LEDs or light-emitting diodes are semiconductor devices that release light of different wavelengths when an electric current passes through. LED phototherapy is a non-invasive and non-thermal procedure involving LEDs for a range of medical and aesthetic uses. LED therapy has been used to treat many skin conditions, such as acne vulgaris, psoriasis, keratosis, precancerous tissue, and healing of wounds. It is also a popular method for skin rejuvenation and is widely used by practicing dermatologists. LED phototherapy can be used as a stand-alone therapy, or it can be combined with other therapies like peels and micro-needling to combat various skin conditions.
Each wavelength of light penetrates a specific depth of skin tissue, and hence different wavelengths of light can be used to treat other conditions. Wavelengths of light with therapeutic applications include red (633 nm) and blue (415 nm). The blue is especially helpful in treating acne, whereas the red light is used in skin rejuvenation procedures. Other light therapy of interest includes purple light, which acts as a powerful anti-acne and anti-aging agent; whereas yellow light has been observed to stimulate lymphatic circulation, and green light to control hyperpigmentation.
HOW LED LIGHT THERAPY WORKS
LED light therapy has an established history of skin uses. The U.S. Navy SEALs began using it in the 1990s to help heal wounds quickly and to help regenerate damaged muscle tissues.
Since then, the treatment has been researched for different situations in aesthetics. It’s mainly noted for increasing collagen and tissues. All of which can smooth out your skin and reduce the appearance of damage from:
• age spots
There are different wavelengths used with LED light therapy. These include red and blue light therapy, which don’t contain ultraviolet rays and are readily absorbed into the skin.
RED LIGHT THERAPY
Red light therapy (RLT) is a controversial therapeutic technique that uses low-level red wavelengths of light to treat skin issues, such as wrinkles, scars, and persistent wounds, among other conditions. In the early 1990s, Red light therapy was used by scientists to help grow plants in space. The scientists found that the intense light from red light-emitting diodes (LEDs) helped promote the growth and photosynthesis of plant cells.
The red light therapy was then observed for its potential application in medicine to determine if it could increase energy inside human cells. The researchers hoped that Red light therapy could effectively treat muscle atrophy, slow wound healing, and bone density issues caused by weightlessness during space travel.
You may have heard of red light therapy (RLT) by its other names, which include:
• photobiomodulation (PBM)
• low-level light therapy (LLLT)
• soft laser therapy
• cold laser therapy
• photonic stimulation
• low-power laser therapy (LPLT)
Red, or infrared, light is used for treating the epidermis, which is the outer layer of skin. When the light is applied to your skin, the epidermis absorbs it and then stimulates collagen proteins. In theory, more collagen means that your skin will look smoother and fuller, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Red light therapy is also thought to reduce inflammation while improving circulation, giving you a healthier glow.
HOW DOES RED LIGHT THERAPY WORK?
Red light is thought to work by producing a biochemical effect in cells that strengthen the mitochondria. The mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell — it’s where the cell’s energy is created. The energy-carrying molecule found in the cells of all living things is called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). By increasing the function of the mitochondria using RLT, a cell can make more ATP. With more energy, cells can function more efficiently, rejuvenate themselves, and repair damage.
Red light therapy is different from laser or intense pulsed light (IPL) therapies because it doesn’t cause damage to the skin surface. Laser and pulsed light therapies work by causing controlled damage to the outer layer of the skin, which then induces tissue repair.
HOW IS RED LIGHT THERAPY USED?
