Blue light therapy is a form of phototherapy treatment that applies the wavelengths of blue light to treat specific disorders. Phototherapy in the form of blue light waves is a standard treatment to reduce high levels of bilirubin, or jaundice, in the blood of newborns. According to a study published in 2009 in the “Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine,” with the exception of people with retinal pathology or those taking photosensitizing medications, the benefits of light therapy outweigh any potential risks.
Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that results from a lack of daylight in the winter months. Although many people experience minor mood fluctuations due to a lack of adequate sunshine, the more severe forms of SAD can result in debilitating fatigue, changes in appetite and severe mood disorders. Most people treated with blue light therapy for SAD show improvement within seven days, according to MayoClinic.com.
In order for the body’s circadian rhythm to function properly, the brain must receive both light and dark signals within each 24-hour period. In daylight hours, the circadian system responds to the blue wavelengths of the color spectrum by releasing serotonin, a feel-good hormone that among other things contributes to a sense of well-being. After sunset, the body halts the production of serotonin and releases melatonin, the sleep hormone. For mental and physical health, both hormones are vital.
Because today’s high-tech world gives people the flexibility to alter their wake and sleep schedule according to their personal requirements, many wake before sunrise, spend their workday in artificial light and return home in the dark. Although full spectrum, or bright white, light was previously thought to be necessary to treat sleep disorders, the short wavelength of blue light is now preferred, according to the "Journal of Clinical Sleep." Conversely, researchers at John Carroll University, of University Heights, Ohio, concluded that because exposure to blue light increases levels of serotonin and suppresses the release of melatonin, blue light-blocking glasses are also an effective treatment for some sleep disorders and symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to a 2007 ScienceDaily.com article.
Blue light therapy is often used to treat acne, rosacea, psoriasis and wrinkles caused by sun damage and age. For acne patients who wish to avoid the side effects and potential long-term consequences of prescription medications, light therapy may be an ideal alternative. Because blue light frequencies effectively destroy bacteria, many dermatologists report patients treated with narrow-band blue light show significant improvement in acne conditions.
According to the website DermNet NZ, a number of studies show some benefit to the use of blue light treatment, including one that found blue light to be more effective in treating acne than the topical application of the antibiotic clindamycin. A biweekly treatment of alternating blue and red light therapy proved to be particularly effective, says Amy Taub, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology, Northwestern University Medical School.