Beauty is a feeling. It’s the way it feels to celebrate a personal victory, dance like nobody’s watching, or laugh until your cheeks hurt. It’s the radiance and vitality exuded by those who treat themselves well, because when we take good care of ourselves, it shows. Our skin, for example, is an external reflection of the way we care for ourselves. It can reveal when we need more water, sleep, or nutrients, and can indicate larger systemic health issues, such as cardiovascular disease (3). Our skin is also extremely susceptible to damage. By the time we are in our late-20’s, age, sun-exposure, and air pollution have all started taking their toll on the structural integrity of our skin, leading to the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles (1,4). Because life is so hard on our skin, making the effort to treat it well can go a long way in helping us feel confident, vibrant, and beautiful.
Taking good care of our skin is not always easy. For most people, it means having to sift through millions of products, all promising us the complexion of our dreams if we buy this jar of gooey chemicals to smear on our faces. And for those who want to skip the mystery goo and empty promises, there’s the option of seeing a dermatologist and undergoing procedures that are painful and often risky. For example, one common methodology for improving skin structure is a controlled form of skin wounding in which the outermost layer of skin (the epidermis) is removed. Although this form of treatment can be effective for some, it can also be very painful and introduces risks like infection, scarring, and changes in pigmentation (1).
Luckily, there is a painless, risk-free, and scientifically supported alternative to extreme dermatological procedures and expensive creams: Red light therapy. Research has shown that people treated with red light therapy report rapid improvements in skin softness and reductions in fine lines and wrinkles. For example, in multicenter study in which 90 people were treated with red light therapy, 90% of them showed clinical improvements in their skin after only 8 treatments (1). Red light’s ability to improve skin quality comes from its effect on collagen, one of the most important factors for strong healthy skin.
Collagen is one of the primary elements that make up the extracellular matrix of the dermis, meaning that it acts as a sort of scaffolding that gives your skin its structure, strength, and elasticity (5). As the quantity and structural integrity of collagen diminish, your skin loses its support system and wrinkles form. Factors such as age, estrogen levels, sun exposure, air pollution all affect dermal collagen, which is why all of the factors impact the look and feel of our skin (1,2,4,5). Red light therapy has been shown to increase dermal collagen content and to enhance the structural integrity of collagen fibers (2). Increased quality and quantity of collagen in the dermis strengthens and fortifies the extracellular matrix, leaving skin looking healthy and smooth.
The ability of red light to enhance dermal collagen is thought to arise from its interaction with the mitochondria in cells called fibroblasts (5). Fibroblasts are an essential component for strong, healthy skin because they synthesize collagen and help organize and maintain the extracellular matrix (7). Mitochondria are vital for fibroblast function because of their importance in cellular metabolism and respiration. If the mitochondria are damaged, fibroblasts would be unable to function properly. Conversely, if the mitochondria are enhanced, fibroblasts would become rockstar collagen creators and matrix supporters. This is exactly what scientists suspect red light does. By interacting with the mitochondria of these cells, red light enhances their function, leading to a denser, healthier, more organized matrix of collagen fibers and thus to smoother, stronger skin. This idea is supported by multiple lines of research. For example, when treated with red light, fibroblast cells suspended in a petri dish replicated faster and oriented to one another in a more organized way than fibroblasts that were not treated with red light (6). Another study, which examined the fibroblasts in a small sample of human tissue, found a greater number of mitochondria in the fibroblasts that came from people who received red light therapy compared to controls (8). The ability for red light to supercharge fibroblasts is especially important considering that fibroblast dysfunction is a prime suspect in the development of deep wrinkles.
Taking good care of ourselves isn’t easy, but when we don’t treat ourselves well it can make feeling beautiful really challenging. Our skin incurs daily damage throughout our lives and this damage becomes increasingly visible as we get older. While aging is something to be celebrated, not feared, we can aim to age well by protecting and nourishing our largest and most vulnerable organ, our skin. Red light therapy offers a safe, effective way to improve and sustain the quality of our skin. It’s a simple, scientifically-supported shortcut to loving ourselves well, so we can love ourselves well into the future. Beauty is feeling comfortable in our skin, so let’s treat it right.
- Avci, P., et al (2013). Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring. Seminars in cutaneous medicine and surgery, 32(1), 41–52. Link
- Chung, J. H., et al (2001). Modulation of skin collagen metabolism in aged and photoaged human skin in vivo. Journal of investigative dermatology, 117(5): 1218-1224. Link
- Kim, M. A., et al (2017). The effects of sleep deprivation of the biophysical properties of facial skin. Journal of cosmetics, dermatological science and applications, 7, 34-47. Link
- Park, S., et al (2018). Air pollution, autophagy, and skin aging: impact of particulate matter (PM10) on human dermal fibroblasts. International journal of molecular science, 19(9), 2727. Link
- Raine-Fenning, et al (2003). Skin aging and menopause. American journal of clinical dermatology, 4(6): 371-378. Link
- Rigau, M.A., et al (1991) Changes in fibroblast proliferation and metabolism following in vitro helium-neon laser irradiation. Laser Therapy, 3(1), 25-33. Link
- Stunova, A. & Vistejnova, L. (2018). Dermal fibroblasts- a heterogeneous population with a regulatory function in wound healing, Cytokine and growth factors reviews, 39, 137-150. Link
- Takezaki et al (2005). Ultrastructural observations of human skin following irradiation with visible red light-emitting diodes (LEDs): A preliminary in vivo report. Laser Therapy, 14(4), 153-160. Link