At the moment, however, there’s some evidence to suggest that red light therapy may have the following benefits:
• promotes wound healing and tissue repair
• improves hair growth in people with androgenic alopecia
• help for the short-term treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome
• stimulates healing of slow-healing wounds, like diabetic foot ulcers
• reduces psoriasis lesions
• aids with short-term relief of pain and morning stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis
• reduces some of the side effects of cancer treatments, including oral mucositis
• improves skin complexion and builds collagen to diminish wrinkles
• helps to mend sun damage
• prevents recurring cold sores from herpes simplex virus infections
• improves the health of joints in people with degenerative osteoarthritis of the knee
• helps diminish scars
• relieves pain and inflammation in people with pain in the Achilles’ tendons
Currently, insurance companies don’t endorse or cover Red light therapy for these conditions due to a lack of sufficient evidence. Although, a few insurance companies now protect the use of Red light therapy to prevent oral mucositis during cancer treatment.
BLUE LIGHT THERAPY
Blue LED light therapy, on the other hand, targets the sebaceous glands, which are also called oil glands. They’re located beneath your hair follicles. Sebaceous glands are necessary for lubricating your skin and hair so that it doesn’t dry out. However, these glands can become overactive, leading to oily skin and acne.
The theory is that blue light therapy can target these oil glands and make them less active. In turn, you may see fewer acne breakouts. Blue light can also kill acne-causing bacteria beneath the skin, which can help treat severe acne pimples, including cysts and nodules.
HOW BLUE LIGHT THERAPY WORKS
Blue light therapy treatment is usually a rapid process and is almost always done as an outpatient procedure. The exception to this may be photodynamic therapy on high-risk areas for cancer treatment. In-office, your doctor or skin care specialist will escort you to a darkened room. If they’re using photosynthesizing drugs, they’ll apply the medication topically, directly to the treated area. If these drugs are being used, the medication may need to be on the skin for a couple of hours up to a couple of days to absorb the medicine. Regardless of how long it’s left on, you’ll be advised to stay out of the sunlight and other bright light, protect your skin, and stay indoors as much as possible while the medication is on.
Treatment sessions can be anywhere from 15 to 90 minutes long, depending on the area being treated, how large it is, and if a topical medication has been applied. If it’s just one small area being treated, like a single spot of skin cancer, the affected area will have blue light used to it for about 17 minutes. People with depression and depression with a seasonal pattern may have their own blue light therapy devices at home, which they can use daily to resolve symptoms.
HOW EFFECTIVE IS BLUE LIGHT THERAPY?
Blue light therapy is an effective treatment for skin conditions when used repeatedly and when the individual being treated makes maintenance appointments. To treat a condition, it takes:
• one to four treatments for actinic keratosis (precancerous sunspots), with annual maintenance
• four to six treatments for acne, with maintenance appointments every six months
Photodynamic therapy is more effective for treating cancerous areas, including skin cancer lesions, thanks to the photosynthesizing drugs that create a stronger reaction. Light therapy is also effective for depression but consult your doctor to make sure you’re getting the right amount of light.
USES AND BENEFITS OF LED LIGHT THERAPY
LED light therapy can help treat a variety of skin problems, including:
• dull skin
• signs of aging, including wrinkles and age spots
• sun damage
• wound healing
• other inflammatory skin conditions
One of the main benefits of LED light therapy is its safety record. It does not contain UV rays, which can be harmful to the skin. Therefore, LED therapy is suitable for regular use. Unlike chemical peels or laser therapy, LED light therapy does not cause burns. The treatment is also safe for all types and colors of skin.
WHAT ARE THE APPLICATIONS OF THE LED THERAPY?
• Mild-To-Moderate Acne Vulgaris
Studies have demonstrated that blue light destroys the cell membrane of Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), the bacteria responsible for acne. Porphyrins, the main metabolic product of these bacteria, are targeted, and an endogenous photodynamic process causes the formation of free radicals from these porphyrins. These radicals ultimately destroy the bacterial cell membrane.
• Phototherapy In Wound Healing
LED therapy has been shown to accelerate wound healing. After various cosmetic and medical procedures, the therapy improves tissue quality by promoting blood circulation and different anti-inflammatory processes. It also helps in the synthesis and realignment of collagen fibers, which in turn promotes wound healing.
