[By Clarissa H. Lee]

As foundation gets lighter and powder more sheer, having a smooth and clear complexion has become a top beauty priority for women aged 16 to 60. Nowadays, the most innovative skincare product is no longer confined to a bottle or a jar, but comes with an electric cord and plug. From refining skin texture to enhanced clarity and better skin tone, low level energy light therapy seems to have it all covered without the expense, possible downtime and safety concerns of lasers. Yet how effective are such treatments and are those handheld home care devices touted on daytime TVCs working just as well? To learn more about the merits of phototherapy and its proper use in order to max out the slew of potential skin benefits, I sat down with Dr. Toby Hui, senior medical consultant at The Sloane Clinic to help shed some ‘light’ on the matter.

What are low level energy lights?

Dr. Toby: Unlike surgical and aesthetic lasers, low level energy lights do not heat up the targeted tissue. Instead, they emit low levels of light energies that are can be absorbed by our skin cells to help increased cellular energy production and ultimately help heal surrounding skin tissue. A useful analogy is to compare this process to photosynthesis, whereby sunlight is absorbed and converted to fuel by green plants to promote growth. Depending on the colour, some of the most remarkable skin benefits of low level energy lights include the reduction of skin inflammation to promote healing, killing of acne-causing Propionibacterium for a blemish free complexion, and plumping of fine lines for overall skin rejuvenation.

Read more: How You Can Get Korean Glowing Skin

Are there different low level energy lights for different skin conditions?

Dr. Toby: There is a myriad of colours in the light spectrum and different colour lights with differing wavelengths can be utilized to address different skin conditions in a safe and effective way.LED (LightEmitting Diode) such as LED Red is first discovered in the 70’s when scientists at NASA found that plant growth flourished when exposed to it. Since then, it had found its way to dermatologists for a variety of skin conditions including aging skin, vitiligo and psoriasis, and about anywhere else that promises a skin reboot. By far the mildest form of light therapy, LED is completely pain free, positioning itself as an obvious alternative or precursor to heftier treatments such as lasers. It can be safely used across all skin types including darker complexions, and is suitable for the very young as well as sensitive, compromised or damaged skins.

How can they benefit our skin?

Dr. Toby: Red light is known to reduce inflammation and promotes skin healing. LED Red is a 633nm red light therapy that works by activating new collagen formation while lessening the breakdown of existing collagen stores via a process known as photobiomodulation leading to smoother and brighter skin with reduced pore size. It has an extraordinary calming effect on sensitive skins and can be a useful adjunct for treating skin conditions such as rosacea flare-ups and allergic skin reactions.

Gentle skin rejuvenation @The Sloane Clinic with LED Red photomodulation, a completely pain-free 633nm red light therapy that reduces the signs of photo-damage and skin aging

Read more: Glam It Up with Deep Red Facial

Yellow light is great for skin rejuvenation and at the right dosage will promote healing and reduce the signs of intrinsic skin aging and ultraviolet (UV) damage. An example is  LED Plus, an 830nm light therapy that enhances DNA synthesis and cell regeneration via photobiomodulation. It is an excellent treatment for skin healing and works equally well even after laser and surgery. At The Sloane Clinic, for enhanced post resurfacing laser care, LED Plus is paired with LED Red and incorporated into our Luminous Skin Program and Very Luminous Skin Program. By reducing redness, swelling and speeding up skin cell regeneration, these low level energy light therapy not only increases patients’ comfort level with better tolerated and shorter downtime, but also gives better end results.

Another example of yellow or amber light is Gentlewaves by Bioscience. It was found in a clinical study to reduce redness, shrink pores and improve wrinkles, but only at the specific pulsating parameters set by the company.

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Blue light effectively targets Propionibacterium Acnes to treat mild to moderate inflammatory acne across all age groups. I-Clear is therefore one of the most effective non-invasive tool against acne with its emitting sources of pure blue light at a unique 408nm wavelength that closely matches the peak absorption qualities of the targeted blemish causing P acne bacteria. With high spectral purity, I-Clear ensures patients’ avoidance of UV, IR or inappropriate visible radiation as with lasers and Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) devices. It is incorporated into the Clear Blue Facial for regular maintenance against breakouts, and is also part of our clinical Clean & Clear Program that offers enhanced and prolonged skin clearing effects for acne prone skins.

For a blemish free complexion with better oil control, go BLUE to chase away your acne blues.

 Read more: I did Clean & Clear

Is there a difference between low level energy lights used in clinic (such as I-Clear and LED Red) and home devices that are being sold on the market?

One must be aware that all the clinical based, scientific research on the skin benefits of low level energy lights were conducted using in-clinic photobiomodulation devices with highly specific wavelengths and fluence (energy density). Amongst various in-clinic photobiomodulation devices from different makers, there are already huge discrepancies in the achievable energy output and thus results, let alone home based devices.

For example, I-Clear utilizes a panel of over 1700 focused diodes to ensure proper power density over a uniform beam profile while Revage 670 Laser, an FDA approved low level laser therapy for rejuvenating thinning hairlines in both male and female, contains no less than 30 laser diodes. With its built-in Rotational Phototherapy (RPT) system, critical coherent beams acting as a direct source of light energy goes over the scalp to ensure maximum contact with the areas to be treated for optimal outcome that matches those from studied statistics. It is therefore impossible for home devices, especially handheld ones to have as many diodes to provide the amount of light energy required to milk the skin benefits of low level energy lights.

Different wavelengths of light treat different skin conditions. Blue targets acne, Red targets rejuvenation, yellow targets healing

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What should a consumer interested in purchasing one of these home based light devices be aware of?

Beauty is BIG business and there’s a plethora of home based light devices on popular online websites such as eBay, TaoBao and Qoo10, often attractively priced at a fraction of the price for a single session of an in-clinic light without actual verification of the efficacy of said devices. As mentioned earlier, very specific wavelengths which determine the colour of the lights are required for the different skin improvement we seek, and a single wavelength or one set of treatment parameters will not be effective for all conditions.Therefore, an under-powered home device (with a few strips of light) which delivers one colour of light is unlikely to be able to treat the barrage of skin conditions it claims to treat (since we know the benefits are wavelength-specific). In addition, it’s unlikely for an underpowered home based device to meet the minimum threshold energy necessary to effect any cellular change in the long run.

While adverse side effects have not been reported from the use of low level light therapy, treating yourself with an inferior device will not give you the potential skin benefits, and is perhaps only as useful as the night-light next to a baby cot.

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