The effects of light on the skin have long been known; it is clear to see there is a biological interaction of skin and sunlight by the fact that we tan when we have sun exposure. Unfortunately it has also become apparent over recent decades that sunlight can have undesired side effects on the skin through the process known as photoageing. In fact, most of the changes that occur to skin as we age can be attributed to exposure to sunlight. It causes a breakdown in the collagens and ground substance of the dermis, increases free radical activity and causes fine lines, thickened dull skin and pigmentation changes.
Knowing this, it seems counter intuitive at first that we can use light in specific ways to actually improve skin health. The reason we can do this is because natural sunlight is made up of different wavelengths of light, or different colours, all grouped together. When we separate out the different colours we find that whilst some parts of the light are harmful, others can have a beneficial effect. Most of the damage that occurs is a result of exposure to the invisible parts of the light in the ultraviolet spectrum, whereas the beneficial effects come from specific parts of the visible spectrum.
We have discovered that three of the most beneficial light colours are blue light, red light and invisible light in the near infrared spectrum. In our clinical skin care practice we use a device that can safely emit this light in those three specific colours to help improve the quality of skin, as well as enhance the results of skin treatments being performed as part of a skincare program.
So how does it work?
If you studied chemistry at school you may remember that light can cause changes in certain atoms by stimulating the electron clouds and energising an electron to a higher energy state; this results in a change in behaviour of the atom. In simple terms, the light of specific wavelengths can energise certain cellular processes and increase the rate of some chemical reactions within the skin, and reduce others.
Let’s look at the individual lights and what they can do.
Blue light has been found to be useful in the management of acne. If you suffer from acne you may have noticed that your skin improves after a holiday in the sun. This is because the blue light that you are exposed to is part of the sunlight that also tans (and ages) your skin. If we take the blue light alone you won’t suffer from any of the harmful effects but instead the light has a direct action on the bacteria (propionibacterium acnes) causing cell destruction and death. Blue light also has a slight anti-inflammatory effect, which can reduce the swellings and the redness associated with pimples and pustules.
Next in the sequence of light is the red light, specifically light at a wavelength of 633 nanometers. This light frequency activates cellular processes that result in an increase in growth factors, cytokines and fibroblast proliferation. The net result is improved wound healing and tissue repair. This red light is also bactericidal in the same way that blue light is, but at a deeper layer within the skin, meaning combining the lights can help acne further by destroying bacteria at different levels in the skin. Red light has also been found to suppress the inflammation response meaning less redness and swelling.
Near infra red light
Near infra red light is the final colour that we use in our practice and it has the same anti-inflammatory effect that red light does, but also has the effect of slowing down the processes that result in pigmentation changes in the skin.
So what does this mean for you?
Using all the lights in combination has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-pigment and regeneration results, so you can use LED phototherapy sessions to treat acne, inflammatory skin conditions, and pigmentation conditions, as well as a skin rejuvenation programme. LED phototherapy can also be used to help prepare the skin prior to a sunny holiday and reduce the damage that may occur, and can be used to help reduce the damage after a holiday in the sun. Personally I think that phototherapy is one of the most underrated yet easily performed treatments in both aesthetic medicine and routine skincare. If you are looking for global skin improvement that is safe, effective and proven then book yourself in for a LED phototherapy session!