Blue Light Therapy: What is It?

While red light therapy is gaining wide recognition for its medical and cosmetic uses, blue light therapy remains far less well-known. Yet many have heard of its uses, especially in conditions involving pathogenic bacteria. Acne sufferers in particular may be curious and wonder: what is blue light therapy?

Blue Light Therapy Kills Bacteria

Blue light therapy is the use of light in the blue wavelength ranges to cause an effect in the body. By far its most popular use is to kill bacteria.

Even in low doses it’s a powerful tool for killing bacteria. In a 2009 study published in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery, blue light therapy was proven effective for killing the antibiotic-resistant staph infection, MRSA. After only 100 seconds- or a little over one and half minutes- of exposure to blue light, 30% of MRSA laboratory cultures died. After 16-17 minutes, 80% of MRSA was killed.

woman asking what is blue light therapy

Blue light therapy in conjunction with a photosensitizing agent, such as methylene blue, has proven itself even better at killing bacteria. This study showed that the combination, delivered into the root canal of a tooth with bacterial biofilm (which is notoriously difficult to eradicate) destroyed both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. It even disrupted the bacterial biofilm.

The implications of this discovery are that blue light therapy can be used to greatly reduce the number of dangerous bacteria. Especially for conditions like acne, acne rosacea and cystic acne, and for infections, it could represent a helpful adjunct treatment. Please note, we are not suggesting you forgo medical advice for any of these conditions. What we are saying is that you should speak with your doctor about using blue light therapy in addition to the standard treatments he or she recommends.

Interestingly enough, blue light has other known uses. For instance, it is believed that it is the blue portion of the light spectrum that is most active in light therapy treatments for Seasonal affective disorder. Blue light therapy (or the absence of blue light) can be used to regulate circadian rhythm. Specialized blue light can be used to speed up teeth whitening as well. Perhaps time will tell us what other uses for blue light exist.

While it hasn’t been definitively proven, there are some experts who suspect that excess blue light is not good for the eyes. To be on the safe side, be sure to wear appropriate eye protection during blue light therapy.



Safety Tips for Blue Light Therapy

blue light therapySafety Tips for Blue Light Therapy Bulbs and Devices

If you are using a non-laser, LED blue light therapy bulb or device, you should always use appropriate eye protection. Although it has not been proven, some experts are beginning to suspect that excessive exposure to blue LED light could harm vision over time. In addition, there is evidence blue light exposure at the wrong time of day can cause insomnia or disrupt circadian rhythms. Be safe and make sure your eyes are protected.

Here are some more safety tips for using blue light therapy bulbs or devices:

1. As always, read the manufacturer’s instructions and safety information before using the blue light therapy bulb/device.

2. Do not stare into the bulb when it is switched on.

3. Wear appropriate eye protection when using a blue light therapy LED bulb or device. This would likely be goggles or possibly glasses that are designed to block out most blue light and a reasonable amount of brightness. Most lenses made for blocking blue LED light are a deep orange color or a dark, orange-based brown. And of course, you could also opt for goggles intended to block out all light.

4. Certain medical conditions may cause sensitivity to light, such as seizures, some types of Lupus or migraine headaches. It’s always a good idea to discuss blue light therapy with your doctor before trying it.

5. Be aware that some skin care products can cause photosensitivity for a period after applying them. Do your blue light therapy treatments outside of this window of time.

6. Some medications cause sensitivity to light. If you take any medication, check with your doctor or pharmacist before using LED blue light therapy.

7. Many people using blue light therapy are doing so to kill bacteria on the skin’s surface. Sanitation is therefore very important, especially since most blue light therapy bulbs and devices are not easy to wash or sanitize. I recommend using a very thin layer of plastic or a bulb cover to cover the LED’s each time it is used. Dispose of the plastic or cover after each use.

8. If your blue light therapy bulb or device has red LED’s as well, be sure to check out our safety tips for red light therapy.

Types of Light Used in Light Therapy

light therapyRed Light Therapy, Blue Light Therapy, Near-Infrared Light Therapy and Far-Infrared Light Therapy

Some of the most common types of light therapy you’ll find used are red light therapy, blue light therapy, and infrared light therapy (either near- or far-infrared). While there is some debate over which wavelength is best, it’s generally becoming clear that certain wavelengths are best for certain conditions. If you were thinking of trying light therapy, you would first want to decide what result you are trying to achieve. Then you would select the wavelength and type of light believed to be effective for that condition (based on the research available).

