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A relatively easy procedure, blue light therapy has successfully treated multiple conditions, including cancer, actinic keratosis (a type of superficial skin cancer), and acne. More commonly known as photodynamic therapy (PDT), blue light therapy works often as well as surgery or radiation therapy. Plus, it doesn’t cause awful side-effects.
What Is Blue Light Therapy?
Blue light therapy works with a photosensitizing agent to destroy damaged cells (i.e. those with cancer). Therefore, blue light therapy involves two elements to work properly:
1. A photosensitizing molecule (i.e. a drug like Levulan) that is activated by exposure to light. It’s used often as an external skin cream but can also enter the bloodstream via a vein. Depending on the drug, light, and condition, the photosensitizing agent may be left on the skin (or in the bloodstream) for anywhere from a few hours to a few days before it’s properly absorbed.
2. A light source to activate the photosensitizing molecule. A chemical reaction occurs once the light meets the photosensitizing agent.
How Does Blue Light Therapy Work?
Once the blue light hits the photosensitizer, it sets off a chain reaction. Activated oxygen molecules are released into the area, destroying abnormal cells and nearby tissue. This can be particularly effective in zapping regions damaged by skin cancer as blue light therapy can target an entire area of damage, not just a visible lesion. According to an article published at www.cancer.org, photodynamic therapy may “also help by destroying the blood vessels that feed the cancer cells and by alerting the immune system to attack the cancer.”
That said, blue light therapy is only successful at treating areas where the light hits the abnormal tissue (i.e. on or just below the skin). This means it’s not good for treating larger tumors. Often, multiple blue light therapy treatments are necessary to achieve results.
What Does Blue Light Therapy Work for?
Photodynamic therapy is used by oncologists, cosmetic surgeons, optometrists, and dermatologists. It’s especially helpful at treating multiple types of cancer, especially those with tumors or growths that lie close to the skin’s surface. For blue light therapy to work, the light must be directly applied to the diseased tissue. Since the therapy can’t penetrate beyond the depth reached by the light, it’s hard to target diseased cells beyond about 1 cm of the light source.
WHAT DOES BLUE LIGHT THERAPY FEEL LIKE?
Don’t worry, blue light therapy doesn’t really hurt. Most people notice a feeling of warm, tingling heat or burning in the area being treated.
Some doctors have found their way around this problem by delivering blue light to the affected area through tiny fiber-optic cables or endoscopes. Using these methods, they’ve been able to target tissue in the lungs, stomach, and bladder, among other areas.
The following ailments have been successfully treated with blue light therapy:
- Acne. According to Loknath Chen, Associate Professor, Biotechnology Department, Mingchuan University, Taiwan, “Visible blue light irradiation triggers the natural photosensitizer molecules (curcumin or Flavin derivatives) to produce the reactive oxygen species (ROS) to increase the oxidative stress at local zone in a sort time.” In other words, blue light therapy changes the composition of the skin surface to inhibit the acne. Anren Hu, professor, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Biotechnology, Tzu Chi University adds, “Some studies also suggested that blue light phototherapy can positively alleviate inflammatory but also noninflammatory acne lesions by reducing the gene expression of nuclear factor-Kb(NF-kB) and inflammatory cytokines.”
- Actinic keratosis (rough, scaly, precancerous spots on the skin)
- Blotchy skin pigmentation
- Candida. A study published in the journal Lasers in Medical Science found that combining red light therapy with blue light therapy twice a day can successfully control candida).
- Chemotherapy side effects. According to Brazilian researchers, combining the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin with low power blue light emitting diode (LED) can decrease the negative side-effects of chemotherapy in breast cancer patients.
- Enlarged sebaceous glands
- Jaundice. Chinese researchers found that combining blue light therapy with a probiotic product known as bifico can significantly improve jaundice in babies and speed their recovery.
- Non-melanoma skin cancer
- Rickettsia. A bacterial infection transmitted through the bites of lice, mites, fleas, and ticks.
- Sun damage
- Third-degree burns. A recent study on mice published in the journal Lasers in Medical Science found that blue light therapy can help heal this type of burn.
- Toenail fungus. Spanish researchers found that photodynamic therapy can cure onychomycosis, a fungal infection of toe or finger nails.
TYPES OF LIGHTS USED FOR PHOTODYNAMIC THERAPY
Light sources used in photodynamic therapy include lasers, intense pulsed light, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), red light, blue light, and other visible lights such as the sun. Your doctor will decide which type of light source and which photosensitizer are best for your condition.
Side Effects of Blue Light Therapy
Overall, Hu says, blue light therapy “is safe and well tolerated.” Most patients experience a temporary sensitivity to light following their treatment; however, this will fade within about six weeks.
That said, some photosensitizer drugs may cause a longer reaction and certain topical drugs may cause temporary sensitivity that’s limited to the treatment area. This can last anywhere between 24 and 72 hours. Therefore, it’s important to wear proper sun protection (e.g., a hat, long sleeves, sunglasses, and sunblock).
According to Hu, about one to three percent of people also experience mild skin dryness, itchiness, and redness after a treatment. Other adverse effects can include “application site pain, face edema, herpes infection, skin hyperpigmentation, and hair color lightening,” he says. Note: Always discuss your post-treatment plan (including light-avoidance tactics) with your doctor.
Where to Find Treatment
Often, a dermatologist can perform photodynamic therapy in his or her office for minor conditions such as skin cancer. Specialists such as oncologists and other types of physicians may also be trained to deliver blue light therapy.
What to Expect from Your First Appointment
Blue light therapy is so quick and easy that it can be performed in a doctor’s office. Here’s what to expect:
- First, the doctor will apply a light-sensitizing agent (i.e. a liquid or cream) or intravenous drug (i.e. the photosensitizer mentioned above).
- Next, you wait. As mentioned earlier, the photosensitizing drug can take minutes or even days to incubate.
- Then, the doctor will expose the affected tissue to a light source to activate the photosensitizing agent. Once this happens, a chemical reaction occurs, which kills the diseased tissue.
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