Acne is a very common skin condition that most of us will experience at one point or another. According to the NHS, around 95% of 11-30 year olds struggle with acne, and about 3% of people continue to suffer breakouts throughout the course of their lives.
While there’s no magic cure for acne, there are a number of treatments that can help to minimise the appearance of spots and improve the texture of the skin. These treatments include topical creams, lotions, and oils, as well as hormonal therapies.
However, one growing area of interest is light therapy, and UV light in particular. Sunlight has been considered to be beneficial for the skin for centuries. But does UV light really improve the look and health of the skin, and do sunbeds help spots, too?
UV Light Therapy for Acne
UV light - the type of light emitted by the sun - is understood to help the skin in two ways, which is why UV light therapy is an emerging area of interest for dermatologists:
1. UV minimises inflammation: According to BUPA, UV light can help to reduce overactive immune responses in the body, helping to reduce inflammation. For people suffering with inflammatory acne types, such as papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts, UV light can help to take away the redness, swelling, and soreness around the spots.
2. UV boosts Vitamin D: Vitamin D deficiency is more common in people with acne, but is this a cause or effect? It seems that it’s a cause, as studies have found that supplementation with Vitamin D can reduce the appearance of acne. Sunlight is an excellent source of Vitamin D, which is why many find their skin improves on holiday.
The benefits of sunlight for the skin are clear. But can you use sunbeds for acne, too? It seems so. The light that sunbeds produce is exactly the same type of UV light as produced by the sun, and the skin reacts in the same way to the light, regardless of the source. A study in Sweden - a country that receives very little sun over the winter - found that around one third of tanners believe using sunbeds has helped improve their acne.
In fact, UV light can be so beneficial that it’s actually used in medical settings as an approved acne treatment today. Known as ‘phototherapy’, light therapy machines deliver UVB light to reduce the appearance of acne and hard-to-treat skin conditions.
Sunbeds for Acne Scarring
As well as helping acne itself, sunbeds can also be beneficial in reducing the appearance of acne scars. This can be achieved through red light therapy, which boosts collagen to improve the elasticity and flexibility of the skin, making it more supple. When collagen therapy is discussed, the biggest benefit that’s mentioned is usually its ability to minimise signs of aging, such as wrinkles, but it can often have a similar effect on scarring, helping skin to repair itself and create a more even texture.
Red light is different to UV light. It doesn’t emit any UVA or UVB, which are the types of light that produce a tan. Instead, it emits a low-level red light that penetrates deep into the skin, where it’s absorbed by the cells. And the good news is that you don’t need to find a special type of sunbed to experience red light therapy. Many beds allow for red light tubes to be installed as standard, and can be swapped for UV tubes as needed.
Neither sunlight or sunbeds can magically cure acne. If they did, acne would no longer be a problem! But in many cases, they really can help to reduce the appearance of spots and minimise inflammation. If you’re unsure if UV or red light therapy would be suitable for your skin, always chat to your doctor or dermatologist before tanning.