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Red Light Therapy For Rosacea: Is This Light-Based Therapy Effective?

Last Updated on February 1, 2023

Wondering if red light therapy can be effective for rosacea? See what the science has to say about using red light therapy for rosacea.

More than 5% of adults across the world suffer from rosacea [1]. While that might not seem like a lot at first, that’s over one in twenty people affected by the chronic skin condition that causes flushed red skin and blisters, often on the face.

Many people with rosacea are self-conscious and embarrassed by their skin, but, unfortunately, doctors don’t have a cure. Some treatments can help reduce the symptoms temporarily, but many have side effects, and not all of them are effective for every type of skin.

The treatment of red light therapy for rosacea looks promising and may finally offer some relief from rosacea’s irritating and unpleasant effects – especially for those who aren’t seeing results from their current treatments.

What Is Red Light Therapy for Rosacea?

If you are one of the many rosacea sufferers still searching for relief, red light therapy might be able to help reduce or alleviate your symptoms. 

In the case of rosacea, red light therapy uses red LED (light emitting diode) lights to help stimulate your skin cells to rejuvenate themselves. The red light can penetrate your skin – deeper than other colored lights.

Diagram showing how deep each light wavelength penetrates into the skin

When red light therapy, also known as soft laser therapy and low-level light therapy, is applied to your skin, it produces a biochemical reaction in your cells that stimulates your cells’ mitochondria – the part of the cell that produces energy [2].

Those cells may then produce more energy (known as ATP), which could allow them to more efficiently repair themselves and revitalize your skin. This process also promotes more oxygen circulation in your cells, leading to healthier skin.

What Causes Rosacea? 

While doctors don’t yet know the exact cause of rosacea, they have identified several factors that may trigger the condition. 

Rosacea is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that is not completely understood. It may be caused by a combination of hereditary factors and environmental factors.

Rosacea can be hereditary, so your family history is an important factor in determining whether you will develop it. Having fair skin can also make you more susceptible to the condition, and women are more likely to have rosacea than men.

The following factors may trigger or exacerbate rosacea if you are prone to it:

  • Excessive stress or anxiety
  • Physical exercise
  • Alcohol (in particular, red wine)
  • Spicy foods or hot drinks
  • Extreme temperatures (both hot and cold)
  • Sunlight or wind
  • Allergies or sensitivities to medications, food, soaps, or cosmetics

Current Treatments for Rosacea

While there currently isn’t a cure for rosacea, there are many different treatments that sufferers try to help alleviate the symptoms and reduce their face’s redness and tenderness. Every person’s skin reacts differently, and not everyone responds to these treatments in the same way.

Oral Medications

There are oral medications such as mirtazapine, carvedilol, and propranolol that constrict your blood vessels to reduce the flow of the blood to your face and lessen the rosacea’s flushing or redness [3].

Your doctor may also prescribe an antibiotic such as doxycycline if your rosacea is causing pus-filled pimples. Isotretinoin has also been prescribed to reduce rosacea-induced skin blemishes.

However, some of the medications are strong and can have numerous side effects, including allergic reactions, gastrointestinal reactions, or rashes. Isotretinoin, in particular, can cause birth defects, and pregnant women should never take it. It’s also not a good idea to take oral antibiotics for an extended period, as it could lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria growth.

Topical Medications

Creams and gels such as brimonidine and oxymetazoline can help mild symptoms of rosacea by constricting the blood vessels under the skin [3]. The redness usually starts to fade within an hour after you apply the creams to your face, and the effects usually last around 12 hours.

Woman applying a topical cream to treat her rosacea symptoms

The drawback to these creams is that they are only a temporary solution while the blood vessels are constricted, and you will need to apply the cream regularly in order to see any benefits. As soon as you stop applying the creams, the persistent redness will return. 

Some people are also sensitive to the medicated creams and may react to them. This sensitivity can potentially cause even more redness and irritation to your skin.

Creams that contain azelaic acid can help control the pimples from rosacea, but it can take anywhere from six to eight weeks to see any signs of improvements from the creams, if they help at all.

Natural Remedies

You can try different natural remedies to reduce rosacea symptoms, but everyone’s skin reacts differently, and what works for one person may not work for another.

