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Photopneumatic Therapy For Acne

By Dr. Jaggi Rao, MD, FRCPC, Double board-certified dermatologist

South Korean scientists have confirmed that a new acne treatment device known as the Isolaz, which provides a combination of light therapy for acne and pressure therapy for acne, generates more than double benefits for acne-affected skin.

The Isolaz is a “photopneumatic” acne treatment method, combining blue light therapy with the suction (negative air pressure). It was developed specifically for the treatment of acne on Asian skin types.

Isolaz Light Therapy on Asian Skin
Asian skin types have better results using the Isolaz light therapy.

While blue-light therapy is usually very helpful for acne on European skin types, it tends to have little or no effect for most people who have rich, golden skin tones. Blue-light therapy on Asian skin can even have serious side effects not observed on other skin types, including itching, peeling, and hyperpigmentation, the formation of brown spots after acne is treated.

The Isolaz consists of a wand that uses negative air pressure to lift the oil-producing sebaceous gland at the bottom of the pore into its tip (without tearing it from the skin). Inside the tip of the device, the oil gland is exposed to a combination of blue and red light as the vacuum pressure sucks out dead skin cells,  compacted skin oils, and acne bacteria.

Because the pore is partially opened by the negative pressure of the tip of the device, the light used to treat the pore can be less intense, and there is less risk of the “overheating” skin reactions that many people who have Asian skin tones experience when they use popular light treatment devices.

Not A Miracle Treatment, But Free Of Side Effects

Many people with Asian skin types, especially Korean people, report greater concern with the brown spots of hyperpigmentation left by overly aggressive acne treatment than their concerns with acne itself.

When scientists at the Kyung Hee University School of Medicine in Seoul tested this photopneumatic acne treatment machine, they found that the greatest benefit of the device was a virtual guarantee against unpleasant and disfiguring side effects.

Dermatologists counted the numbers of pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads on the face before and after treatment. They found that three treatments, offered every other week, on average removed 56.2% of blemishes.

Additional biweekly treatments only maintained the initial benefits; after 12 weeks, the average participant in the trial had 58.9% fewer blemishes. About 1 in 5 people given the treatment lost less than 50% of blemishes; one person in the trial did not experience any benefit at all. Not a single participant in the Korean study suffered any itching, peeling, burning, new pimple formation, or hyperpigmentation. But that doesn’t mean there were no problems at all.

Treating Acne Can Cause Flare-Ups Of Acne On Asian Skin

One of the more perplexing results of the use of Isolaz in the Korean clinical trial turned out to be that treating acne caused temporary flare-ups of acne. When similar devices were tested on people who have European skin types, the suction tip was observed to have sucked up skin oils from the relatively larger skin pores on the cheeks. In the Korean clinical testing of the photopneumatic acne treatment, dermatologists did not observe sebum getting sucked out of pores and into the wand of the machine. The problem was not that Asian skin produces more oil. It does not. But the pores in Asian skin are smaller and harder to keep clean.

The researchers observed temporary flare-ups of acne on the cheeks of many of the people treated with the machine. They concluded that the problem probably was incomplete removal of hard, impacted skin oils that caused temporary irritation of the skin until the participant’s daily skin cleansing routine washed the oils away.

In one instance, the scientists noticed that the machine caused petecchial hemorrhaging on the skin between the eyebrows and on the bridge of the nose. When these tiny spots of bleeding occurred, they discontinued treatment.

Broadband Light Works Best On Asian Skin

Another finding of the Korean research was that full-spectrum light gets better results than “blue light” or “red light” on Asian skin. The way light therapy for acne works is similar to putting metal in a microwave.

The acne bacterium contains a pigment that is heated when it is exposed to visible blue light with wavelengths between 300 and 420 nanometers, with maximum absorption at 415 nanometers. Many light therapy devices for sale in Asia don’t generate this spectrum of light at all, and, as one might expect, don’t work. (They don’t cause any side effects, either, of course.)

Unlike acne bacteria in European skin types, acne bacteria in Asian skin types also respond to yellow light (which is not generated by other light treatment devices currently on the market). And red light changes the sebum-producing cells at the base of the pore so they produce less oil.

To cover all the useful frequencies of light for treating acne on yellow skin, the Isolaz generates blue, yellow, and red light in pulses that reach deep into the pore, kill bacteria, and reduce the production of sebum. This also makes the pore less sensitive to alcohol and fragrances that otherwise might trigger production of oils by the skin.

Who Is A Candidate For Photopneumatic Therapy?

While the Isolaz was developed specifically for treating acne on Asian skin types, all colors of skin benefit from this novel treatment approach. Some people who don’t have Asian skin will find the Isolaz especially helpful:

  • Isolaz can help prevent flareups of acne in people who are taking Roaccutane.
  • Isolaz is especially helpful for people who cannot take antibiotics for acne.
  • Isolaz is the only light therapy for acne for people who are extremely sun-sensitive, since it uses lower power, broader spectrum visible light with no UV rays.

A special feature of the Isolaz is different sizes of suction wand tips for different parts of the face. Pores on the cheeks tend to be larger and looser than pores on the nose. The Isolaz comes with a wand tip especially designed for treating pores on the nose and between the eyebrows. As the clinical trial found, some people are especially sensitive to pressure on these areas of skin, but the Isolaz wand in most cases manages to suck out the sebum without any significant side effects, including skin damage.

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