Have you ever been curious about the healing modality of light therapy that promises a radiant glow?
For some skin conditions, light therapy or phototherapy has been recommended by health practitioners and estheticians alike to help reduce symptoms and the physical look of more serious skin ailments. Using the power of artificial light like light-emitting diode (LED) at different colors and exposures can possibly support skin with different conditions.
With any healing modality, there are pros and cons to examine before buying that at-home LED mask you’ve seen online. Let’s get into the nitty gritty of light therapy and learn more about who can benefit from this treatment.
How does light therapy work?
This treatment offered by health professionals uses a specific frequency of artificial lightwaves, typically in red, blue, or ultraviolet on the skin to help target areas of concern. In facial treatments, estheticians use an LED panel over the face for a period of time to help offer therapeutic benefits for the skin. What we do love about this modality is that it’s non-invasive and if used properly and consistently, some of our estheticians have seen amazing results.
What kind of light affects the skin?
Depending on the type of light wave hitting your skin (long and short waves) it can affect your skin health. Sunlight is a mixture of long and short ultraviolet waves (UV). We can’t see UV rays with our own eyes, but we can sometimes feel them on our skin.
Ultraviolet A or UVA waves are long wavelengths that have a lesser harmful immediate effect on the skin, but can still cause skin aging, like wrinkles and sun spots, since it penetrates the skin deeper than UVB rays if exposed frequently. UVA rays can penetrate through cloud cover and through windows. In tanning beds, UVA rays are typically used and can cause long term skin conditions if used often.
Ultraviolet B or UVB waves are short wavelengths and can cause immediate sun damage to the skin since it’s much stronger and longer exposure to UVB can cause tans, burns, or blisters to the skin. UVB can be filtered and does not penetrate through windows.
Both types of UV rays can change our DNA and damage our skin cells, generating free radicals that cause sun damage to the skin, losing the precious collagen and elastin our skin needs to be healthy. Avoiding or protecting your skin from all rays helps keep your skin healthy in the long run.
Visible light (light you can see), like artificial light, has not been shown to affect or cause long term damaging effects to the skin. We do find that those who tend to stay indoors and avoid the sun may have other effects if not exposed to sunlight at all - affecting mood and your circadian rhythm if not exposed to beneficial vitamin D from the sun. Long term exposure to visible light on the eyes, however, can potentially cause some damage to your sight over time, so make sure to take time away from looking at your screens!
Reality check - and things to know about light therapy
With handheld light therapy devices easily available online, we want to share our thoughts about the things you should be cautious about if you’re interested in this treatment.
Just like the sun, too much exposure can potentially cause more damage in the long run. Most at-home devices don’t have the correct frequency needed to provide huge benefits for the skin. And using a professional grade device without a professional overseeing the treatment can expose you to burns, blistering, redness, tenderness, pain or itching and speed up aging, or make your skin conditions worse. We find it best to leave this treatment to the pros and trust in their expertise when using light therapy to heal the skin.
Eye protection is essential! If you’re using an at-home device, make sure you wear goggles to keep your eyes in top shape. Your health care professional should already be using eye protection during your treatment, and if not, it’s a tell-tale sign you may want to skip this modality altogether.
Consistency is key. If you’re only going to your holistic esthetician once a month or once every three months, light therapy may not be effective enough to make a huge change in your skin. Regular sessions keep that skin glow strong, and it requires a commitment to see a difference. A light therapy session should be anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes long, so you may have to book frequent sessions to see an improvement in reducing your symptoms.
What about high frequency wands?
You might have experienced your esthetician using a tool called a high-frequency wand, which uses gentle electrical currents of argon gas that release oxygen on the skin. The gas is only released once the tool touches your skin. The skin needs oxygen to thrive, and the electrical current oxygenates the skin and helps to increase circulation and blood flow. It can be useful to target specific skin conditions, specifically acne, in the treatment room.
While again, you can find these tools online, if you aren’t well versed in using them, it can lead to pain, swelling, redness and even burns on the skin. Most tools you can purchase online are a lower frequency than professional ones (just like those light devices), and high-frequency is a tool we definitely recommend leaving to the pros.
Other ways to bring more oxygen to the skin include massage, gentle exfoliation, exercise, and deep breathing. These are less/non-invasive and accessible to all.
Who might benefit from light therapy?
Many of our estheticians have used phototherapy to aid in these skin conditions: eczema, psoriasis, pigmentation, scarring, acne, and slowing down the visible aging process. Phototherapy is said to boost collagen and elastin production and blood flow which help to aid the skin in repairing itself.
We also find getting a healthy dose of sunlight and vitamin D outside can have similar benefits, so if you’re someone who tends to be inside all day, making sure you get at least 30 minutes of sunlight daily can be really beneficial to your skin and your health! The best time of day is in the morning or evening to avoid the harsh UV rays of the middle of the day (10 am to 2 pm) and to get the most benefit from our amazing sun. Early risers may even get additional benefits to help regulate circadian rhythms. The best thing about getting outside? It’s free and accessible to everyone!
Unfortunately, the biggest downside is that light therapy might not work for everyone. There’s not yet enough research to prove that light therapy works for all skin types and colors. Those who are highly sensitive to light or the sun, pregnant people, and cancer survivors should avoid using light therapy and you should always consult your doctor, dermatologist, or holistic esthetician to see if this modality is right for you. Save your money and don’t give into the marketing of at-home light therapy devices. It’s best to leave this treatment to the pros to get the most benefit out of this healing modality.
Light therapy is like that cool beauty hack that's changing the game, but there's more to the story. Before you jump on the light therapy train, have a heart-to-heart with a skin-savvy doc, a health practitioner, or your esti-bestie first. They'll help you figure out if it's a match made in skincare heaven and can guide you through this trendy skin therapy.