Here are some ideas that you can try at home: 

  • Daily facial massages can help reduce swelling and inflammation. Using circular motions, massage your face gently with your fingers, starting from the central part of your face and working outwards.
  • Drinking caffeinated coffee may help reduce rosacea symptoms. More specifically, the polyphenols in caffeinated coffee have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and vascular benefits [4]. However, you may want to drink your coffee at a reduced temperature, especially since hot drinks can exacerbate rosacea symptoms.
  • Using moisturizers like coconut oil and aloe vera can help soothe inflamed skin. Both coconut oil and aloe vera have anti-inflammatory properties [5, 6]. Coconut oil also contains lauric acid, which may further help with irritated skin. And, aloe vera, when applied liberally, can provide relief from redness and burning.
  • Applying topical products with green tea may help manage rosacea-induced redness. In a study of 60 women between the ages of 25 and 50, 70% of those who received the green tea extract cream saw improvements in inflammation within four weeks [7].

While more studies need to be done to validate the effectiveness of these natural remedies for treating rosacea, they are promising. Plus, through trial and error, some people have found that these methods can help mitigate rosacea symptoms.

Intense Pulsed Light Therapy

Like laser therapy, intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy is a medical-grade treatment that uses intense bursts of high-intensity light to treat a variety of skin conditions, including rosacea. This treatment can help relieve rosacea-induced redness and flushing and can decrease the appearance of pimples or cysts.

Woman with rosacea undergoing laser therapy with a Nd:YAG laser

While IPL can be used to effectively treat rosacea, it can come with several side effects like redness, scarring, swelling, blistering, and crusting. Some have even reported their skin bleeding and becoming infected. As a result, it’s generally advisable for those with sensitive skin to avoid IPL.

IPL can also be somewhat expensive, as the average treatment cost ranges between $450 – $600 per treatment, with most people needing multiple treatments before noticing significant improvements. One study noted an average of 7.2 treatments [8]!

So, while effective, IPL therapy is not without its downsides. Be sure to consult with your physician if IPL is something you’re considering for your treatment plan.

Red Light Therapy

As an alternative to laser therapy, red light therapy is a non-invasive cosmetic treatment that can help improve the appearance of rosacea. As the name suggests, the treatment uses red LED light to treat the skin by stimulating collagen production and blood flow – a combination that can help reduce general skin redness and promote the growth of healthy skin cells.

While perhaps not as “mainstream” as the other rosacea treatments mentioned above, red LED light therapy is an emerging treatment that has shown promising benefits for rosacea patients with rosacea.

What makes red light therapy stand out is that it’s tolerated by almost all skin types. It doesn’t irritate the skin like other remedies or cause nasty side effects like scarring. Plus, it’s entirely non-invasive and non-pharmaceutical.

Does Red Light Therapy Help Treat Rosacea?

While more studies need to be done, the general consensus is that red light therapy may be a viable rosacea treatment.

Here’s what the current science shows about light-based therapies and rosacea:

In one trial of 46 volunteers, patients were treated with a combination of Oxymetazoline and one of four light therapy treatments. After 56 days, 90.7% of patients saw a noticeable improvement in their facial erythema, i.e. facial redness, characterized by having at least one-grade improvement in the Clinician Erythema Assessment (CEA) scale. Overall, 65.1% of patients said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their results, with most noticing healthier and smoother skin [9].

Woman with rosacea seeing reduced facial redness after treatment

Another study looked at the effectiveness of red and blue light combination treatment on rosacea. Researchers combined red (650 nm) and blue (480 nm) wavelengths of light to treat two patients with papulopustular rosacea. After ten treatments with LED lights, both study participants reported a reduction in burning and itching, and the dermatologist noted a reduction of erythema and papules (noticed as early as after five sessions of LED light therapy) [10].

One interesting study, while limited by a strong selection bias, did suggest that red light therapy’s positive effects may last for three months and even up to two years, when combined with methyl aminolevulate via photodynamic therapy [11].

How Does Red Light Therapy Work For Rosacea?

Red light therapy has become an increasingly popular method to treat many types of skin conditions, including wrinkles, acne, eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea. It’s been anecdotally shown to be successful in healing people’s skin and in alleviating rosacea symptoms without pain, risk, or adverse side effects for all skin types.

Facial Redness & Telangiectasia

Red light therapy may be helpful for those with telangiectasia, a common characteristic of erythematotelangiectatic rosacea. The treatment can help reduce any telangiectasia-induced redness or flushing [12].

Telangiectasia, also known as spider veins, is a condition in which small blood vessels become visible on your face. This appearance of these dilated blood vessels can be one cause of facial redness.

While not a cure, red LED therapy can help control future flare-ups without irritating your skin further.

This treatment may be particularly effective if your rosacea has left you with visible veins or skin thickening. Typically, most people see a 50% to 75% reduction in visible blood vessels within three treatments, with some seeing a 100% reduction. Red light therapy can also help reduce overall redness, with most patients seeing a 20% reduction in facial redness [13].

