As any evolutionary biologist will tell you, humans love the light. From the spotlight to the window seat to that sunny spot on the beach, we seek light wherever we go. Luckily, unlike the UV light that can damage your skin, a new form of light has come into play that can actually benefit your skin: the LED.
What is LED Phototherapy?
LED phototherapy has been used in dermatologists’ offices for nearly a decade. In the procedure, targeted rays of light, developed at specific nanometer wavelengths, are aimed at skin lesions. Different levels of penetration and absorption through the skin are achieved with varied wavelengths of light. Through extensive research and development, it has been established that rays of 633 nm (red) are best for eradicating acne, while shorter, higher energy rays of 414 nm (blue) reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. While lasers and LED phototherapy are both very popular non-ablative skin rejuvenation methods, only LED phototherapy has been further developed for use in the home. This is because LED phototherapy repairs sun damage and increases collagen and elastin production with less potential side effects than lasers. In fact, while lasers are contraindicated in many patients with darker skin tones due to potential irregularities in pigmentation and scarring, LED phototherapy is generally considered safe in such patients.
Does Phototherapy Work Against Acne?
In a word, yes, but with one caveat: LED phototherapy does not work against cystic acne. In case your acne has not been diagnosed by a dermatologist, cystic acne (also known as nodulocystic acne) is a the most severe form of acne, characterized by painful nodular inflammations a few centimeters in size. (A photo is available here). LED phototherapy is not recommended in these patients because the treatment temporarily causes inflammation in the skin as immunological cells infiltrate the area, which can be very painful in patients with cystic acne. It is further possible that LED phototherapy could exacerbate cystic acne by causing the lesions to erupt, potentially spreading into surrounding follicles or resulting in scarring.
However, for other types of acne (i.e., papules, pustules, cysts), LED phototherapy has been shown to work very well. According to a study by Tanda, Inc., a 63% mean reduction in inflammatory lesions and a 45% mean reduction in comedones (acne lesions) was exhibited by 107 patients over the course of 12 weeks, which was deemed “significantly more effective” than treatment with a 5% benzoyl peroxide cream over the same period. The reason for this efficacy is that LED light has been shown to eliminate P.acnes, the bacterial species responsible for the development of acne.
What about Wrinkles and Aging?
It sounds too good to be true, but substantial evidence shows that 414 nm (blue) light can actually reduce fine lines and wrinkles. A 2005 study published in The Journal of Cosmetic and Laser Therapy demonstrated that blue LED light at fluences similar to those seen in dermatologists’ offices reduced periorbital (around-the-eye) wrinkles by 81% after nine treatments over the course of 12 weeks. Another study from the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology found that use of LEDs significantly increased collagen and elastin production, resulting in firmer, younger-looking skin over time.
What I find really exciting about LED phototherapy is that it may increase the efficacy of other anti-aging ingredients, such as retinoids, peptides, antioxidants, or linoleic acids, when they are used together. Though this effect has not been proven, it has been found that light absorption increases cellular metabolism, which may in turn increase the efficacy of anti-aging ingredients.
How do at-home devices compare to dermatologists’?
Unfortunately, as you would expect, at-home devices are not as powerful as those in dermatologists’ offices. According to Dr. Neil Schultz, author of DermTV.com, dermatologists’ LED machines contain approximately 800 LEDs. On the other hand, devices designed for at-home use contain only a few dozen LEDs, which are also less powerful than those in the dermatologists’ machines. As you would imagine, most of the reports of efficacy are established using dermatologist-grade LED devices.
Still, I have greater optimism when it comes to at-home devices than some other beauty experts out there. First of all, at-home devices can be used every other day, whereas dermatologist-grade LED treatments are generally administered no more than twice a week. Second, professional LED treatments usually cost $100 or more per treatment, while the at-home devices usually cost no more than $400 (the most popular, the Tanda Light Therapy System, retails for $395.00 and is available on Amazon.com for $349.95). Although some customers have reported online that the system “wears out” after a few months, it is still reasonably more cost-effective than the in-office treatment. Of course, nothing beats the expertise and targeted recommendations of seeing a dermatologist; still, if you’re in a pinch, I believe the Tanda Light Therapy System will definitely generate results over time (give it about a month, using it religiously every other day, or as your dermatologist recommends).
Maybe it’s just me, but I honestly think that these at-home LED devices are the wave of the future. I mean, I could totally see Judy Jetson with one of these machines, flying through the air as she gets ready for the Galactic Ball. But with all due seriousness, there seems to be a high possibility of long-term benefit with at-home LED devices in treating both non-cystic acne and wrinkles, with a relatively low cost compared to the in-office procedure. And while the in-office procedure may result in a more significant result, I see nothing wrong with exploring the technology with the Tanda Light Therapy System or another at-home system. Bottom line: I love it, and I think this brings us all one step closer to aging like Demi.
Author’s Note: As with any dermatological treatment or procedure, talk to your dermatologist before starting use of the Tanda Light Therapy System or another LED system.