Studies have demonstrated the benefits of phototherapy for the treatment of psoriasis, especially recalcitrant psoriasis. The chemical called protoporphyrin, which accumulates in psoriasis, acts as the photosensitizer or light-sensitive molecule. Patients have reported satisfaction with the therapy in various randomized trials.
• Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
PDT involves using red and blue LEDs to activate certain photosensitizers like 5-aminolevulinic acid (ALA). The process results in the formation of cytotoxic free radicals, which destroy the cells and thus help treat cancerous skin lesions.
• Skin Rejuvenation
LED therapy can be used to rejuvenate the skin and improve one’s aesthetic appearance. The effects are produced by photo-biomodulation, which sensitizes the chromophores to initiate various photochemical pathways. The process results in the synthesis of collagen fibers and the proliferation of fibroblasts, resulting in skin tightening and reducing wrinkles.
RISKS OF LED LIGHT THERAPY
While several medical studies note the benefits of LED light therapy for the skin, there isn’t enough research available yet to know how well these treatments work. LED light therapy might be better than other options, like lasers, because they generally have fewer side effects. They can cause mild reactions, though, including:
If your doctor uses photosensitizing drugs, you might have burning and redness. Here are a few additional considerations;
Home Devices: At-home masks, wands, and other devices have been available for a few years, but these are not medical-grade products. They aren’t as strong, so while you have the benefit of not burning your skin, you likely won’t have the same effect you get from a professional treatment with your doctor.
Other Sensitizing Medications: Some medications can increase your sensitivity to light. These include some antibiotics and an acne medication called isotretinoin. It would be best not to use home LED light masks while you’re on these medications.
Eye Safety: You should use eye protection while having LED light therapy. If you take certain medications, light therapy can make your eyes more sensitive to light. It can also cause eye damage to people who have other eye problems.
WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF LED LIGHT THERAPY?
• LED light therapy is a very gentle treatment that doesn’t involve damaging the skin in any way—a unique quality among skin rejuvenation treatments that usually rely on controlled micro-injuries.
• It’s pain-free and has no downtime.
• The treatment is suitable for all skin types and tones.
• You can acquire your LED light therapy device for convenient home use.
• The gentle treatment is no match for severe skin laxity. You’ll want a more powerful treatment (or plastic surgery) to tighten up loose, sagging skin.
• It’s also not the best choice for resurfacing skin because it doesn’t exfoliate away outer layers or significantly encourage cell turnover.
• Even pricey home devices may not be powerful enough to yield noticeable results.
• How Long Does It Take For LED Light Therapy To Work?
It May Take Up to 4 Months to See Results From Red Light Therapy. It helps to think of red light therapy as an exercise for your cells.
• Do Dermatologists Recommend LED Light Therapy?
LED light masks and devices are best used to help stimulate collagen production and kill the bacteria that cause acne breakouts, though they don’t replace your regular skin-care routine. As at-home devices, they may be less effective than in-office procedures at your dermatologist’s office.
• Can Led Lights Help Jaundice?
More important, LED lamps can help treat jaundice faster than conventional phototherapy lighting—a critical difference for a condition in which every hour counts.
• How Many Minutes Should I Use Red Light Therapy?
Consistency Is Your Greatest Ally for Seeing Red Light Therapy Results. Make sure you’re using your device the minimum recommended 3-5 times per week to see results. Sessions should generally be between 10-20 minutes long.
• Is LED Light Bad For Skin?
LED lights do not contain ultraviolet rays and are safe for the skin. Some studies have even shown that certain kinds of LED light therapy can be beneficial for skin concerns like acne and scarring.
• Can Phototherapy Be Done At Home?
“Home‐based phototherapy” can be used in the home setting with appropriate supervision. Home phototherapy is used only in cases of uncomplicated newborn jaundice. Home‐based phototherapy can offer certain advantages such as reduced hospital costs and improved bonding between an infant and mother.
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