A similar app for Android phones, Acne Pwner, was downloaded 3,300 times, the FTC said.
AcneApp cited a study in the British Journal of Dermatology, which suggested that light therapy was almost twice as effective as over-the-counter blemish treatments. But the FTC said in its complaint that the study “does not prove that blue and red light therapy” effectively treats acne.
The two companies settled the complaints, without admitting any violation of the law, by paying fines of $14,294 in AcneApp’s case and $1,700 in Acne Pwner’s case. Neither is available anymore.
Sesha Kalapatapu, an attorney for the Houston dermatologist who helped create AcneApp, said his client “was not making any claims of efficacy. ”
Cellphone lights are being marketed to treat other conditions, too, including seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs during winter because of lack of sunlight. The iSAD lamp app, which sells for $2.99, tells users to turn their cellphone light to its highest brightness and use the app for 15 to 45 minutes a day to “put a smile on your face and help wash away the Winter Blues.”
But SAD experts say even the most powerful cellphone lights are far too weak to treat depression. The iPhone 3G can reach an intensity of only around 200 lux, according to Wirelessinfo.com, a cellphone news and review Web site. Yet it takes 10 times that, or 2,000 lux, to treat SAD in a two-hour session, says Alfred Lewy, a professor of psychiatry and ophthalmology at Oregon Health and Science University, who has studied the effect of light therapy on winter depression.
A representative of iSAD Lamp said in an e-mail that the app is for “entertainment purposes only.” Consumers who look at the app on the iTunes site will find a disclaimer that says, “IMPORTANT. The iSAD Lamp is meant for entertainment purposes” and adds: “We are not responsible for any misuse or failure.”
There’s also little proof that apps relying on cellphone sounds can be effective.
AG Method, which sells for $9.99 on the iTunes store, says that users can get relief for everything from insomnia to toothaches by listening to something that sounds like running water for 20 minutes. “Put the sound-source on the maximum pain,” it says. All the while, “HEALING IN PROGRESS” flashes in big red letters on the iPhone screen.
“There is no plausible, physiologic way in which something like this would help,” said Misra.