WebMD Health News
Louise Chang, MD
Feb. 12, 2010 -- iPhone users love their apps, so it's no surprise that
AcneApp, a light-based therapy, is drawing interest from the blemish-prone who
like the concept of zapping zits while talking to friends.
It's supposed to work like this: Download the application and hold the phone
to the skin so the light therapy can do its work. Multitask if you wish,
remembering to switch sides so your entire face gets the treatment.
But more than four months after its release, there are still no clinical
studies proving it works. Other dermatologists express doubt it could help, and
users are giving it mixed reviews -- from terrific to skeptical.
AcneApp is listed as No. 1 in the medical category on iTunes for Jan. 27,
yet the Apple store web site cautions that ''the app is for entertainment
purposes only and is not intended for treatment of any disease or medical
AcneApp was developed by Houston dermatologist Greg Pearson, MD, who wasn't
available to talk to WebMD but concedes in a YouTube video that studies need to
be done to verify the app's effectiveness.
While light therapy for acne is sometimes effective, according to other
dermatologists, they're skeptical the iPhone app has enough power to blast away
At $1.99 per download, AcneApp costs less than most over-the-counter acne
Pearson couldn't elaborate, according to his office staff. He wasn't
accessible by email, either. The office staff says they have no brochures on
the app, nor do they provide information on it to patients.
But in the YouTube video, Pearson explains that the app is to be applied
directly to the skin for about two minutes a day. While admitting that studies
are needed, he says that the idea is ''really based on some science."
When the app is downloaded, users are asked to chose a light option, with
the red and blue alternating light recommended.
The device gives off wavelengths of 420 nanometers of blue light and 660
nanometers of red, according to the product information. Blue light, according
to the app, fights acne-causing bacteria, while red light helps heal skin.
Users are warned not to use the app if they are on medication that makes the
skin light sensitive or if they have medical conditions that make the skin
sensitive to light. They are cautioned to stop using AcneApp if problems
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
Apple officials haven't responded to a request to describe what proof
Pearson was required to submit before approval of the 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
''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
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.
Clinical studies of AcneApp at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston are
coming, according to some news reports.
But a spokeswoman at the Baylor press office, who checked with the Baylor
dermatology department, says no one there has information on a clinical trial
of the app.
That's not cool, says Rahimi. ''If the doctor wants to sell this app, I
think he owes the public some studies," Rahimi says.
SOURCES:Hamilton, F. British Journal of Dermatology, June 2009; vol 160: pp
1273-1285.A. David Rahimi, MD, dermatologist, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los
Angeles.Apple web site.David Pariser, MD, dermatologist, Norfolk, Va.; president, American Academy
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