The skin care industry is developing new technologies at a rapid pace. We’ve probably all seen the curious ‘light up’ masks popularised by social media influencers. But is this illuminating trend in skin care really the secret elixir to beauty skin? What do we know about the dermatological benefits of red-light therapy?
What is red light therapy?
Red light therapy (RLT), sometimes referred to as low-level laser therapy, is a therapeutic treatment that leverages the power of red low-level wavelengths of light to treat a variety of skin concerns. The therapy exposes your skin to low levels of red (more formally termed as ‘near-infrared) light.
Upon exposure, red light penetrates roughly 5 millimetres below the skin’s surface and produces a biochemical reaction in cells which strengthens the activity of a vital piece of cellular apparatus known as ‘mitochondria’.
Mitochondria, famously known as the ‘powerhouse of the cell’, are responsible for energy creation throughout the body. These powerhouses achieve this by synthesising the energy carrying molecule of all living things, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). By stimulating mitochondria via Red Light Therapy, more ATP can be produced. Equipped with all of this extra energy, cells are able to function more efficiently, repair damage and rejuvenate at a faster pace.
It’s these enhancements to cell rejuvenation and turnover that underpin the skin-beautifying benefits of RLT.
Red Light Therapy is used to treat wrinkles and signs of skin aging, along with conditions such as acne. The treatment is also believed to help with the healing of wounds and burns, signs of UV sun damage and helps diminish the appearance of scars. Here’s what the science has to say…
Science backed benefits of red-light therapy for skin care
A 2014 study, highlighted the collagen boosting effects of RLT. In a controlled trial, researchers showed that bi-weekly RLT boosted skin collagen density after just 4 weeks. This resulted in participants experiencing significantly improved skin complexion and a reduction in skin roughness.
Researchers elsewhere found similar results with RLT, where participants who received the treatment showed a marked increase in the amount and thickness of collagen and elastic fibres after treatment.
The result of these biological changes? Smoother skin, a reduction in the appearance of wrinkles, and lowered signs of skin aging.
Reversal of UV sun damage
RLT may be capable of reversing some of the skin-aging sun damage we’ve subject our skin to. Researchers tested skin quality in a group of patients with significant UV skin damage before and after a 5-week RLT treatment. The results were astonishing – they found a significant improvement in wrinkles, and all participants reported improvements to the softness, smoothness, and firmness of skin.
Improvement to acne
Acne is an inherently inflammatory condition. A 2019 study demonstrated that RLT promoted skin-barrier healing, a vital aspect in tackling chronic acne. Other studies have shown RLT to reduce inflammation elsewhere in the body in response to RLT. This anti-inflammatory effect likely helps skin cells, and therefore, acne too.
Diminishes the appearance of scars
RLT seems to be able to improve the appearance of scars as well. In 2004, researchers found that an 8-week course of RLT had a substantial effect on the appearance and prominence of scars. They also found associated improvements in skin quality, with no negative effects reported by participants.
The research findings look promising for RLT. As with any new technology, there’s lots that science has yet to test. However, based on the current research and increasing ease of access to at-home devices, it may be something to consider adding to your beauty regime.
As is always the case, if you have a serious skin condition, you should check with your doctor or dermatologist before adding something new to your routine.
2014 study, Collagen boosting properties:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3926176/
2007 Collagen/Elastin study: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1011134407000632?via%3Dihub
Thicker collagen fibres: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16989189/
Skin barrier: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31291308
Photodamaged skin benefits: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16989189/