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Red Light therapy and dermatology

October 21, 2021 6 min read

Light therapy and dermatology: the dream team for skin health


Infrared and red light technology has recently gained a heap of popularity for improving skin health and conditions as an at-home treatment. This technology has also gained popularity with dermatology and cosmetology. It can now be found in many medical practices, beauty therapists and cosmetologist's clinic rooms. 


Dermatology and cosmetology is usually associated with chemical peels, injections, topical treatment and other treatments for the skin. Lasers, cryotherapy and ultrasound therapy are other therapies that are relatively new to the field. It is ever changing! Growing in popularity is another kind of treatment: light therapy, a non-invasive and effective way to assist a variety of skin conditions with the healing power of light. 


Light therapy is also known as low-level light therapy (LLLT) and photobiomodulation (PBM). Red light therapy uses light within a band of wavelengths ranging from 630 nanometers (nm) to 700nm. Near-infrared light uses a range between 810nm and 850nm. The term “red light therapy” will often refer to either red light or infrared light, even a combination of both. The wavelengths penetrate the skin’s surface and reach varying depths of the skin. They can even reach as deep as muscle and bone. The longer the wavelength, in other words, the higher the number, the deeper it will penetrate. 


How does light therapy affect the cells?


* Stimulation of the mitochondria – the tiny part of cells that produces energy [1]

* Increased adenosine triphosphate (ATP) produced by the mitochondria – important for healing, cell rejuvenation and reduced inflammation [1]

* Increase fibroblast production – fibroblast provide structure and growth factors [1]

* Increased collagen production due to the fibroblasts [1]


What common skin conditions are addressed with the use of light therapy?


Acne


That frustrating condition that affects most teenagers at one point or anything. It can be as simple as a few spots or are complicated as painful cysts that form under the skin and leave long lasting scars. For some very lucky people, they get to carry this condition through to adulthood and then it's pimples combined with wrinkles! It's hard to find an effective treatment that will work on both of these skin characteristics but one that works so effectively is light therapy.


When it comes to acne, research shows that the red light spectrum is the one which is the most effective, usually around the 630nm mark [2]. Once healed, acne often leads to pigmentation issues and scarring [3]. Infrared and red light technology can also help to prevent and improve these marks. Using red light improves healing time and process which helps to prevent their formation [4]. When pigmentation or scarring has already occurred, light therapy can help to break it down to improve the appearance and texture by around 65% [4]. This can happen as fast as after just one month of treatment [4]. Even though the red range of light is most effective, both red and infrared light have been found to be in a safe therapeutic range without any complications so combination therapy is fine [2]. 

 

Wrinkles/fine lines


Skin changes that are known as ageing are caused by both natural and external environmental factors. With age, collagen and elastin fibres become thicker, more clumped, and looser [6]. As mentioned, photobiomodulation stimulates fibroblast growth. The results of this growth is that it can lift and tighten slack skin with a reduction of wrinkles [1]. The studies show that many people see an improvement of as much as 25-50% of photoageing characteristics within 12 weeks [5]. Even when it comes to the long term, 81% of people have significant improvement of wrinkles around the eyes [5]. These types of results have also been observed on a cellular level when tissue is examined. Microscopically, there is a noticeable increase in the amount of collagen and elastic fibres identified [7]. 

 

Rosacea


Rosacea causes tiny bumps that make the skin look red and irritated. It occurs mainly on the face, with the main portion concentrated over the cheeks and nose. It can also present as a network of enlarged capillaries that add to the red damaged appearance [8]. 


Studies show amazing results for this condition. These results can occur as fast as 24 hours after the initial treatment. The results of one treatment can also last for 48 hours! After three days the rosacea will return though when used as a one-off treatment. Regardless, red light can decrease the intensity and duration of skin redness [9]. Most people using red light can stop or significantly reduce other rosacea treatments for a period lasting from about 3 months and up to 2 years when this therapy is used [10].


Vitiligo 


Vitiligo is a pigmentation disorder which shows as the formation of depigmentation of the skin and hair. It can occur anywhere on the body but often appears in areas not usually covered by clothes. Melanocytes that produce the colour of skin disappear but the reason for this happening is still under investigation. Since there is little understanding of the disease, the treatments for vitiligo generally are unsatisfactory. As there is an underfunction of cells, stimulation of skin cells appears to be a viable treatment option. 


When using red light therapy to do this, 64% of people experience a good degree of repigmentation after 6-8 months of treatment. Most other people also experience changes in this time but not to the same notable degree. This means that sufferers of this difficult condition are very likely to benefit from this therapy. [4]


Psoriasis


Psoriasis is another frustrating and difficult to treat condition. It results in dry scaly skin which is raised and often itchy. Light therapy used in a combination of red and infrared light is beneficial to improve this condition. Two 20 minute treatments every 2 days have been seen to bring on complete resolution of the condition within 5 weeks [4]! And as usual with red light therapy studies, it is also safe with no side effects. 


Eczema


Another difficult to deal with condition! Notice a pattern forming here? Difficult conditions eased with this simple and effective treatment! This inflammatory skin condition is a really common one, especially in children. It can cause a lot of discomfort!


The itch of eczema can drive people mad by red light therapy can reduce it in 71% of cases [11]. Many people can have sores and weeping rashes. This can be reduced 62% of the time [11]. Microscopic examination of tissues which have been exposed to light therapy show a reduction of the biochemical substances that have been linked with eczema production [11].


Even though this article has concentrated on light therapy as a cosmetic remedy, it is also a very therapeutic healing remedy, whether for skin conditions or other. The best part about this is that, although light therapy is available through dermatologists and cosmetologists, we live in an age where this technology is available for use at home in a safe, effective and affordable way as well!


References


[1] 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/


[2] Aziz-Jalali MH, Tabaie SM, Djavid GE., Comparison of Red and Infrared Low-level Laser Therapy in the Treatment of Acne Vulgaris, Indian Journal of Dermatology, March 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3352636/


[3] Mayo Clinic Staff, Acne, Mayo Clinic, September 2020,https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acne/symptoms-causes/syc-20368047


[4] 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 publication, March, 2013,https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4126803/


[5] 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/


[6] 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/


[7] 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/


[8] Better Health Channel, Rosacea, Victorian State Government, Australia, 2020,https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/rosacea


[9] Alster T.S., Wanitphakdeedecha R., Improvement of post fractional laser erythema with light-emitting diode photomodulation. Journal of Dermatology Surgery, May 2009, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19397672/


[10] Bryld L.E., Jemec G.B., Photodynamic therapy in a series of rosacea patients, Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology Venereology, October, 2007, 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17894705/


[11] Morita H., Kohno J., Hori M., Kitano Y., Clinical application of low reactive level laser therapy (LLLT) for atopic dermatitis, The Keio Journal of Medicine, December, 1993,https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7907380/