What do you think of when you hear the term “LED light therapy”? Most skin care professionals answer with two things: wrinkle reduction and acne treatment. LED can indeed effectively address these issues; however, the benefits have a much more fundamental and significantly wider reach, especially when LED is used with topical products that are formulated to work toward the same goals. Before delving into this topic, we must first address how LED works.
Illumination – Looking Beyond The Surface
To fully appreciate the benefits associated with any treatment, it’s important to understand what’s happening on a cellular level to generate visible change. This understanding not only helps us to identify benefits, it also provides guidance on what types of treatments and ingredients work well together to achieve results. It’s well known that when certain therapeutic wavelengths of light at appropriate intensities are directed at the skin, the body’s cells have the ability to absorb light energy and convert it to fuel. This fuel is called ATP, or adenosine triphosphate. ATP is to the body what gasoline is to a car. Without it, nobody gets anywhere. The problem is that as we age, we become less and less efficient at producing ATP from the metabolism of foods. For this reason, a supplemental cellular energy source (like LED) is very useful.
CELEBRATING THE CELL
Most of us don’t think about what our cells do on a moment-to-moment basis. If we did, we’d have a much greater appreciation for their intricate and miraculous work. Here are just some of the things our cells are responsible for:
– Breaking foods down into nutrients
– Generating proteins, enzymes, growth factors and inflammatory mediators
– Eliminating waste
–Cell proliferation (mitosis)
– Sending out chemical messengers to regulate human processes like muscle contraction, signal transfer in nerves, gene expression, etc.
Given these complicated tasks, it’s easy to understand why an abundant fuel supply is necessary for optimal physiological performance, including that of the skin. As we’ve learned more about the mechanism of action and cascading effects of LED, our thought process on how to use it has shifted. We now know without question that it’s not only a wrinkle reducer and acne treatment, it’s also a powerful resource for maintaining overall skin health in a more holistic manner.
Any discussion about the benefits of LED would be incomplete without including the topic of inflammation. The fact that red and infrared wavelengths (630 – 940 nm) are so effective at reducing inflammation makes it a useful tool for post-procedure healing, and also offers further explanation as to its effectiveness in the area of age management. Additionally, it’s now well known that a great many factors including free radical exposure, glycation and even barrier damage trigger an inflammatory process that’s not always visible on the surface of the skin. Chemicals released during this process are damaging to cell structures, membranes and DNA, ultimately contributing to fine lines and wrinkles, laxity, hyperpigmentation and even degenerative disease.
For this reason, it’s important to do what we can to keep chronic, low-grade inflammation at bay. Manufacturers’ instructions vary, but generally speaking, using LED two to three times per week for roughly 20 minutes per treatment is an effective and comprehensive way to do so. When used along with topical ingredients known to reduce inflammation, the benefits are even greater.
POST-PROCEDURE PAIN & HEALING
Because it’s so effective at reducing inflammation, this is another example of expanded uses for LED in the field of esthetics. LED is widely used postprocedure for microneedling, laser, injections and even surgery. Additional post-procedure benefits include tissue regeneration, pain relief, diminished bruising and reduced redness and swelling. LED has become significantly more popular as practitioners have come to recognize it as an effective and non-invasive way to increase patient comfort and reduce downtime from work and other activities after treatments that require healing.
LED & TOPICALS – AN INTEGRATIVE APPROACH
Most of the benefits associated with LED can be attributed to increased cellular energy, blood vessel dilation as a result of additional nitric oxide bioavailability, and modulation of numerous growth factors and inflammatory mediators. Topicals used with LED must help support and intensify these benefits. The direct use of any ingredient that is known to contribute to irritation, dryness or inflammation should be avoided during LED treatment.
Formulations of some ingredients vary, such as with vitamin C and A. In these cases, it’s recommended to choose less aggressive forms of these ingredients for maximum benefit and reduced possibility of irritation. As with any treatment, skin type and condition are considerations. When in doubt, conduct a skin test. The following list features key LED benefits along with examples of the topical ingredients that support them:
Energy Production Boosters: Thiotaine/ Ergothioneine, minerals, yeast extracts
Collagen and Elastin Synthesis: Collagen building peptides, vitamin C, niacinamide, vitamin A (retinols), bakuchiol
Increased Cell Turnover: Vitamin A (retinols), natural barrier enzymes and saccharides
Increased Hydration: Hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, amino acids, panthenol, algae peptides, wheat germ glycerides, soy phospholipids, trehalose, silver ear mushroom, sodium PCA, glycerin and others mimicking natural barrier humectants
Lipid Production: Squalane/squalene, sphingolipids, ceramides, phospholipids, stearic acid, farnesol, cholesterol, oleic acid, linoleic/linolenic acids, plant oils (Sterols, GLA): sunflower, safflower, evening primrose, borage, jojoba, sea buckthorn, maracuja oil, liposomal rosemary oil
Increased Cellular Function/Repair: Roxisomes, vitamin C, Thermus thermophilus, dunaliella salina (Extremophile Microalgae), cotton meristem cells, cassia alata leaf extract
Reduced Inflammation: Antioxidants to counteract free radical damage and glycation (i.e.- thiotaine, glutathione, resveratrol, green tea, beta carotene, astaxanthin, lutein, lycopene, Mexican bamboo and Japanese knotweed, Persian silk tree)
Increased Circulation, Respiration and Oxygenation: Superfruits (gogi, noni, acai, pomegranate, coffeeberry), corn extract, saccharomyces lysate, valine, threonine, glutamic acid, glycine, evodia fruit Bacteria Reduction: Niacinamide, vitamin C, licochalcone (Chinese licorice, which controls lipase, irritating enzymes produced by P. acnes and other microbes implicated in acne and rosacea), Lilac meristem extract, beta glucans, prebiotics such as coneflower (echinacea)
Cellular Detoxifiers: Carnosine, garden sprout extract, moringa peptides, charcoal
According to Irena James, Vice President of Product Development at YG Labs, “LED devices, both for professional and at-home use, can be helpful allies to our skin’s ability to utilize the most impactful ingredient technologies used in skin care formulations today. By targeting skin’s power generator, the mitochondria, and increasing energy levels, LED significantly boosts our cell’s ability to ‘bio-convert’ the nutrients from skin care products into much needed fuel our cells use for maturation, growth and healthy functioning.”
She goes on to explain, “LED also generates a mild thermal effect in the tissues, contributing to more optimal ingredient absorption, and a more efficient intracellular and trans-cellular ingredient diffusion as warmth causes lipid bilayers to ‘loosen’ and lipidic components of our cellular membranes to become more receptive and bind more easily to similar structures in our products. Utilizing LED together with skin care products or using them to treat the skin before the products are applied increases skin’s permeability and receptiveness to some of the most valuable ingredients for aging, acne, sensitivities and other major skin concerns.”
It has become clear that the future of skin care, like wellness, is necessarily shifting toward a more holistic and integrative approach. Understanding how various treatments and lifestyle changes work to support each other while encouraging our own regenerative processes is not only the key to better results, it is central to the concept of aging better.