Red and near-infrared light wavelengths can penetrate anywhere between one to six inches deep (scientists don’t agree on how deep). While scientists do not know for certain how light therapy works, there are theories. One popular view is that the light triggers the cell to make more energy (ATP) and increases DNA and RNA activity.

Some believe that this beneficial energy effect only occurs if the cell is damaged. This idea makes sense because it is usually damaged or diseased cells that one is trying to treat. However, light therapy could also have benefits for healthy cells.

Which Type of Light to Use: LED’s, Sunlight, Infrared, Etc.

The type of light that is best depends on your condition and what effect you are trying to achieve.

Sunlight is one type of light people use for light therapy. Sunlight may be chosen to increase vitamin D levels or improve fibromyalgia symptoms, for example. While sunlight can be very bright (and therefore very powerful), not everyone has access to full, bright sunlight year-round. When a more powerful light is needed, or when sunlight is not sufficiently available, another light source can be chosen. Usually, the choice is LED’s (light emitting diodes).

LED’s are by far the most popular light source used for red light therapy and blue light therapy. There are many reasons for this, but the most important one is that LED’s are capable of producing extremely bright, powerful (and therefore effective) light. Despite being extremely bright, LED’s require little energy and do not get as hot as other types of lighting. So using LED’s can be practical and also save on energy and costs. LED’s, because they’re stronger, can get the same effects faster than other light sources.

Other types of light can be used for different types of light therapy. For some conditions, these types are actually better than LED’s. An example might be using a halogen or fluorescent bulb.

What about Halogen Lights for Light Therapy?

Halogen lights put off light with a mixture of wavelengths. This “mix” is not that different from regular sunlight- it’s in the 600 to 900 nm range. This type of light can be effective and inexpensive, but it is not ideal for most applications. That is because the light it produces is not concentrated in the specific wavelengths known to be ideal/most effective.

Halogen can still have beneficial effects, however. For instance, some users of halogen light claim it temporarily reduced pain and irritation from injury. At least one other claim I’ve seen is that exercising in front of a halogen light burned more calories.

Infrared Light Therapy

Red light therapy for pain is not a new idea- people have been using infrared light for quite some time. It was believed that the heat the lamp produced was what helped so much. Now it is known that near-infrared light plays a role in relieving pain.

How Much Can Light Therapy Help Me?

There are a lot of factors in determining how much light therapy might help you: your condition, power of light used, source of light and more.

Light therapy is a very useful tool for some purposes, but it is not a magic cure-all. It is usually best used in addition to other treatments or therapies. For instance, if you are using light therapy to relieve pain, you might also apply ice and take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Light therapy should never be used as a substitute for professional medical care.

If you are using red light therapy for acne, you’d probably get maximum benefit from using it in addition to other treatments, such as topical antioxidant or anti-acne creams.

Results vary from person to person, but to give you an idea, some people say that after using light therapy for pain, their pain is reduced by 50-75%. The pain relief is temporary and usually lasts 4-6 hours. However, it is believed that using light therapy could help the injury actually heal faster.

If you have pain or a potentially serious injury, be sure to seek medical advice first!

What Wavelengths Should I Use?

The wavelength and type of light you choose depend on the results you are trying to achieve. Generally speaking, the most effective wavelengths of light are specific ranges:

  • 610 to 625 nm
  • 660 to 690 nm
  • 750 to 770 nm
  • 815 to 860 nm

How Much Light Therapy Should I Do?

When it comes to light therapy, more is not better. Doing light therapy treatments too much can cancel out the benefits you receive and depending on the type and source of light, it could also cause harm. For instance, in the case of sunlight or UV light therapy, more is not better.

If you are using light therapy for a condition that causes pain, it’s advised that you use it only long enough to cause a reduction in pain. This helps ensure you don’t overuse it and only use it enough to get the optimal result. The pain relief experienced is usually temporary and you will have to treat the area again in a few hours if pain persists. However, light therapy treatments are likely to help reduce healing time.

