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What is Blue Light Therapy?

By C. K. Lanz
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Blue light therapy is a medical treatment that exposes patients to visible blue light for varying periods of time. In some cases, the blue light is used to activate a drug that has first been applied to the patient’s skin. It is a therapy used to treat skin, mood- and sleep-related disorders, as well as Parkinson’s disease, jaundice in newborns, and some cancers, including esophageal and non-small lung. Blue light therapy is typically pain-free, non-invasive, and does not contain any harmful ultraviolet light.

Psoriasis, rosacea, oily skin, as well as actinic keratosis, skin cancer, and acne are all skin-related conditions that can be treated with this therapy. Exposure to blue light eases the inflammation that causes psoriasis and rosacea. The bacteria P. acnes that contributes to acne outbreaks is significantly reduced when treated with a series of doses of blue light. Treatment sessions often last approximately 30 minutes over several weeks.

Cancerous tumors must be close to the skin’s surface to be affected by exposure to blue light therapy because the light cannot penetrate deep into a patient’s body. A photosensitizer drug is first applied to the skin and allowed to incubate for several minutes, hours, or days. It is believed that cancerous cells will absorb most of the photosensitizer medication. After the incubation period, blue light is used to activate the drug that destroys the cancer.

Infants and newborns afflicted by jaundice are sometimes treated with blue light therapy. Jaundice is a condition characterized by yellow skin caused by a buildup of a pigment called bilirubin. Blue light has been shown to effectively break down bilirubin. Babies are typically exposed to blue light via overhead lamps or a blanket that is placed on the skin.

Some mood and sleep disorders may also be eased by the therapy. It is believed to help recalibrate the body’s natural circadian rhythm and serotonin levels that can be disturbed by a lack of natural sunlight. Patients commonly keep a small blue light source next to their beds and expose themselves to its light for up to an hour prior to sleep.

The long-term and side effects of the therapy have not been documented completely. Some patients have reported stinging or burning as well as redness and swelling of exposed skin. Blue light may also detrimentally affect individuals with bipolar disorder. Diabetics and those who are taking supplements like lithium, melatonin, and St. John’s wort have a greater chance of damaging their eyes when undergoing blue light therapy.

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