Red light phototherapy is a treatment that involves exposing the skin to relatively high intensity light in the red spectrum. The purpose of the treatment is to reduce skin inflammation and accelerate healing. Depending on the treatment, the precise wavelength of the light used can range from 600 nm (orange/red) to 850 nm (infra-red).
How Does Red Light Phototherapy Work?
Red Light Appears to Stimulate the Production of ATP (Energy)
Some wavelengths of light in the red spectrum appear to stimulate certain cellular functions. The majority of the researchon the subject suggests that red light activates processes that lead to a decrease in inflammation, improved healing of skin tissue and collagen production. Additionally, red light may inhibit the pathway that leads to apoptosis (cell death). Individual cellular components, mainly enzymes, have been shown to absorb light in the red spectrum. The most well studied of these red light absorbing enzymes is cytochrome c oxidase, an essential component of mitochondria, which are the power sources of a cell. The absorption of photons (light) by cytochrome c oxidase apparently increases the metabolic activity in a cell, which may explain the accelerated rate of healing observed after red light phototherapy.
Red Light Phototherapy, Acne and Other Skin Conditions
Resolution of Erythema with Red Light Phototherapy (Lee, et al)
Unlike blue light, red light does not appear to highly toxic to the bacteria primarily responsible for acne, P. acnes. Instead, red light phototherapy is often used in conjunction with blue light phototherapy to both kill the bacteria and encourage healing of existing acne lesions. Despite this, several studies have been published that suggest red light phototherapy is, at least, somewhat effective in the treatment of inflammatory acne. Most of these studies suggest that the positive effect is derived from decreasing the size and appearance of inflammatory acne lesions, as opposed to completely eliminating them. Because red light phototherapy is quite safe and has few contraindications, it is most effective as a complementary therapy that is part of a more comprehensive acne plan.
How and Where is Red Light Phototherapy Administered?
LightStim’s LED Based Phototherapy System
Red light phototherapy is available as both a clinical treatment and as a self administered treatment. In the clinical setting, red light phototherapy is often administered using low intensity lasers, intensed pulsed light systems (IPL), LEDs and specialized bulbs. There are a number of products available for use at home, most of which use an array of LEDs that emit light at specific wavelengths. There can be a great deal of variability in the intensity and wavelength in the light produced by different light therapyproducts.
Clinical Red Light Phototherapy Systems
Acnelamp is a popular manufacturer of LED light therapy products for personal and clinical use.
Dermaglow manufactures a range of phototherapy products, including clinical LED based systems.
Lightwave manufactures large LED based phototherapy equipment.
Phaser EP is also used for hair removal.
Limelight uses light in the red spectrum.
AccelaWave IPL uses a wide range of treatment spectrums.
Starlux is a multifunctional laser and IPL platform.
At Home Red Light Phototherapy Systems
Quasar makes simple red light phototherapy system that use LEDs.
LightStim makes LED based light therapy systems for at home use.
Red Light Phototherapy Cost
Red light therapy using LED based light systems usually costs between 30 and 200 dollars per session when administered in a spa or clinic. Sessions using intense pulsed light (IPL) normally cost between 100 and 400 dollars per session. Use at home systems range between 20 and 700 dollars, with large variations in the size, intensity and quality of the various systems. It is important to recognize that light therapy requires frequent (even daily) treatment for significant improvement in acne symptoms. Treatment can also be time consuming, requiring up to 45 minutes per session.
Before and After Red Light Phototherapy Pictures
A collection of phototherapy before and after pics can be found here.
References and Sources
Combination blue (415 nm) and red (633 nm) LED phototherapy in the treatment of mild to severe acne vulgaris.
Goldberg, et al. 2006. For research article summary @ PubMed, click here. Single Low-dose Red Light is as Efficacious as Methylaminolevulinate–Photodynamic Therapy for Treatment of Acne: Clinical Assessment and Fluorescence Monitoring.
Hörfelt, et al. 2009. For research article summary @ PubMed, click here. Influence of 5-Aminolevulinic Acid and Red Light on Collagen Metabolism of Human Dermal Fibroblasts.
Karrer, et al. 2003. For research article summary @ PubMed, click here. cDNA Microarray Analysis of Gene Expression Profiles in Human Fibroblast Cells Irradiated with Red Light.
Zhang, et al. 2003. For research article summary @ PubMed, click here.