A Little About LED Light Therapy
In my time as an aesthetic nurse, I've learned that you should take EVERY opportunity to build collagen. So when I came across some articles about LED light therapy (also called photomodulation or GentleWaves) I was intrigued. Could red LED light really get your skin to make new collagen? I did some research and here's what I found.
First, a little background . . . Collagen and elastin are essential parts of your skin. They help maintain firmness and elasticity. As you age, your skin's collagen production gradually slows leaving you with fine lines, wrinkles and - sad sigh - sagging skin.
How Do You Get Your Skin to Make More Collagen?
One treatment or serum alone won’t do the trick. Retinol, topical vitamin C and E, micro-needling, peptides, and collagen peptide supplements will all INCREASE your collagen production. And generally, the more things you use to kickstart new collagen, the better your skin will look.
Sunscreen and avoiding sun exposure will help MAINTAIN the collagen you've worked so hard to get.
How did LED light therapy come to be? What can it do for skin?
About 40 years ago, NASA found that red LED light increased plant growth. They began experimenting with LED’s effect on wound healing (while in zero gravity, cell growth is extremely slow). Red light was found to increase healing and cell repair in astronauts. It also increases muscle, bone, skin and subcutaneous tissue metabolism.
Studies have shown NASA LEDs increased the growth of human epithelial cells in a laboratory setting by 155% – 171% AND decreased wound healing time by 50% for crew members aboard a U.S. Naval submarine. More recently, researchers at the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research in Manchester found that red LED light has a regenerative effect when used in the treatment of skin cancer. Like many other medical breakthroughs, the cosmetic benefits of LED light therapy were discovered - and now the lights are widely available.
Different colors of light / wavelengths work on different skin conditions.
Skin responds differently to different colors of light, which are determined by wavelength. Red light has the longest wavelength. Violet has the shortest. The LED colors used in skincare are amber, red, blue, green, and infrared. These colors are often combined to treat several skin conditions simultaneously, but they may can also be used individually.
- Amber is thought to build new collagen and elastin.
- Red light reduces inflammation and promotes circulation.
- Blue light destroys the bacteria that cause acne.
- Green lights help with hyperpigmentation and may be effective on cystic acne (studies are in progress).
- Infrared light, which is invisible, speeds skin recovery.
Many of the home LED devices only have one color. If this is the case, you should pick one condition to treat then choose the LED color that treats that condition.
How does red light therapy work?
Red light in a hand held device penetrates the dermis (middle layer of your skin), going 8 – 10 mm deep. It encourages cells to start production of collagen and elastin, and gives skin a more youthful appearance.
The heat and light in red light boost circulation, causing more blood, oxygen and nutrients to be brought to the treated area. Red light also causes a release of cytokines, a kind of chemical messenger. As more cytokines are released, the collagen producing cells, fibroblasts, start increasing production of collagen. Wounded skin heals and healthy skin firms and plumps.
Which skin conditions get the best result from Red LEDs?
Red LED light has shown great results in the treatment of wrinkles, sun damage, skin discoloration, rosacea, and eczema. It helps with scarring, inflammatory acne, and general skin quality.
How does blue light therapy work?
Blue light therapy is a newer, very effective option in the fight against acne. Certain blue LED wavelengths (400nm - 470nm) target the P. acnes bacteria, the strain of bacteria that causes inflammatory acne. The light starts development of oxygen radicals that kill this bacteria without damaging healthy skin.
Update 11/14/2018: New studies are showing that BLUE light therapy MIGHT cause dark spots in people with dark skin. And it might also cause free radical damage. Learn more from this video by Michelle from LabMuffin. She's an Australian science educator with a PhD in chemistry.
To be clear (HA!), the information on blue light therapy for skin is fuzzy right now. More studies need to be done.
At this time, I wouldn't recommend blue light therapy for people with dark skin. Instead, you might consider using red light alone. It targets the redness and swelling of acne.
Which skin conditions get the best results with blue LEDs?
Blue LEDs work best for mild to moderate acne. They're particularly great for people who cannot tolerate the harsh products commonly used to fight acne. Red light (640 nm) reduces the inflammation from breakouts.
Lights that combine red and blue wavelengths OR just blue lights can be used to treat acne. However, acne treatment is most effective when both blue (415 nm) and red (640 nm) LEDs lights are used.
Are there any side effects?
LED technology is used all over the world and has been proven safe and effective in many clinical studies. Light therapy is not invasive, doesn't abrade skin, and is not painful. There's no inflammation and it doesn't require any special care afterwards. LED lights are not dangerous because they don’t contain UV rays. They're safe for all skin types and ages and there's no recovery time.
Because LED light therapy is relatively new, the long-term results are unknown. Although there are no studies that show LEDs are unsafe to look at, it is recommended that protective goggles be used during treatments. Do not stare directly at the LEDs for long periods. Light therapy also has not been tested in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It should not be used by epileptics.
Do people like it?
LED skin treatment gets a 86% "Worth It" rating (based on 28 ratings over all time) on RealSelf.com (September, 2018). When I first wrote this post, the rating was 95%. I can tell you that I LOVE my home red light. I use it after dermarolling. My skin goes from tingly and red to NOT tingly and NOT red in the space of 10 minutes. Feels so much better!