Elderly woman with telangiectasia-induced redness

Collagen Production

Despite the lack of clinical studies that directly observe red light therapy’s impact on rosacea, rosacea sufferers may benefit from one of red light therapy’s more well-known benefits: normalized collagen production.

In general, collagen has been shown to improve overall skin health because collagen plays an important role in strengthening your skin, giving it its smoothness and elasticity. 

Studies have also shown that red light therapy can improve general skin complexion and skin tone, leading to reduced inflammation, swelling, and redness on your skin [14].

Unfortunately, as mentioned previously, there isn’t enough research currently to determine red light therapy’s direct impact on rosacea. However, this is a developing field, and we are learning more every day.

How To Use Red Light Therapy For Rosacea

Using red light therapy to treat rosacea is a simple process that can be done in your dermatologist’s or red light therapy provider’s office. You can even buy a red light therapy device to do red light therapy for rosacea at home.

If you see success during your treatments and want to buy your own red light therapy device, make sure it is a quality and reputable one that will deliver the right amount of red light at the correct strength and wavelengths that you need.

Generally, for home devices, you’ll place the red light therapy device directly on your face (if using a facial wand), near your face (if wearing a face mask), or six inches away from your face (if using a panel). The exact treatment process will vary based on your device, but they will all require you to cleanse your face prior to treatment, as dead skin cells, oil, and dirt can prevent the red light from effectively penetrating your skin. 

Red wavelengths penetrate around 4.5 mm deep into your skin, while near-infrared wavelengths penetrate around 5 mm deep into your skin [15]. The red light triggers a biochemical reaction in the mitochondria of your cells, leading to increased cellular energy production and functioning. Combined with increased blood flow and oxygen delivery to your cells, this leads your cells to more efficiently repair and regenerate, healing your skin.

As your skin heals, the telltale flushed skin of rosacea should fade, and the telangiectasia, the small red blood vessels that are often prominent on rosacea-inflicted skin, should lessen.

Woman with reduced telangiectasia-induced redness after treatment

However, these improvements generally do not occur overnight. You’ll need consistent treatment to see lasting results.

What About Blue Light Therapy for Rosacea?

Blue light therapy is similar to red light therapy but uses the blue wavelength (generally between 405 nm and 420 nm wavelengths). Like red light therapy, it can help treat skin conditions by penetrating the skin and killing harmful things like the Propionibacterium acnes bacteria that causes acne.

Blue light therapy is usually used to treat acne, overactive sweat glands, sun-damaged skin, and skin lesions that may be precancerous or cancerous. 

Woman using a blue light therapy device to treat her rosacea

A study has shown, though, that 650 nm of red light, combined with 480 nm of blue light, can be very effective in treating rosacea. 

Two patients with papulopustular rosacea who hadn’t seen relief with oral and topical medications tried this combination light therapy. They did blue and red light therapy twice a week for five weeks in 15-minute sessions. After five treatment sessions, the patients’ skin was less itchy from the rosacea, and many of the papules on their faces had cleared up. After ten sessions, their skin improved even more [10].

Here’s the bottom line: adding blue light therapy to your red light therapy sessions may be beneficial. Speak to your doctor about whether it’s the right approach for your specific skin condition.

Final Thoughts

Rosacea is a difficult condition to manage. It doesn’t always respond well to treatments, and it can differ from person to person.

If you’ve tried oral medications, topical creams and lotions, and all the natural remedies that your neighbor’s cousin’s grandmother recommended and still haven’t found relief, then red light therapy may be your solution. I hope it is. 

References

  1.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29478264/
  2.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4126803/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5828925/ 
  4. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/2707780
  5. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/13880200903062614
  6. https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/fmc/scms/2011/00000030/00000003/art00004
  7. https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(04)02800-2/fulltext 
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21848421/ 
  9. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/lsm.23253
  10. https://jmedicalcasereports.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13256-019-2339-6 
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17894705/ 
  12. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rosacea/expert-answers/rosacea-treatment/faq-20058317
  13. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/rosacea/treatment/lasers-lights
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3926176/
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5653719/ 
Anne, Founder of Therapeutic Beams

Anne Linde

Since using it to clear up her acne in college, Anne has been an avid user and fan of all things light therapy. She now primarily uses red light therapy for its anti-aging benefits. Anne's mission is to make the science behind red light therapy easy to understand and accessible, so anyone can use it to take control of their health and wellbeing.

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