out the texture of the skin while reducing inflammation of any enlarged oil glands. It also helps remove acne, scars, and sunspots.
Blue light therapy is also commonly used to treat depression, particularly depression caused by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is partially caused by cold and dark winter weather. The darker days tend to keep us inside more than usual and ultimately deprive us of much-needed light to lift our mood. As such, just a few minutes of blue light exposure regularly throughout the dark months can help counteract these issues.
How exactly does blue light therapy work?
The good news is that blue light therapy is very quick and convenient. You can do it as an outpatient procedure and sometimes even at home (unless done as part of a PDT treatment for cancer).
A session in a clinical setting usually involves working with a skin care specialist. The doctor takes the patient into a dark room and, if taking PDT, applies the appropriate photosynthesizing drugs to the skin. These may need a few hours, or even a few days, to absorb into the skin.
If there is a delay between applying the drugs and the therapy itself, it’s important to stay out of the sun while you’re waiting to finish treatment. Protect your skin and don’t expose it to any direct light to ensure the medication stays on the skin and isn’t activated outside of treatment.
When the time comes for your light therapy, you’ll get goggles to keep your eyes protected before light is directed to the skin. Sessions can last anywhere between 15 and 90 minutes, depending on which area you want to treat and the severity of your condition.
If you’re turning to blue light to chase away the winter blues, you can get your SAD relief right at home with a portable device that can be used regularly as needed (although always check the manufacturer’s instructions for use before diving into your DIY at-home therapy).
Is blue light therapy effective for skin issues?
Curious how blue light can help heal acne, scars, sunspots, and damaged skin?
Many patients find this type of therapy effective for their skin conditions, as long as it’s used consistently.
You may need regular maintenance sessions to keep seeing progress. While every case is different, it generally takes one to four treatments to resolve skin conditions like precancerous sunspots, followed by annual check-ups.
Acne sufferers can expect to complete four to six treatments before finding relief, with follow-ups twice a year.
Always consult with your doctor before getting started on any light therapy, even blue light therapy. While generally safe and well-tolerated, it may not be suitable for those with underlying conditions. Only you and your doctor can determine if blue light therapy is the right treatment to suit your lifestyle and health needs.
Blue light vs red light
Another well-known light treatment is red light therapy. It’s important to outline the difference between red light therapy and blue light therapy, so you know exactly which is best suited for you.
So, what is red light therapy?
Red light has a longer wavelength than blue light – ranging from around 600nm to 750nm. These longer rays have a different effect on the body. There are a few key ways in which red light varies from blue in terms of our health:
1. Blue light can disrupt your sleep; red light doesn’t
Ever stayed up too late, glued to your screens? Blue light interferes with our melatonin production (the so-called ‘sleepy’ hormone), disrupting our normal waking and sleeping patterns. If you find it hard to wind down at night, you may need to limit your TV time.
Red light, on the other hand, appears to have no impact on our natural evening sleep. In one trial, participants tossed and turned after exposure to blue light, while those exposed to red light reported a sound night’s sleep.
There’s even some evidence that red light can help insomnia, so if you’re looking to get better rest, go for a red night light.
2. Blue light may be a better choice for psoriasis
Both red and blue light show great promise in treating skin disorders like acne, stretch marks, and rosacea.
But if you’re looking to treat psoriasis, blue light therapy may be the better option.
According to one study, blue light is more effective at banishing psoriasis plaques (vs red light) – with patients seeing improvement after six weeks of treatment.
3. Red light is better for increasing alertness
The photosensitive cells in our retinas – the ones that keep track of whether it’s daytime or night – are more sensitive to blue light than red. That’s why screen-time at night can interfere with our natural circadian rhythms.
While blue light increases our alertness, unfortunately, it does so by suppressing melatonin. Red light doesn’t. In one study, researchers found that red light was better than blue light at preventing the dreaded afternoon slump.
Red light increases our alertness without meddling with our melatonin, making it a better choice if you’re looking for light therapy to treat fatigue.
4. Red light is better for wound healing
Longer wavelength red light penetrates our skin and stimulates the body to produce more collagen, a vital protein used in connective tissue.
This makes it ideal for healing injuries and wound repair. In one study, red light outperformed blue in treating skin wounds.
5. Blue light boosts mood
While red light appears to have little effect on depression or other mood disorders, blue light can give you a lift.
Research shows a dose of blue light is just as effective as white light in treating Seasonal Affective Disorder. As mentioned above, SAD is a depressive condition also known as the ‘winter blues.’
Blue light therapy is a safe and effective treatment to help with many skin conditions. Like many of the other light therapies out there, blue light works to naturally stimulate the body’s own healing mechanisms, reducing the risk of unpleasant side effects and leading to lasting results.
Blue light therapy differs from red light therapy and may be a better choice for certain skin conditions or improving mood.
That said, for most issues, an effective treatment plan can often incorporate both. Using blue and red light therapy together often produces optimal results – especially when it comes to skincare.