Do you get the LED light therapy treatments at an office? Can you do them at home?
Light therapy can be done in an office OR at home with a hand held device. To get the best results, LED therapy has to be used long term.
If you decide to have it done in a clinic, the treatment plan should be based on your needs and the type of light device used. Daily treatments for 2 weeks followed by treatments every 2 weeks are recommended. The appointments are short (15 minutes may be enough) but can be expensive ($100 per treatment or more). RealSelf.com lists the average price at $275.
Are there any clinical studies? How do I know the LED lights work?
In one study using the OmniLux LED System, after 9 treatments 52% of subjects showed a 25%–50% measured improvement in photoaging scores (wrinkles and skin discoloration) by week 12. 81% of the patients thought that the wrinkles around their eyes had significantly improved.
In another study, a home LED light system decreased inflammatory acne by 77% and noninflammatory acne by 54%. LEDs require several treatments each week and are not effective on cystic acne, blackheads or milia. Other studies have shown acne lesions progressively decrease over a 4 week period of light therapy and continue to lessen for up to 8 weeks after therapy. There's a final average reduction of 69% 8 weeks after treatment.
Shown to the right is the Omnilux medical grade LED light system. They're the lights used in most of the research on LEDs. Another option is a home LED light system. The light therapy machines used in an office can have 1,800 individual LED bulbs, while a hand held device may have only 40; so home versions are not as strong as professional lights, but both should get results. Home LEDs are applied directly to the skin. When considering home light therapy systems, you should consider wavelength, ease of use, warranty and price.
4 Things to Look for in Home LED Lights:
1. Wavelength in LED lights is measured in nanometers. A combination of 415 nm blue lights and 633 red lights have been proven effective for acne. Quasar’s products use these same proven wavelengths. Their blue light (415-420 nanometer wavelength) interacts with the p. acnes bacteria to generate oxygen singlets that kill the acne bacteria. The red light (630 nanometer wavelength) dramatically reduces inflammation and visible signs of acne. In aging skin, our cells convert the red light energy (again the 630 nm wavelength) into “fuel” that is used to speed up formation of new collagen and elastin – the building blocks of healthy skin.
- Some home devices available for acne include the Quasar MD Blue, the Quasar Baby Blue, the Quasar Clear Rayz for acne, and the Tria Acne Clearing Blue Light. Make sure the device you buy has the recommended wavelengths / nm to treat the skin condition you have.
- A couple of anti-aging home devices are the Quasar MD Plus and the Baby Quasar Plus.
2. Ease of Use is a matter of preference. The Quasar products are hand held. To use, slide them directly on top of facial skin. Around the eyes, use a “C” shape. For the lower half of the face move the device in horizontal lines across the lips from one side of the face to the other. Treating the face takes about 15 minutes. The larger the light surface, the quicker the treatment.
3. Warranty. Most of the Quasar products are made from aluminum and come with a lifetime warranty. The exception is the Clear Rayz which is made of plastic and has a 5 year warranty.
- Tria’s blue LED is a plastic device that comes with a 1 year warranty.
- Both Quasar and Tria have a 90 day money back guarantee on their products.
4. Price. The Quasar MD Plus is about $500. The Baby Quasar Plus is $300.
- Both Quasar and Tria have a 90 day money back guarantee on their products.
- The LightStim for Wrinkles is $249 on Amazon.
- Some manufacturers offer payment plans.
I bought a Baby Quasar Plus on sale for $300 with free shipping. I chose this model because of the lifetime warranty and the money back guarantee which allows time to see results. This device is hand held with 4 different types of LED lights (light red, dark red, amber, and infrared) that treat depleted collagen and weakened elastin. I will update this post periodically with my evaluation of this product. After reading LOTS of great reviews, I am excited to try it!
How do you use home LED light therapy?
“I use the Baby Quasar MD Plus, and it’s part of my night time routine once a week. When I first started using it, I used it every night for two weeks straight and noticed improvement right away. After two weeks, I reduced the frequency to three times a week and after two months, once a week. My skin has better clarity and it feels firmer (due to increased collagen production).”
I recommend LED light therapy. It works really well for me.
Studies have shown that LED light therapy is extremely gentle and safe. And the technology behind it is sound. Results will vary by the individual. It definitely won't give the same results as more invasive procedures like micro-needling or CO2 fractional lasers. However, if you commit to daily use, the results of LED light therapy will accumulate and give a long lasting effect. In combination with other collagen builders like retinoids, collagen peptide supplements, topical vitamins C & E, peptides and micro-needling, your skin will look great!
Amy Takken is a registered nurse with 20+ years of experience helping people improve their health. Her in-depth skincare articles have been featured on Nazarian Plastic Surgery and The Palm Beach Center for Facial Plastic & Laser Surgery. Amy loves research and constantly watches for new products and treatments to help you improve your skin’s health – because healthy skin is beautiful! To reach Amy, visit our contact page.
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The Information provided on our website is not medical advice and should not be viewed as such. By law, only a medical doctor can diagnose or give medical advice. As a registered nurse, my goal is to educate, so I provide information on skin care, skin care products, and skin care treatments. If you have any condition that concerns you, please see a medical doctor. While most skin conditions are benign, some - like melanoma - can be deadly. If there is any doubt, please, please consult your physician. Thank you!
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