Can You Treat Acne With an iPhone App?

AcneApp Promises to Clear Skin With Light Therapy; Dermatologists Express Doubts

From the WebMD Archives


What's the Evidence Behind Light Treatment of Acne?

The Apple store cites a study in the British Journal of Dermatology finding light treatment effective for acne and nearly twice as effective as benzoyl peroxide, a common ingredient in over-the-counter blemish products.

Researchers from the Imperial College, London, did publish a review in that journal in June 2009. The researchers identified and reviewed the results of 25 trials, some using light therapy and some using light therapy in combination with topical acne treatment. They did conclude that the studies show that red and blue light was more effective than topical benzoyl peroxide in the short term, but they caution that very few of the studies compared light therapy directly with conventional acne treatment, and many studies weren't long-term.

Apple officials haven't responded to a request to describe what proof Pearson was required to submit before approval of the AcneApp.

Other Dermatologists Weigh in on AcneApp

A. David Rahimi, a Los Angeles dermatologist and attending dermatologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, says light therapy has been around a while for acne. "There are several light and laser devices that help clear acne,'' he says. The results, however, are inconsistent, he says.

He tried the AcneApp himself. ''There was no heat generation from the flashing blue-red light and I did not feel any sensation on the skin," he says.

''The concept is right," Rahimi tells WebMD. "But I don't think the iPhone has enough energy to do anything productive for the acne."

Though the wavelength of light used in the AcneApp is similar to that used in office-based light treatments, the intensity of the light used by dermatologists ''is at least thousands of times greater," agrees David Pariser, MD, a Norfolk, Va., dermatologist and president of the American Academy of Dermatology. "I would be very surprised if there is enough intensity of the light [from AcneApp] to make any difference."

So aside from wasting $1.99 and still coping with zits, is there any potential harm?

Yes, Rahimi says. "I am worried about the patient with deep cystic acne and open, draining sores that uses this app.'' Bacteria on the phone could lead to a skin infection, he says.