LED lights have been around since at least the 1960s, but have only in recent years been used as a skin treatment. Various wavelengths of the visible light spectrum relate to different colors of LED light and they penetrate the skin to differing depths. LED lights have been shown to have many biological effects, depending on how deeply they penetrate the skin.
The lights that are thought to be most useful for skin treatments are red and blue lights.
First, let’s take a look at what LED light therapy does.
What is LED Light Therapy?
LED means light-emitting diode. NASA originally developed LED lights for plant growth experiments in space.
LED light therapy skin treatment uses varying wavelengths of light to activate the skin’s natural healing processes to repair the skin. Several treatments are necessary to see results. Different wavelengths of light in LED lights, including blue and red, penetrate the skin at various depths. This penetration may trigger biological processes that help the skin rejuvenate and heal.
“It works by emitting infrared lights (which causes heat) in different wavelengths/spectrums, which have different skincare benefits,” explains Dendy Engelman, MD, and dermatologist. “Amber light stimulates collagen and elastin. Red light is most commonly used to promote circulation. White lights penetrate the deepest and work to tighten and reduce inflammation. Blue lights kill bacteria.”
Benefits of LED Light Therapy
LED light therapy has soared in popularity in the past decade or so. Celebrities like Kate Moss and the Kardashians have touted its beneficial effects for a variety of skin conditions. Because of this widespread publicity, people around the world seem to be gravitating to LED light therapy to fight everything from acne to wrinkling skin and inflammation. But does it work?
According to Dermatologist Engelman, the different types of light that penetrate the skin in LED light therapy are moderately successful in treating some skin conditions. She explains that during LED therapy, devices send light waves deep into the skin to trigger natural intracellular reactions. Depending on the light, each person’s skin will respond differently.
“If the light is red, your skin responds by building, strengthening, and maximizing cellular structure. Red light is also believed to target oil glands to reduce cytokines, which cause inflammation and play a role in chronic acne. In the case of blue light, specific wavelengths stimulate the production of oxygen radicals that kill acne bacteria, all without damaging the skin,” Engelman says.
The medical benefits of LED light therapy include the following:
- Smooths fine lines and wrinkles
- Reduces inflammation
- Improves acne scars
- Prevents breakouts by killing the acne-causing bacteria
- Promotes circulation
- Stimulates collagen production
- Brightens skin
Benefits of Red and Blue Lights
Red and blue lights are usually cited for their numerous skin treatment benefits. Medical experts tell us that red LED light works on cells in the skin known as fibroblasts, which play an integral role in the production of collagen. Collagen is a protein that makes up a large part of connective tissue and enables the skin to heal after it has been damaged.
The belief is that red light helps to reverse some of the symptoms connected to photoaging in the skin, according to Dr. Elizabeth Buzney, assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School. What’s more, there are studies that indicate that red light could play a role in restoring hair for those suffering from androgenetic alopecia, or male-and female-pattern hair loss, Doctor Buzney says.
Red light is also thought to increase hydration levels, decrease redness and inflammation, shrink appearance of pores, regulate oil production, and, most notably, accelerate skin repair, and it is a medically approved treatment for rosacea.
As for blue light, it contains powerful antibacterial properties that can be used to treat acne, and without irritation. It does this by reducing activity in the sebaceous glands, so they then generate less of the oil that can plug the hair follicles, which brings about acne.
Medical practitioners believe blue light may also kill acne-causing bacteria known as Cutibacterium acnes. In many cases, blue and red lights are used in combination to combat acne. The blue light targets the Cutibacterium acnes and the red light treats inflammation and redness. Blue light specifically is touted by some dermatologists for offering a UV-free alternative for the treatment of eczema and psoriasis.
However, it should be noted that more research is necessary to verify the true effectiveness of blue and red lights when it comes to acne treatment and to prove they provide long-lasting results.
Nonetheless, there are plenty of dermatologists who are quite impressed with what initial tests and studies seem to bear out – that these LED lights have at least modest success in treating various skin maladies.
“There is encouraging evidence that blue LED light can alter the microbiome of the skin to improve acne, and that red LED light can stimulate collagen synthesis, and that yellow light can reduce redness and healing time,” says Daniel Belkin, a board-certified dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York.
Doctor Belkin goes on to say that visible light can have powerful effects on the skin, especially in high-energy forms, such as in lasers and intense pulsed light (IPL) devices.
Blue light may have the most promise for treating some common skin conditions, according to Bruce Brod, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania.
“The best evidence is for blue light, with clinical studies relatively consistent in showing a reduction in acne bumps when used regularly,” Professor Brod says. “Though we know red LED light can stimulate collagen synthesis, clinical results are not as easy to prove. Red light can mildly help with fine lines or areas of discoloration, but changes tend to be subtle.”
Benefits of Near Infra-Red Light
Near infra-red light is the most deeply absorbed wavelength. Near infra-red wavelengths penetrate below the skin’s surface, stimulating deep healing and cellular regeneration without harming the outer epidermis. It increases cell permeability and absorption, smooths lines and wrinkles, improves elasticity, and reduces pain and inflammation. It is also used to heal wounds and to treat cystic acne.
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