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Do Those At-Home Light Treatments Really Work on Acne?

We tried all the top light therapy products to see if they really work
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During my last month of a year-long trip around the world, I shared an apartment with a woman I'd been meaning to make friends with... well, since day one of the remote living program. You know how it goes: you feel like you have endless time, you keep setting dates and missing them, and suddenly, you're running out of open Fridays for drinks. Somehow, the only way Cameron and I could pal around was to live together. A few days into our budding friendship, I started complaining about yet another breakout. As an acne sufferer since middle school, I was accustomed to frequent pimples and zits and, at the age of 30, had yet to find a solution.

Cameron immediately perked up and brought out what looked like some sort of science experiment and told me to try it. Puzzled—and OK, a bit afraid of this radioactive madness—I said I'd stick with my creams. Twenty minutes later, she was still raving about her blue light therapy advice and I was still unconvinced of anything that required me to wear goggles.

Six months later and, Cameron, I stand corrected.

After finishing up my travels and returning home to hibernate before making my next moves as a freelance journalist and digital nomad, I landed in North Carolina with the worst skin I'd had in years. Thanks to eating many things I knew weren't good for me or my pores (looking at you dairy), maintaining an irregular sleep schedule and not using quality products, I knew I needed to do something drastic to kickstart my skin health.

For whatever reason, Cameron's voice came into my head and it propelled me to research blue light therapies. With a new market of at-home devices—and plenty of celebrities and influencers raving about them—there are countless ones to choose from, in all price ranges. As I tend to do when I'm fully invested in a quest for success, I decided to explore them all.

I've now been using a blue light treatment every single day for a little over two weeks—and, I kid you not, I radiate. My acne has nearly subsided, my breakouts have ceased and the texture of my face is incredibly smooth in a way it never has been before. Though I definitely know the blue light it deserves part of the credit, it's also important to note I've taken many steps to enrich my health in the past six weeks—cleaning up my diet, exercising, getting ample sleep and using serums. Even so, this is the prettiest my pores have ever appeared and I can't believe I didn't listen to Cameron all those months, and countries, ago.

Image via @lightstim

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How Blue Light Therapy Works

So why does blue light therapy work for acne? According to dermatologist Papri Sarkar, MD, blue light has been found to alleviate mild to moderate acne if applied daily. "Propionibacterium acnes, a bacteria that is commonly found in the skin, has been associated with acne breakouts. If blue light is applied to the face daily for a few days, it has been found to kill this type of acne," she says. Basically, it's another way to deep clean my face and ward away any grime or muck using light, instead of facial cleanser and water.

Instead of making the trek to the derm's office to invest in expensive lasers, at-home versions like the ones I've been testing can be better on your wallet and still work to alleviate your symptoms and annoyances. While I have been fascinated by the initial results, it is important to note that blue light doesn't work for everyone. As dermatologist and professor Janet H. Prystowsky, MD, PhD explains, it isn't comprehensive enough to treat severe, scarring acne. Her best advice is to always check with a trusted derm before trying anything new, just to make sure you're not wasting your time—or money.

If you've been given the gold seal of approval to take Cameron's advice—and now, mine too—here are some at-home light therapy devices to consider.

Image via @lightstim

Most of the at-home blue light devices available are handheld and small, which requires you to spend three minutes on each section you want to treat before moving to the next. What I like about this one is how totally, completely zen the experience is. You set it up—making sure it's at least four to six inches away from your face!—put on the goggles and lay back and relax. You can switch between blue light (for acne) or red light (for wrinkles) and only have to sit pretty for five minutes at a time. The custom-made lamp with a fluorescent bulb has been found to reduce inflammation and redness within two weeks.

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I'm in the process now of recovering from my global adventure and looking for a new place to call home. However, as a travel lover (and writer), I'll still travel every month or so. Taking a chunky, heavy blue light therapy device isn't realistic, but this pen definitely makes sense. This uses blue-LED light and T-Sonic pulsations to target specific breakouts. I use this to apply direct treatment to one of those big ol' boys that I can feel coming up through the surface and want to nix before it blooms. Though it does get a bit warm—42 degrees of heat—to reduce bacteria and the grease of pimples, it's effective.

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LightStim for Acne, $169

Of all of the products I tried, this one is the winner for me. You do have to plug it in and hold it yourself, but I find it to be the most comfortable and easy for my personal lifestyle. I've enjoyed a new bedtime routine of putting on my goggles, turning on the three-minute treatment on each side of my face, then my forehead and my chin, all while I go through a meditation via my Amazon Dot. Sometimes I play Jeopardy. Or call up a friend. This device destroys bacteria, tones down my inflammation and has eradicated my zits... fast. It's also a very gentle, warm light that's comfortable and, so far, very effective.

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