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Red light therapy is a skin care treatment being offered as an alternative to physician-administered laser therapy. Most studies involving red light therapy revolve around the treatment of acne, rosacea, and of its ability to get rid of wrinkles. While research is not yet conclusive on the benefits of red light therapy, studies suggest that concentrated red light is absorbed by the mitochondria in the cells and stimulates the generation of more collagen: the building block of skin structure.
Light therapy was first discovered by NASA astronauts as a way to grow plants in space. It has since been used for the treatment of certain psychiatric condititions and sleep disorders. Red light therapy in dermatology was investigated as doctors noticed an increasing amount of patients who were immune to the normal antibiotic treatments used to get rid of acne. The studies recently expanded to observe whether red light therapy can also be used to get rid of wrinkles.
But before learning about how this treatment can help improve skin health, it is important to understand that there are two kinds of red light therapy. The first type of light therapy is called light box therapy. It is a more generalized treatment that does not target specific areas of the body. The second one is Targeted phototherapy and it is designed to send rays to specific areas of the skin through the use of an excimer laser.
How Red Light Therapy is Administered:
Red light therapy treatments can be administered as both: professional skin care procedures in doctors’ offices and as at-home treatments. Some salons and spas have tanning beds that have been equipped with red lights for light therapy. Most at-home and salon treatments offer generalized, light box therapy. The treatment of specific areas is usually reserved for doctors’ and skin care specialists’ offices.
Red light therapy is a derivative of color light therapy, which involves shining red, blue, or violet light directly on a patient. Some treatments also involve the use of lights flashing at high frequency.
Red light therapy can sometimes be used in photodynamic therapy to get rid of acne. In this procedure, two different chemicals are applied topically to the face, and the red light is administered to improve the effect of the chemicals. For best results, photodynamic light therapy does require three to four treatments, so improvements will not be noticeable overnight. The procedure is considered cosmetic, and is not normally covered under health insurance.
Benefits of Red Light Therapy:
1. Increased Immunity and Reduced Side Effects of Cancer Treatments:
Research done by NASA in conjunction with the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital has shown that red light technology can successfully reduce symptoms experienced by cancer patients, including painful side effects caused from radiation or chemotherapy. Using far red/near-infrared light-emitting diode devices (called High Emissivity Aluminiferous Luminescent Substrate, or HEALS in this case) has been shown to release long wavelength energy in the form of photons that stimulate cells to aid in healing.
NASA tested whether HEALS could treat oral mucositis in cancer patients, a very common and painful side effect of chemotherapy and radiation, and concluded that 96 percent of patients experienced improvement in pain as a result of the HEALS treatment. Patients received the light therapy by a nurse holding the WARP 75 device, which is roughly the size of an adult human hand. The WARP device was held close to the patient’s face and neck for only 88 seconds daily for 14 days. Researchers stated, “The HEALS device was well tolerated with no adverse affects to bone marrow and stem cell transplant patients….The HEALS device can provide a cost-effective therapy since the device itself is less expensive than one day at the hospital.” (6)
Similar HEALS technology is also now being utilized for the treatment of pediatric brain tumors, slow-healing wounds or infections, diabetic skin ulcers, and serious burns.
2. Wound Healing and Tissue Repair:
Light in the spectral range of 600 to 1,300?nanometers has been found to be useful for promoting wound healing, tissue repair and skin rejuvenation, although it does this through a different mechanism of action compared to many other laser resurfacing treatments. Most laser therapies used in dermatology offices use intense pulsed light to promote skin rejuvenation by inducing secondary tissue repair. In other words, they cause intentional damage to either the epidermis or the dermis of the skin in order to trigger inflammation, followed by healing.
Red light therapy actually bypasses this initial destructive step and instead directly stimulates regenerative processes in the skin through increased cellular proliferation, migration and adhesion. Red light therapy has been shown to positively affect skin cells through regeneration of fibroblasts, keratinocytes and modulation of immune cells (including mast cells, neutrophils and macrophages) all found within skin tissue.
3. Anti-Aging Effects for Skin and Hair Loss:
One use of red light laser therapy that’s growing in popularity is reversing signs of aging on the skin (i.e, wrinkles and fine lines). Results from a 2014 study published in Photomedicine and Laser Surgery demonstrated both efficacy and safety for red light therapy in promoting anti-aging skin rejuvenation and intradermal collagen increase when compared against controls. Researchers concluded that red infrared therapy “provides a safe, non-ablative, non-thermal, atraumatic photobiomodulation treatment of skin tissue with high patient satisfaction rates.”
