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Is red and infrared light the tool needed to improve skin frustrations?

July 07, 2021 7 min read

If sunlight is a cause of wrinkles, why does red light and infrared light help to reduce them?

 

Ageing is a privilege that is denied to many so it is best taken with a dose of appreciation. Ageing allows for laughter, experience, love, heartache and everything else that comes along with life. David Bowie said “ageing is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been”.

 

The trade off for the opportunity to become older is that we take on the side effects of ageing. The first sign for many people is those crinkles around the eyes from a lifetime of laughing and smiling become a little deeper and suddenly, eye cream is on the shopping list. Or it might be that the stressful job that causes frowning sets a line between the eyebrows and on the forehead that will no longer go away. Wrinkles on skin that is saggier, thinner, rougher and more dry seems to become inevitable for most people eventually.

 

So, why does skin age? Skin changes are caused by both natural and external environmental factors. The natural factors are that collagen and elastin fibres become thicker, more clumped, and looser [8]. By the late 20's, skin doesn't rid itself of dead cells as well as it used to. The moisture doesn't get into the cells as efficiently and the fat cells under the skin shrink a little by the late 30's. By the time the 40's arrive, collagen is no longer being produced naturally. By this age, there are also hormonal changes going on [8]. Thinking back to puberty, there is no doubt that hormones affect skin health!

 

The external environmental factors are those things which are a little easier to control. Eating a diet which is low in antioxidants is one factor. This usually happens from not enough fruits, vegetables. Too much sugar or salt, not enough good fats and not drinking enough good clean water is known to encourage faster ageing and age-related health conditions. Smoking and alcohol consumption also promote ageing through cell damaging free-radical products [8]. The most widely accepted factor that causes skin damage and ageing is sun exposure. This is known as photoageing and occurs because of solar radiation [5]. This solar radiation is also believed to be the cause of skin cancer. Now, that isn't to say that people should stay out of the sun altogether. The sun provides the raw materials for the body to produce the sunshine vitamin called vitamin D. The sun also helps to improve people's moods [11]. Without the sun humans wouldn't survive, plus it would be a dark and dreary place, right?

 

Now, is it possible to prevent, slow or halt effects of ageing? Sure! Step one is to control those external factors – eat brightly coloured foods, eat good fats, drink plenty of water and watch the sugar and salt. Keep alcoholic drinks to a minimum and don't smoke. Spend some time in the sun but not long enough for it to burn and consider wearing a chemical-free sunscreen when out in the sun for a longer period. Consider anti-ageing skin care products for topical treatment.

 

What about reversing these side effects? Well, there are lots of methods of reversing ageing of skin but much of the time pain, down-time and a big hit to the wallet are going to be part and parcel of it. The typical way to address wrinkles and sagging skin is through cosmetic procedures. It might be as non-invasive as chemical skin peels which leave red and puffy skin before you see results. Or may be as invasive as going under the knife in an operating room. The average cost of a face lift in Australia is between $6500 to $30,000 [9]. Most of the effective cosmetic procedures for wrinkles cause some degree of pain and generally will require some time off work or physical exercise. They usually also require post-treatment care and may lead to complications such as long-lasting swelling, redness, pain, infection, bleeding, oozing, burns, pigmentation changes and scarring [10].

 

Doomed to wrinkled saggy skin if not willing to go down the cosmetic procedure path? Luckily – no! An underrated and emerging technology for the improvement of skin texture and appearance with a reduction of wrinkles and sagging skin is red/infrared light! The skin-rejuvenating effects of this technology is known as photobiomodulation. Photobiomodulation stimulates fibroblast growth. Fibroblasts provide the structure to skin and produce collagen and growth factors. This can lift and tighten slack skin with a reduction of wrinkles [6].

 

Red and infrared light technology has been well studied, especially for targeting photoageing. Studies show that many people see an improvement of 25-50% in the photoageing characteristics within 12 weeks [1]. This was confirmed using a technique called profilometry which can measure the surface roughness of the skin. At follow-up with these people after the study, 81% of these people had significant improvement of those wrinkles around the eyes [1]. This technology seems to be optimised at 660nm for an effective treatment option for wrinkles [2]. The multiple studies in the reference list for this article show these types of results were achieved with no adverse events, post-care or downtime reported [3].

 

It's one thing to physically see results and to measure them via profilometry. In another study the researchers went one step further and took tissue samples to determine what chemical changes happen with red and infrared light therapy. They observed a noticeable increase in the amount of collagen and elastic fibres [4]. Testing showed highly activated fibroblasts, surrounded by plentiful elastic and collagen fibres. Chemically, it showed an increase of the anti-inflammatory, regenerative cell products and a decrease of pro-inflammatory damaging cell products [4].

