Blu-U Treatments

Omnilux Blue light acne therapy machine.
Blue-light therapy has proven effective in treating acne in many cases, but the long-term effects aren't known.
Photo courtesy Dr. Jack G. Jones, M.D., Inc. and Photo Therapeutics, Inc. 2008

If you think you're alone in your skin troubles, consider this: Approximately 80 percent of people in the world deal with acne at some point [source: Kansas City Skin Care Center]. It's caused by an excess of oil, or sebum, that's produced by the glands that surround hair follicles. When too much sebum and skin cells clog the follicles, they become irritated and inflamed, resulting in those dreaded bumps -- pimples, whiteheads, blackheads and other lesions. For this reason, acne is more common among people who have oily skin, but it can affect people of all skin types. There are a number of treatments for acne -- one of the newer ones is Blu-U.

Blu-U works to treat acne through blue-light therapy. The high intensity blue light -- combined with the topical solution called Levulan Kerastick that's applied to your face before treatment -- kills the bacteria Propionibacterium (P. acnes). Left untreated, this bacteria can worsen acne by causing additional inflammation and allowing it to spread [source: DUSA Pharmaceuticals, Inc.]. A Blu-U procedure only takes about 15 minutes and is not painful. There are minimal side effects, but one downside is that you'll have to continue getting the treatments if you want acne to stay away. Blu-U is not always a sure thing: It has proven effective in many cases but not all.


Originally, light treatments for acne contained ultraviolet, or UV, light. However, UV light is no longer used because of the adverse effects it is now known to have on your skin. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved blue-light therapy for treating acne, but there haven't been many intense, clinical trials done on Blu-U yet, so the long-term effects of the treatment are not yet known [source: AcneNet].

If you've tried everything else to get rid of acne, and blue light therapy sounds like a good option so far, read on to the following page to learn about how much it will cost you.


Blu-U Treatment Cost

Blu-U treatments aren't cheap by any means. Probably the biggest expense is not the individual cost per session, but the number of sessions you'll need to combat your acne. Unfortunately, Blu-U is not a quick fix. Over four weeks, you'll probably have six to eight sessions that last approximately 15 minutes each. Each session involves application of the topical solution, followed by close exposure to the light. If you're claustrophobic, be aware that the device with the light beams is placed about two to four inches from your face [source: DUSA Pharmaceuticals, Inc.].

The cost of Blu-U treatment can range from about $40 per session to double, triple or quadruple that amount [source: Kansas City Skin Care Center]. This can add up to be in the thousand-dollar range for eight sessions. Of course, the cost per session all depends on your dermatologist or treatment center and the number of sessions you need. Be sure to check with your insurance company to see if it will cover at least part of the cost of your treatments. Plan to fund most or all of it on your own, though, since Blu-U is a relatively new procedure.


Blu-U is fairly expensive, but does it pay off? Read on to learn about the effectiveness and possible side effects of blue-light therapy.

Blu-U Effectiveness

Laser and light therapies seem like great steps forward in the field of acne treatment -- when they actually work, that is. Each Blu-U treatment is pretty simple: The topical solution that the dermatologist puts on your face before applying the blue-light therapy is Levulan Kerastick. The doctor then uses a Blu-U device to emit specific wavelengths of light that cause a reaction with the photosensitive topical treatment and kill the bacteria in the acne lesions.

The results that people get using Blu-U vary. In one set of recent studies, 80 percent of patients responded positively to the treatment, but the 20 percent who did not respond positively didn't see any results. Some even said that their acne was worse as a result of the treatment [source: AcneNet].


Even for those who see positive results, the degree to which acne clears varies from person to person. In the same set of studies, the average was about a 55 percent clearance, although some patients experienced almost total clearance, and others saw minimal results [source: AcneNet]. If you've had severe acne problems, getting rid of more than half of it may be worth the cost of Blu-U, but if you're looking for complete clearance, keep in mind that this procedure may not be the answer. Blu-U helps to control acne, but in most cases does not eliminate it completely.

You may be ready try Blu-U for its acne-clearing effects, but keep in mind that a few side effects may also come as part of the package. Read on to find out how to watch out for those unwelcome occurrences.


Blu-U Side Effects

You've already learned the not-so-good news: The long-term effects of Blu-U aren't yet known. However, it seems that the side effects of the treatment are minimal and not very damaging. The light therapy does not go deep enough into your skin to affect the normal tissue -- only the acne lesions it's targeting. The treatment itself isn't painful, although it could be slightly uncomfortable to have your face in a chin rest for 15 minutes.

The reported side effects of Blu-U are usually mild and include redness or other temporary pigment changes, swelling of the treated areas and dryness. These symptoms should go away a few hours after the treatment is complete, so talk to your dermatologist if your skin is still red or dry after a few days.


There are a few more things you should know before making a Blu-U appointment. First, you can't undergo blue-light therapy if you're pregnant or nursing. Second, the treatment is meant for people who have the most common form of acne, Acne vulgaris. If you have nodulocystic acne lesions, blue-light therapy could actually make them worse. Nodulocystic acne is characterized by deep red, inflamed bumps and large cysts that may be filled with pus [source: AcneNet]. One possible side effect of using blue-light therapy to treat nodulocystic acne is scarring, something most acne patients work hard to avoid.

The facts on Blu-U are that it's relatively expensive, semi-effective and has minimal side effects. Knowing what it's all about before you sign up for a treatment is the best way to prepare your skin, mind and pocketbook for Blu-U. If you're still not sure this procedure is right for you, or you'd just like to find out more information about getting better skin, follow the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • AcneNet. "Are laser and light treatments really light years ahead of conventional acne therapy?" (Accessed 09/11/09)
  • AcneNet. "Glossary." (Accessed 09/11/09)
  • ActinicKeratosesNet. "What are Actinic Keratoses?" (Accessed 09/11/09)
  • Alai, Nili N., M.D. "Photodynamic Therapy." (Accessed 9/11/09)
  • DUSA Pharmaceuticals, Inc. "Blu-U: Summary of Safety and Effectiveness Data." December 3, 1999. (Accessed 09/11/09)
  • Kansas City Skin Care Center. "Blu-U Acne Light Treatment." (Accessed 09/11/09)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Acne treatments: Emerging therapies for clearer skin." April 19, 2008. (Accessed 09/11/09)
  • Medline Plus. "X-Plain Tutorial: Acne." March 6, 2008. (Accessed 09/11/09)
  • University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. "'Blue-Light' Therapy Can Help Ward Off Skin Cancer." January 8, 2007. (Accessed 09/11/09)