What’s difficult is determining how much light therapy is “too much”. That depends on the type of light source, the strength of the light, type of light, where the injury/condition is located on the body, etc. But because too much could cancel out the benefits you can get, it’s always best to err on the side of too little.

There is some evidence that the more recent an injury, wrinkle or other problem is, the more light therapy will help. So if you have a choice, it may be best to begin using light therapy soon afterwards. But not too soon! If you’re treating an injury, it is best to let inflammation subside before doing red light therapy or other light therapies. The reason is that red light therapy and most other light therapies increase blood flow to the region. If an area is already swollen and inflamed, more blood flow is not going to feel good and it is unlikely to help. Once inflammation goes down (if applicable), light therapy is often used multiple times in a day (for example, two to four times for 10 minutes each). However, in no case should you begin light therapy for a medical condition or potentially serious injury without first seeking professional medical advice. It would also be wise to discuss your case and how light therapy might be helpful with your doctor.

How Deep Can Light Therapy Penetrate Through Skin?

There is much debate over how deep light therapy devices can penetrate through the skin. This is an important matter, because if the light cannot penetrate deep enough into the body, it cannot help with problems occurring there.

One thing that is generally accepted is that the power of a light source has a big impact on how far through the skin it can reach.

Some argue that even very strong light therapy devices can only reach 1” to 1.5” deep through the skin. That implies that light therapy cannot work for anything that is deeper than that, such as a joint that is not on the surface.

Others claim that light therapy devices can sometimes reach 3” to 6” through the body- even through the skull into the brain.

How to Use a Low Level Light Therapy (LLLT) Bulb for Red Light Therapy or Blue Light Therapy

low level light therapyUsing an LED light therapy/LLLT bulb is pretty easy. Simply take the bulb and screw it into a lamp or light fixture, the same way you would screw in a regular light bulb.  I recommend a gooseneck clip lamp because it can be attached to an object and then adjusted easily (leaving your hands free). The best lamps are those with a plastic shade, which can be removed.

Another solution is to use a lantern cord, which is a bulb socket on a long cord. This allows you to move the bulb around very easily, but the downside is that using it hands-free could be difficult.

Turn on the lamp or light fixture you’re using and place the bulb directly on the skin. Some people prefer to keep the bulb very close to the skin instead and seem pleased with the results they get. Personally, though, I think it is best to have the bulb as close as possible to you. Since it is painless, I see no problem with doing it this way, except that for 5 to 10 minutes after a treatment, you are going to have little dimples in your skin where the LED’s were.

To keep the bulb surface clean, you may cover it with a single layer of plastic wrap each time you use it. I think it is best to do this each time you use your bulb because cleaning the bulb is difficult.

Keep the bulb on your skin for the duration of time recommended by the manufacturer. For most LLLT bulbs and devices, this will be anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes per session.

The manufacturer should say how many sessions per day you should use. Typically, up to 3 sessions per day on the same area are recommended.

Take care not to overuse your LLLT bulb. Not only will excess use produce no additional benefit, but it could even reverse the benefits you’ve gained for the day. More is NOT better when it comes to LLLT.

Cleaning and Care for an LED Red Light Therapy or Blue Light Therapy Bulb

Because it is a bulb, it cannot be immersed in water or any other liquid. You should also not spray water or any other liquid on the bulb.

Therefore, preventing dust and dirt from accumulating on the bulb is important.  For this, I recommend covering the bulb’s light emitting LED’s with a single layer of clear plastic wrap.  Do not put plastic wrap on or around the metal part of the bulb that is screwed in.  Change the plastic wrap on the bulb each time you use it, especially if you are using it for acne or wound healing.

You can use a slightly damp cloth or Clorox/Lysol cleaning wipe to gently wipe clean the bulb housing. Make sure to remove the bulb from the socket before attempting to clean it.

To keep dust off of the bulb, use a soft microfiber dusting cloth.

Safety for LLLT Bulbs

Safety first! Read the instructions that come with the LLLT bulb before using it. You can also read more general safety tips here.

While an LED light therapy/LLLT bulb may become warm during use, it should never feel hot or cause pain or discomfort of any sort.  If the bulb becomes hot or causes discomfort, discontinue using it immediately and contact the manufacturer.