There’s a reason that reptiles like to bathe their bodies in the sun and soak up every ounce of UV Light to warm up. Along the same lines, there isn’t one of us that doesn’t enjoy a nice beach day where we literally bask in the glow of the golden ball in the sky (With Sunscreen, Of Course!). In the days of yore, sunlight was used to promote healing; but as the years passed, the harmful effects of UV light came to the forefront. The idea of using light to heal, though, didn’t disappear out of the minds of certain scientists and researchers. Today, scientists are exploring the use of low level laser therapy (LLLT) as a way to battle inflammation, speed up wound healing, aid in the recovery of damaged muscles, tendons and tissues and possibly treat diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s. The research is new, but it’s also cutting-edge and very promising. It’s also all the rage in treating beauty problems like acne scarring, inflammation of the skin and psoriasis, among others. Let’s dive in to learn more about the process of phototherapy and how it might be the exact treatment for you.


In the 1960s, a scientist by the name of Endrè Mester, now regarded as the father of phototherapy, was trying to do experiments on the bellies of rats when he noticed the hair treated with a low-level laser grew back faster than hair that wasn’t treated and also left the patient unscathed from any carcinogenic effects. From this work, developers became interested in the idea of using lasers in surgery as a replacement for surgical tools. After his research with lab animals, he then went on to treat patients who were dealing with skin ulcers that wouldn’t heal properly. Over the course of his life, he went on to publish hundreds of articles on the issue of using LLLT in skin healing. We can thank his pioneering work for the use of LLLT in patients with osteoarthritis, those with open wounds that need help healing, to fight tuberculosis, and to help calm breakouts of pain associated with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis; as well as the use of lasers during surgery and in the treatments used to aid dermatologists in the treatment of many skin conditions. Today, there are several different forms of phototherapy, from the bilirubin lights that take care of a new baby’s jaundice to lasers that are breaking free the pathways of the brain that have stopped working during Alzheimer’s. There are really interesting ways that light is used during treatment in the beauty realm as well.


So today, how does it all work? Using either an LLLT or a light-emitting diode (LED) (or both), photons are sent into the skin and work to affect what’s happening on the cellular level. Researchers know that it gets down in the skin and interrupts the signaling of the cell, speeding up healing and growth, while simultaneously stimulating collagen production. They also know that it is a non-abrasive technique that doesn’t harm the skin or produce any carcinogenic effects. Though the catch is that they still have a lot to learn about how the process really works. There are massive realms of information involved in this process left to explore and learn about. Scientists have really just scratched the surface of the true benefits of using light therapy in the treatment of everything from inflammation to cancer.

When it comes to the use of phototherapy in beauty treatments, it is showing exciting and positive results. Even though your skin is used to blocking out the sun, phototherapy still works to treat wrinkles, skin inflammation, hyperpigmentation, psoriasis and acne scars. The best part? It requires absolutely no down time and the recovery is 100 times quicker than someone who has undergone a peel or an abrasive technique for boosting collagen production. The way it works is that you’ll visit with your dermatologist who will weigh the pros and cons of the phototherapy treatment for your skin condition. They’ll also discuss the best mechanism or light source for your treatment (discussed in more depth below). Then, you’ll likely be given instructions for cleansing or taking care of your face before the procedure. The procedures are usually done in the office and can take anywhere from just a few minutes to half an hour. They are usually quick, pain-free and require no downtime whatsoever. You can literally have one of these treatments and be back to work before anyone even realizes you were gone. For the treatment to fully work, you’ll need a series of treatments (usually four or more) to see results. The type of phototherapy used and the type of light will vary depending on your exact condition. Let’s explain that a little further.


Phototherapy actually works on a scale of how deep you want your treatment to reach within your dermis and epidermis. For instance, battling fine lines is much different than treating extreme acne scarring so the wavelength used to treat your condition may vary. Oh wavelengths! We know you remember learning about those in college. Each light produces a certain wavelength that allows us to see it as a color. Red light being infrared and purple light being ultraviolet on the scale. The type of treatment for your skin condition will determine what your doctor uses to treat you. Here’s a look at the possible light color options you may come across during your treatment.

Red Light. This type of light is actually approved by the FDA for the treatment of inflammation in the skin, chronic pain and wound healing. It may help to reduce stretch marks, some scars and help clear up adult acne and breakouts. It works by increasing blood flow and stimulating the production of collagen.

Blue Light. These phototherapy sessions reach deep into the skin and are most commonly used to treat certain skin cancers that may result from the scaly patches of skin present during actinic keratoses which is seen more often in lighter skinned individuals. In beauty treatments, they are used to get rid of the bacteria that causes acne. Current studies are ongoing about blue light’s ability to treat and kill Staph, a dangerous bacterial infection.

Ultraviolet light A and B. May be used to treat inflammation, eczema and psoriasis by helping to heal dry, itchy and patchy skin.

Yellow Light. Also known as the Age Light; It may be used to help treat rosacea and reduce the appearance of red, blotchy skin, as well as, help treat fine lines and wrinkles.

Green Light. Using a green light during your beauty treatment may help to banish unwanted spots, hyperpigmentation and broken vessels or capillaries.

Full Spectrum Light. Usually in the form of a light box and void of damaging UV rays, this treatment helps fight seasonal depression among other types of disorders.

Near-Infrared Light. Is being studied as a way to treat certain types of cancers, chronic disorders and brain injuries and diseases. The work is new and ongoing but very interesting and hopeful as a treatment of the future.

Your doctor may choose to use any of the above lights for your treatment and may use some in combination. There are many different types of ways the lights are applied. You might wear a phototherapy mask that covers the entire face. You may be next to devices that emit a bright light and require you to wear protective eye gear.  Gels may be applied prior to your treatment and a device then used on top of the gel. No matter which technique is used, you’ll probably want to brace yourself for looking like something right out of outer space. The good part is you can definitely rock a fierce selfie.

There are many different ways that light may be applied to help control your skin ailments and the field of phototherapy is a great avenue to explore. As past, abrasive techniques are on the outs and new innovative techniques that require no pain or downtime are on the rise, you’ll definitely want to explore phototherapy as an option. Not only is it a powerful tool for the beauty community, it’s making exciting strides in the medical community as well. Not bad for a treatment that was almost discovered accidentally!

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Derm Young