Subjects treated with red light therapy experienced significantly improved skin complexion, improved skin tone, improved texture/feeling, reduced skin roughness, reduced signs of wrinkles and fine lines, and increased collagen density as measured through ultrasonographic tests. Patients with rosacea and redness have also found relief using LLLT, even those who are unable to tolerate higher-heat laser therapies.
Yet another anti-aging effect of red light therapy is reversing hair loss and stimulating follicle growth, which works in many of the same ways as red light therapy for wound healing. Results have been mixed according to studies, but at least a moderate portion of both male and female patients have had positive results for reversing baldness/hair loss when using LLLT.
4. Improved Joint and Musculoskeletal Health:
Red light therapy is now being used to treat arthritis symptoms thanks to its capability of stimulating collagen production and rebuilding cartilage. A 2009 Cochrane review of red light therapy for rheumatoid arthritis concluded that “LLLT could be considered for short-term treatment for relief of pain and morning stiffness for RA patients, particularly since it has few side-effects.”
Even in those who don’t suffer from arthritis but have other signs of tissue damage or degeneration due to aging, LLLT can still be beneficial. A 2009 study published in The Lancet showed, “LLLT reduces pain immediately after treatment in acute neck pain and up to 22 weeks after completion of treatment in patients with chronic neck pain.” (10) Other studies have found that even when patients with musculoskeletal disorders don’t experience less pain from red light therapy treatments, they have a high chance of experiencing “significantly improved functional outcomes,” such as better range of motion.
Cellular rejuvenation and increased blood flow due to red light therapy are two key aspects of improving joint and tissue health. Decreasing oxidative damage, which degenerates joints, and modulating inflammation are other ways that LLLT benefits soft/connective tissue.
5. Reduced Depression and Fatigue:
Another way to explain the benefits of red light is through the lens of Eastern medicine. Ask a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner how light helps improve health, immunity and recovery, and he or she will likely compare it to acupuncture’s mechanism of action:
*Light is a form of energy, and our bodies are just big energy systems. Light has the power to stimulate specific meridian points and chakra zones in the human body.
*Red is said to stimulate the first chakra because it correlates most strongly with our survival instinct (hence why it gives us energy and makes us act quickly, in order to motivate us to pursue things like money, food, sex, power, etc.).
*While acupuncture uses tiny needles to achieve bodily harmony through stimulating certain points in the body’s energy system, light therapy uses focused, visible, red wavelengths in much the same way.
*Red light has been shown to be naturally energizing and correlated with improved moods by increasing self-confidence, positivity, passion, joyfulness, laughter, social awareness, conversation skills and sensory stimulation. While results vary from patient to patient, there’s reason to believe that LLLT has mental and emotional perks in addition to physical benefits.
Difference Red Light Therapy And Blue Light Therapy :
*Blue and red light therapies, two forms of phototherapy, have some similar benefits and uses, although they work in different ways. The mechanism of action of both is still not entirely well-understood, but it’s believed that LLLT devices produce light with wavelengths similar to those of blue light lasers only with broader output peaks (they’re less monochromatic and don’t produce heat or friction).
*Blue light is more commonly used at home from light-emitting devices, especially for the treatment of acne. It’s been found that blue light reaches the sebaceous (oil) glands in the skin and can help kill porphyrins, which are compounds inside acne bacteria.
*Red light is believed to penetrate the skin deeper and may also help acne and other skin disorders by reducing inflammation and improving healing.
*Blue light and red light can be emitted from tabletop light therapy devices (which are used at home and usually weaker, requiring about a total of 30 minutes to one hour of treatment time twice per day) or from stronger devices used in doctors’ offices that work quicker (sometimes within just several minutes or less).
*The Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital explains that there’s still widespread uncertainty and confusion surrounding the mechanisms of action of these light therapies, especially LLLT, at the molecular, cellular and tissue levels. There are also a large number of parameters for doctors to consider before treating individual patients (wavelength, fluence, irradiance, treatment timing and repetition, pulsing, and polarization) that can add to the confusion and patient variability in terms of results.
The FDA has indicated that there are not many side effects associated with the use of red light therapy, although blue light therapy may be linked to a higher disposition for macular degeneration. Physicians recommend that people who have photosensitivity use caution when undergoing red light therapy.
Before beginning red light treatment, make sure to talk with your doctor and disclose all prescription and over-the-counter medication you are taking. Many anti-aging creams and medications are known to cause photosensitivity, which can significantly damage your skin. Even if you are using something as simple as herbs, definitely mention them to your doctor, as a precaution. For example, supplements containing St. John’s Wort, can cause the body to be sensitive to light, which would be a problem during red light therapy.
Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only.