The benefits of LED therapy are manifold; it treats acne, regulates sebum production, stimulates collagen and elastin production, and minimizes redness and wrinkles. Certain wavelengths have been shown to reduce dark spots and uneven skin tone. The spectrum of light in LED does not include UV, so there is no risk of damage. LED therapy uses light in the visible spectrum; including blue, yellow, amber and red as well as light beyond the visible spectrum, to penetrate the skin at varying depths.
It’s no surprise then that the popularity of LED therapy is growing exponentially, representing a new era in skin care. The expansion of the market has created opportunities for at-home devices, as seen with widespread TV advertising. Major players in this space are P&G, L’Oréal, Neutrogena, Home Skinovations Ltd. and Panasonic. Meanwhile, the dermatology device market is growing at a compound annual growth rate of nearly 11% and will top $16 billion next year, according to Scalar Market Research. This column will briefly review the evolving role of light therapy in health and beauty.
Dermatology offices and high-end spas routinely use light therapy to treat skin problems. The light treatment uses varying wavelengths of light to trigger the skin’s natural healing processes to repair it. Several treatments are necessary to see results, light therapy or LED treatments have been around for over 30 years and were originally developed for astronauts to help with tissue healing and repair, but its skin care use is recent. LED therapy is not the same as a laser treatment, which creates controlled damage to the skin to promote healing.
The Benefits of LED Therapy
As the light wave length increases, so does the depth of penetration. This light is absorbed by receptors in the skin, just like topical skin care, and each color of light stimulates a different response in the skin. Light, which is photon energy, can actually modulate or change your biology. Light receptors in molecules react to varying frequencies which is why different colors of light have different skin benefits.
According to Dermatologist Howard Sobel, LED is suitable for use on all skin types and tones. These treatments are painless, do not cause any burns or skin damage, and are non-invasive with little to no downtime and discomfort. In fact, skin often looks positively glowing when the LED mask is removed.
The healing properties of LED make it ideal for use after in-office procedures such as peels, lasers and micro-needling. It works by emitting infrared lights in different wavelengths, which have different skin benefits. The skin uses the light as a source of energy to fuel the repair and rejuvenation of damaged cells.
According to Dermatologist Jared Jagdeo, an associate professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Health Science University, light therapy is a tremendously under-utilized area in medicine. LED light therapy is revolutionizing home skin care treatment. He explains that through a process called photo-biomodulation, light alters biological material. According to Jagdeo, red light penetrates the skin deeper than visible light and stimulates the mitochondria, which has an anti-inflammatory and rejuvenating effect. Collagen is built in the dermis; the skin is calmed and wrinkles eventually diminish. Blue light does not penetrate the skin as deeply, but zaps acne-causing bacteria on the surface. The science on green light is not as solid but, in theory, it targets melanocytes, discouraging excess melanin production.
Light Therapy Masks
Many cosmetic brands have launched portable hand-held versions of in-office LED treatments for safe use at home. The devices promise to target everything from sagging and wrinkling skin to acne and inflammation. These FDA-approved devices use red, blue, yellow and green to treat a variety of issues. When home-use LED light masks were introduced to the market, they became a hit on Instagram, receiving endorsements from celebrities like Jessica Alba and Kourtney Kardashian.
Following LED treatments, users are advised to stay out of the sun for 48 hours and apply SPF sunscreen. One can take an anti-inflammatory in case of swelling and redness, or apply a cold pack. For both LED light home masks or LED light in-office machines, the skin must be thoroughly clean without any trace of makeup. The individuals getting the treatments should wear safety goggles to protect their eyes from the light during treatment. In a typical therapy the skin is treated with light for about 20 minutes. While the therapy results are fantastic, they are not permanent. During LED therapy, devices send light waves deep into the skin to trigger natural intracellular reactions. Depending on the light, your skin is going to respond differently. LED masks only need around 10 minutes of dedicated time. LED used in the therapy could be blue, red, amber or yellow. Here are the benefits of each LED color:
Red: The majority of at-home LED masks offer a red light setting. At the lighter end of the spectrum, red light soothes inflammation and redness, while deeper shades penetrate skin to prompt cellular repair and circulation, resulting in a plumper, more vibrant complexion. Red light communicates with skin fibroblasts to increase collagen production, making skin firmer over time. Red light also decreases inflammation, which can help calm rosacea, acne and increases circulation, which can bring nutrients to the skin and encourage hair growth.
Blue: Kills bacteria that lead to breakouts, making it ideal for treating acne-prone skin. It also helps purify the skin and regulate oil glands. It is commonly combined with red light in at-home devices, and can often be found in targeted pens, which are ideal for reducing breakouts. There is a dark side to blue light—it contributes to skin aging similar to UVA. (Free Radical Biology & Medicine 2017, 108:300).
Amber: Less common in at-home devices, it works to revitalize the skin, reducing any swelling and increasing radiance.
Infrared: Invisible to the naked eye, it penetrates deeper than any other color in the spectrum. It combats the signs of aging by replenishing dermal and epidermal cells, stimulates the natural production of collagen and elastin, and speeds up the recovery process.
Near-infrared: Found in the most advanced at-home LED masks.
Purple: A combination of red and blue light, these LED wavelengths cause changes in the skin’s proteins and metabolic activity, leading to reduced appearance of wrinkles, redness, brown spots and acne. According to some reports, this wavelength can help improve mood, sleep and memory. It is possible that some of these LED lights may have generated a positive psychological uplifting of spirits in the panelists.
Yellow: Helps with wound healing, rejuvenation, and temporarily increases blood circulation.
As technology evolves, so too does the future of “at-home” facials. Consumers should buy only devices approved by FDA, but remember that approval is merely a testament to safety, not efficacy. We are just starting to see the impact that purified LED devices have on cosmetic and medical treatments according to Dermatologist Ellen Marmur.
Marmur and Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare each introduced light therapy masks for at-home use. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare’s DRx SpectraLite Wave Pro ($435) is a three-minute wrinkle-reducing, acne-fighting LED device is for the treatment of the entire face. This mask works to smooth wrinkles and diminish discoloration. The MM Sphere 2.0 ($795) has settings for blue, green, amber and purple light. It is smart phone-driven and can be paired with high-performing photo-activated serums and masks. Smaller units, like Neutrogena’s Light therapy Acne Spot treatment device ($25), target individual zits.
More To Be Revealed
Light therapy is still controversial for many conditions as researchers learn more about optimal wavelengths, duration and frequency. Dr. James Hamblin, professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, maintains that with the right doses, wavelengths and techniques, light therapy holds promise for widespread disorders like chronic pain and memory decline. Still, Dr. Marissa Heller, assistant professor dermatology, Harvard Medical School, warns that the long-term safety of these light therapies remains uncertain.
Chief Scientific Officer
Ayurderm Technologies, LLC
Navin Geria, former Pfizer Research Fellow is a cosmetic and pharmaceutical product development chemist and the chief scientific officer of AyurDerm Technologies LLC, which provides Ayurvedic, natural and cosmeceutical custom formulation development and consulting services to the spa-wellness-dermatology industries. He has launched dozens of cosmeceutical and ayurvedic anti-aging products. Geria has more than 30 years of experience in the personal care industry and was previously with Clairol, Warner-Lambert, Schick-Energizer, Bristol-Myers and Spa Dermaceuticals. He has nearly 20 US patents and has been published extensively. Geria edited the Handbook of Skin-Aging Theories for Cosmetic Formulation Development focus book published in April 2016 by Harry’s Cosmeticology. He is a speaker, moderator and chairman at cosmetic industry events.