Everything You Need to Know About the Benefits of Light Therapy

Light therapy is an innovative, non-invasive treatment used to treat a wide variety of skin conditions and is most effective when used in combination with other treatments to help augment and maintain their results.
Written by India Bottomley
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Everything You Need to Know About the Benefits of Light TherapyGillianVann/Shutterstock

Light therapy is an increasingly popular treatment, both in-office and at-home, that can treat a range of skin complaints. With different light frequencies used for everything from acne to hyperpigmentation, it’s not surprising the painless procedure is proving so popular. It is often used as an add-on therapy after undergoing another cosmetic treatment, but there are many at-home solutions as well. We spoke to board certified dermatologist Julie Russak, MD, of New York's Russak Dermatology about the different options and benefits of each.

What Light Therapy Can Treat

Light therapy is used to treat a wide variety of skin conditions by using different wavelengths depending on the results you are seeking. Dr. Russak often treats patients with psoriasis, vitiligo, eczema, acne, or other common conditions. This innovative and pain-free treatment is proving to be particularly popular with those seeking a preventative approach to skincare and the aging process. This is especially true since light therapy claims to help treat the accelerated aging process caused by exposure to light-producing computers and phone screens. In-office light therapy is also used to help improve the appearance of scarring. The treatment can be used in conjunction with other more invasive procedures such as fillers since it helps calm the skin after injectables. The extra step adds around 20 to 30 minutes onto the treatment time and can improve a patient’s comfort after a more painful procedure.

Light therapy’s broad range of uses is turning it into a go-to treatment for patients seeking non-invasive solutions. The most promising element of LED light therapy is that researchers have not found any adverse side effects caused by the treatment. That means that even patients who are restricted from other therapies due to sensitivity or allergies should be able to handle LED treatment. The versatility offered means sessions can be adjusted to meet a patient’s specific needs to achieve personalized results. Best practice is to start your light therapy treatment in-office, so a board certified dermatologist can assess your skin and provide you with a detailed skincare regimen to work with the light therapy.

How Light Therapy Works

Light therapy devices work by taking advantage of the skin's natural ability to metabolize light. We asked Dr. Russak about how viable light therapy is as a standalone treatment, and she said: “Light therapy is a non-invasive yet effective add-on and not a stand-alone treatment. Light therapy is most effective when used in combination with other treatments to augment their results and maintain them.” Results offered by light therapy differ depending on the color of the light used as well as the equipment’s strength.

Red light

Red light therapy is touted for its ability to penetrate the skin and promote cellular regeneration and collagen production. It is most often used to treat signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles and inflammation. It is also beneficial for those with rosacea and sun damage.

Blue light

Blue light therapy is used to help combat conditions that are linked to the overproduction of sebum (read: oil). Blue light has also been shown to kill acne-causing bacteria beneath the surface of the skin. While it is not recommeded for patients taking Accutane due to light sensitivity, it can be an effective acne treatment.

Yellow light

Yellow light therapy is less widely used mainly due to it being a newer frequency used in dermatological treatments. So far the color has been shown to penetrate the skin, similar to red light, but it does not travel through as many layers. It is now being used to treat issues such as melasma (dark spots).

Green light

Green light therapy penetrates just below the skin’s surface and can be beneficial when used in conjunction with red or blue lights to treat conditions such as acne. It is best to check with a board certified dermatologist before moving forward with treatment because it can activate cells that could negatively affect the progress of your existing acne treatment.

In-Office Light Therapy

In-office light therapy uses medical-grade dermatologically tested equipment that is calibrated to suit each patient’s needs. According to Dr. Russak, in-office treatments are recommended in particular for patients who have never had any form of light therapy in the past. The FDA-approved LED lights used in-office are much stronger than at-home devices, producing more effective results. Even younger patients are seeking light therapy as a preventative approach to aging, a trend dermatologists across the United States are observing.

Light therapy can be an excellent option for aiding in achieving a more youthful glow. “Light therapy kicks collagen and elastin production into overdrive,” explains Dr. Russak. “We use our red light panel for example, on patients desiring an anti-aging regimen, since red light has been proven to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles significantly.” Patients can expect to see results more quickly than when using at-home devices, and often notice visible results as soon as the treatment is finished. The results often continue to improve over the next six to eight weeks after treatment. Your provider will discuss how frequently you should have in-office treatments, which depending on the condition being treated, can range from once a week to once a month. Treatments generally cost anywhere from $50 to $300 depending on the technology used and the areas treated. In-office options are the best course of action for initial treatment but can be combined with at-home devices for optimum results.

At-Home Options

Both mainstream and high-end cosmetic brands are dipping their toes into at-home light therapy products. Dr. Russak explains there is value in using these devices, but more “as a maintenance solution” and follow-up to in-office treatments.

There is a wide range of products on the market available at different price points, but the main thing to look out for is an FDA-approved device. That said, many at-home light therapy options have met the required safety standards. The popular drugstore brand Neutrogena launched a targeted acne light pen and a full face mask that is a great affordable option. Similarly, Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare released a light mask that is said to specifically combat the effects of light emitted by technology, which could be particularly appealing to those who work on computers all day. At the higher end of the market, leading in-office LED treatment provider, LightStim also offers an at-home solution.

The real indicators of the effectiveness of these products can be found in the strength of the light emitted as well as the coverage offered by the device itself. An easy way to gauge this is to look for the frequency and amount of time the product should be used. You should also take into account what you are looking to treat; for example, if you have occasional breakouts or localized acne scarring, a targeted pen could be a good option for you in between dermatologist appointments. On the contrary, if you are looking to use light therapy to combat signs of aging or to reduce the effects of light emitted by computer screens, a red light-emitting device that offers fuller coverage would be advisable. Noticeable results will take a little longer when using at-home devices due to the products being much weaker than those used in-office.

The Takeaway

Talk to a board certified dermatologist about his or her recommended light therapy products best suited for your specific needs and desired results. Overall, light therapy can be used as an effective treatment for a multitude of skin complaints, most of which are linked to the overproduction of sebum or a lack of collagen.

While at-home devices are not as strong as those used in practices, they do play a role in getting maximum benefits from treatments, and dermatologists will happily advise patients the best at-home product to suit their specific needs. While research hasn’t found any adverse side effects, the most commonly reported issue with using LED masks is light sensitivity, however, most devices now include protective glasses to prevent any potential damage or pain in the eye area.

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INDIA BOTTOMLEYis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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