 

Often the wrinkles and slack skin which cause concern are on the face and neck but for some people the skin on their body is also of interest. These studies have been replicated using larger area or full body exposure to the red and infrared light spectrum. The participants of these trials experienced significantly improved skin complexion and skin texture similar to those who were part of studies using the skin of the face. These improvements were confirmed with a profilometer and ultrasound was used to measure collagen density [7].

 

The success of this technology as a treatment for skin damage is unquestionable. But what if it could also be used to prevent damage by the sun? Studies show that the red and infrared light spectrum, through its anti-inflammatory performance, can do just that [8]. It is widely accepted that the UV light range of less than 400um causes damage to the skin [10]. Most people have experienced sun burn at one time or another. When the skin is burnt via UV rays it experiences collagen breakdown, formation of free radicals, suppressed DNA repair and inhibition of the immune system [10].

 

The typical way to protect the skin from the sun is to use topical sunscreens or covering up with clothes. They do their job well but they do have their limitations. When using sunscreen, water exposure through swimming or sweating will decrease its effectiveness. Some also contain nanoparticles which can be harmful [12]. Some people also experience allergies from sunscreens. And the most important factor that lets it down is that it must be reapplied regularly to continue working. Infrared light has been shown to provide long-lasting protection of around 24 hours [12]. It also seems to be a more cumulative benefit where the more it is used, the better the protection will be. The results showed that this therapy is effective for achieving a significant response in the reduction of the burn induced by sun exposure [12]. That is not to say that infrared light should be relied on as the only form of sun protection used but in conjunction with natural sunscreen and sensible sun exposure, the harmful effects of the sun can be minimised. Maximising sun protection will help to prevent further damage occurring to the skin to stop wrinkle production or a worsening of current wrinkles.

 

The effect of ageing is inevitable for those lucky enough to have the opportunity of getting older. There are many things that can be done to minimise these effects if the steps are taken early enough. Going down the cosmetic procedure route may be appropriate for some but for those who would like to be proactive in addressing and preventing skin damage without these procedures, infrared and red light technology can be a safe and effective skin rejuvenation method.

 


References

[1] Russell BA, Kellett N, Reilly LR, A study to determine the efficacy of combination LED light therapy (633 nm and 830 nm) in facial skin rejuvenation, Journal of Cosmetic & Laser Therapy . December 2005, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16414908/

[2] Nam CH, Park BC, Kim MH, Choi EH, Hong SP.The Efficacy and Safety of 660 nm and 411 to 777 nm Light-Emitting Devices for Treating Wrinkles, Dermatologic Surgery journal, March, 2017, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28195844/

[3] Barolet D, Roberge CJ, Auger FA, Boucher A, Germain L,Regulation of skin collagen metabolism in vitro using a pulsed 660 nm LED light source: clinical correlation with a single-blinded study,Journal of Investigative Dermatology, December 2013, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19587693/

[4] Lee SY, Park KH, Choi JW, Kwon JK, Lee DR, Shin MS, Lee JS, You CE, Park MY,A prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded, and split-face clinical study on LED phototherapy for skin rejuvenation: clinical, profilometric, histologic, ultrastructural, and biochemical evaluations and comparison of three different treatment settings, Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology, July 2007, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17566756/

[5] Rocha Mota L., Motta L.J., Duarte I.D.S., et al,Efficacy of phototherapy to treat facial ageing when using a red versus an amber LED: a protocol for a randomised controlled trial, BMJ Journals, May 2018, https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/8/5/e021419

[6] Ablon G.,Phototherapy with Light Emitting Diodes: Treating a Broad Range of Medical and Aesthetic Conditions in Dermatology,The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, February 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5843358/

[7] Wunsch A., Matuschka K.,A Controlled Trial to Determine the Efficacy of Red and Near-Infrared Light Treatment in Patient Satisfaction, Reduction of Fine Lines, Wrinkles, Skin Roughness, and Intradermal Collagen Density Increase, Photomedicine and Laser Surgery Publication, February, 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3926176/


[8]Why does you Skin Age, Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science, January 2013, https://sites.dartmouth.edu/dujs/2013/01/28/why-does-your-skin-age/

[9] McKay, Louise,What Does A Facelift Cost In Australia?, www.costhetics.com.au, August, 2019, https://www.costhetics.com.au/plastic-surgery/what-does-a-facelift-cost-in-australia/

[10] Avci P., Gupta A., Sadasivam M., et al.Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring,Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, August 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4126803/

[11] Harvard Health Publishing,Benefits of moderate sun exposure,Harvard Medical School, January 2017, https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/benefits-of-moderate-sun-exposure

[12] Barolet D., Boucher A.,LED photoprevention: reduced MED response following multiple LED exposures, Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, February 2008, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18306161/



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