Photorejuvenation uses the latest innovations in light energy science to reverse sun-induced or environmental damage to the skin. This damage is called photoageing. This light for light therapy is also referred to as phototherapy. It is not a new type of intervention, but novel applications of these technologies are making a major impact.
Everyone is susceptible to photoageing. However, those skin types with higher melanin content experience delayed and less severe photoageing. This is due to the photoprotective role of melanin. Lighter-complexioned people are more prone to the effects of ultra-violet (UV) light. It is characterised by fine wrinkles, mottled pigmentation, and freckles and sunspots.
High-tech non-invasive light-based treatments offer more options than ever before. Not all lights are created equal; some are visible to the human eye, while others, though not perceivable, produce long-lasting biological effects. In recent years new classes of devices have been developed allowing light delivery to the skin in a more controlled manner.
The light energy is used to heat up the tissue, and to selectively destroy targets, based on their colour, through selective absorption and spatial confinement of the energy. If enough ‘injury’ occurs, the skin repairs it, creating skin that is tighter, thicker, more even-coloured or smoother than before. Cooling technology limits inadvertent damage to adjacent tissues, allowing higher levels of light energy to be directed towards the target.
Light therapies include lasers, Intense Pulsed Light (IPL), and light-emitting diodes (LED). Lasers deliver single-colour, focused, high intensity beams of light. IPL devices by contrast emit multi-colour, non-focused, broad spectrum light. Thus, IPL devices are less powerful than lasers, but can treat a greater number of colour targets, for example, both brown and red pigment in the skin. This article will focus on light therapy using lasers and LED light therapy. Our most commonly used light therapy at Shine is IPL combined with RF energy. For more details on this treatment see Skin Rejuvenation with IPL. LED light therapy devices use a combination of wavelengths, typically blue and red light, that can be individually customised. Aggressiveness and recovery time vary, depending on the light-based device used.
Who can have this treatment?
Clients with a history of cold sores (Herpes Simplex) may experience break-outs after laser or IPL treatments. If an active cold sore exists the procedure is not advisable. Darker or very tanned skin runs the risk of pigment changes, careful choice of laser option, wavelengths, and treatment settings with an expert practitioner is essential, and very dark skin should avoid most IPL and laser treatments.
LED therapy reduces blemishes, facial lines, wrinkles, and pigmentation, and is suitable for all skin types. It is effective for acne treatment and management as it is very efficient at killing the bacteria that cause acne. Wound healing is improved by reducing inflammation, and sun-damaged skin is repaired by accelerating the growth of new collagen.
What should I expect during treatment?
Preparing for light therapy
Preparation for light therapy is minimal but important. For the fortnight prior to the procedure, avoid excessive sun exposure and use a moisturising SPF 30 sun block. Avoid artificial tanning agents and exfoliating agents for at least a week.
Apply topical bleaching agents (e.g. hydroquinone, vitamin C and E) to the area being treated for two weeks prior to the procedure. Resume this once the skin has healed and continue for at least six months. This reduces the risk of excessive pigmentation as a side effect.
A skin analysis before laser treatment assists in choosing the right laser, wavelengths(s) and treatment settings. The target area is thoroughly cleansed to ensure there is no interference with the laser. Protective eyewear is worn to prevent damage to the retina. Full metal eye shields are used for treatment around the eyes.
What to expect during treatment with light therapy
The requirement for an anaesthetic depends on the kind of laser treatment chosen and the length of the procedure, which may be 20 minutes to two hours, depending on the size of the target area. Numbing agents vary from a topical cream to an injected nerve block when treating deep wrinkles.
During treatment the laser device releases precise and intense flashes of light to heat the abnormal skin. The sensation is similar to hot pinpricks. The device is applied up to eight times increasing in heat with each pass; simultaneously a cooling device cools the outer surface of the skin. Click on Skin Rejuvenation for more information on the different laser options. While results can last up to one year or more depending on the procedure and skin condition, most people will require periodic touch-ups for maintenance.
What to expect during LED therapy
LED therapy is a relaxing, painless, non-invasive treatment that can be customised for a patient. The LED panel producing a combination of blue and red light wavelengths is placed over the patient with protective eyewear. A short treatment under the panel leaves skin glowing and rejuvenated. This natural light is absorbed by the skin to stimulate collagen, elastin, and cellular regeneration in a process termed photobiomodulation. One of the biggest drawbacks of LED therapy is that it requires multiple treatments over an extended period to produce a noticeable improvement in ageing skin.
Are there side effects or risks involved?
Laser therapy side effects
Recovery from laser therapy depends on the kind of laser used and its intensity. It ranges from almost none with immediate return to normal activities possible, to a couple of weeks off being suggested. Lasers that disrupt the surface skin causing wounding carry significantly greater risk of infections. Clients with a history of cold sores (Herpes Simplex) may experience break-outs. A course of broad-spectrum oral antibiotic and an anti-viral medication before treatment reduce the chances of infection. If an active cold sore exists the procedure is not advisable.
Mild redness and swelling resolving in a week is common, discomfort may be eased with a cold compress or an ice pack. But, with lasers that cause wounding redness may take a month or two to fully settle. When wounds are inflicted, oozing, pinpoint bleeding, and crusting may be seen. In such situations ointments and soaks are needed multiple times a day to keep the wound moist until it has healed. Do not use hot water for at least two days when bathing as skin is sensitive to temperature.
Whitening of the skin may be experienced by very tanned patients. Others may notice an increase in pigmentation of treated areas. However, any pigment changes are transient, rejuvenating skin returns to normal tone within two to three months.
Uncommon side effects of laser treatment include blistering, slight bleeding, scarring, and bruising. These can result from overlapping treatments, excessive energy, and inexperienced practitioners.
LED light therapy side effects
LED lights by contrast are gentle, they only slightly warm the skin. One of the main benefits of LED devices is that they are relatively safe. When used appropriately, skin burns are very unlikely. In fact the result of LED therapy is skin that is hydrated and rejuvenated. Overall the outcome is one of high patient satisfaction.
For all light therapy, staying out of the sun during the first few days of recovery is critical. This is because newly emerging skin cells are more prone to sun damage for a few weeks.
If skin tightening is what is desired then laser treatment is best combined with anti-wrinkle injections and/or fillers. Laser does not melt fillers, and may in fact enhance their longevity. On its own, the effect on appearance is not dramatic, especially for deep wrinkles around the eyes and mouth. Multiple treatments (usually three to five) with some lasers may be required to produce needed results, but the advantage is fewer complications and less downtime.