Could Your Skin Benefit From Light Therapy Or Lasers?

Illustration by Sydney Hass
It's official: Skin is in. We’ve known it for a while but now there’s no avoiding it: ‘Less is more’ has taken precedence in our makeup and skincare routines. And, as we deign to wear less makeup – or opt for textures that are sheerer, lighter and more breathable – having smooth, clear skin (at least as a base) has nudged its way to the top of our beauty priorities. Skincare can help but it's light therapy – LEDs, lasers and IPL – that can really overhaul the texture, clarity and tone of skin without going down the invasive route. And with new treatments and destinations that offer the quickest, safest procedures yet, it’s no wonder we’re going mad for lights.

LED Light Therapy

The gentlest of the light family, LED (Light Emitting Diode) therapy was first discovered in the '70s when scientists at NASA found that plant growth flourished when exposed to it. Fast-forward a few decades and now light bars, like The Light Salon, which give skin its light-time in just 11 minutes, are popping up all over the place. “What I like about it is that it’s a natural and painless treatment for all ages, skin types and tones,” says Laura Ferguson, founder of The Light Salon. “And it’s fantastic for all-round skin health.”

But how does it work? “The LED lights stimulate certain sensors within the skin which boost cell activity and trigger the production of certain chemicals,” says London super-facialist Debbie Thomas, whose infamous DNA treatments use both LED and lasers. “The result is dependent on which colour is used but it can be everything from stimulating a healing response to destroying acne-causing bacteria or plumping fine lines.”

There are myriad colours in the light spectrum but the two most popular are red, which has a calming effect on skin, reduces inflammation and can help tackle rosacea, and blue, which destroys P.acnes, the bacteria that grow inside pores causing blemishes, making it a great choice for problem skin. Other colours include yellow, which is said to energise the skin’s outer layer (and is used to prime skin at The Light Salon) and green, which treats pigmentation, but there is far less evidence on these so the jury’s out as to how well they work. It’s not unusual for different coloured lights to be used together to tackle a variety of skin issues and with other treatments, too, like peels.

The beauty of LED therapy is that it’s completely pain-free, making it an obvious precursor to heftier light treatments, and it’s suitable for everyone. “LED lights are gentle so they’re fine for compromised or young skin or for those on strong medications,” says Thomas. The only drawback, as she points out, is that you need several sessions quite close together to get the best results – she recommends four to eight sessions taken twice a week and monthly top-ups thereafter – although you do see a difference in radiance after just one.

IPL (Intense Pulsed Light therapy)
Used to treat everything from pigmentation, fine lines, acne, rosacea, those irritating purple spider veins and uneven skin tone in general, IPL is a great option for those who want to make significant, long-lasting changes but don’t want or need to go the whole hog with laser. Be warned that this isn’t one for those with olive and darker skin tones, due to increased pigment, which can over-lighten with exposure to this light.

In a nutshell, light beams dart towards pigment within the skin and attack it, kickstarting the skin’s natural repair mechanisms and resulting (once healed) in the kind of skin dreams are made of. That’s not to say that you can see this damage. It happens beneath the skin’s surface which means that, aside from a little redness, there is no downtime.

IPL isn’t a quick, lunchtime treatment. In most cases, a numbing cream will be applied all over the face before the treatment (which takes around 40 minutes to do its job), then the therapist will zap face-over at least twice. It can feel uncomfortable – especially around the nose, eyes and mouth – but it’s more than bearable and feels a little like an elastic band flicking across the face.

And don’t expect to see results straightaway. The skin’s repair processes take time and depend on how your skin works, but you tend to see an increased radiance and a firmer, more flawless face around two weeks after treatment. For a noticeable difference, a course of around five or six treatments at four to six-week intervals is suggested. We recommend dermatologist Dr. Nick Lowe.

Laser

“Lasers are used for more targeted skincare concerns, as well as those that are more stubborn or advanced,” says Thomas, “I use them in treatments to zap pigment spots, remove skin tags, treat acne and acne scarring and slow down the ageing caused by sun damage.” Lasers are the most powerful light therapy and, much like IPL, target specific structures in the skin and induce controlled wounds, encouraging the skin cells to repair them. But while IPL comprises multiple wavelengths of light, laser has just one, so though it will feel more uncomfortable, you’ll see supercharged results after fewer sessions, and you’ll need them less frequently, too.

The range of lasers out there can be confusing. There are approximately 10 different laser technologies available but, as Thomas highlights, for each technology there are numerous brands creating their own version, making it a minefield for the uninitiated. Fraxel is one of the better known, mainly due to its famous fans (Kim Kardashian included) but is itself just a brand name – the technology inside is an Erbium laser. Erbium lasers are great for skin resurfacing, helping to bust acne scars, fine lines and wrinkles; they are a better all-rounder for all skin tones, too. That said, speak to your dermatologist about different options, especially when considering this kind of harder-hitting treatment. For Fraxel, we recommend Nick Lowe or the Phi Clinic in London.

For the perfect gateway to laser treatment, look no further than Skin Laundry, the laser and light facial that began Stateside and has now burst onto the UK scene. Here, they use YAG lasers that efficiently kill bacteria, vaporise grime and pollutant particles, improve texture, radiance and clarity and help firm up skin. It’s a big promise but in one session you see noticeable results – namely tighter, brighter skin – and founder Yen Reis is so sure of its efficacy that your first treatment is completely no-catches-at-all free (and only £50 thereafter; affordable when compared to Fraxel and the like). You do your laundry once a week (right?) and the idea here is to do the same with your skin; once a week for healthy, clean skin. It makes sense, when you think about how often you wear it.
Illuminage Skin Smoothing Laser
Alternatively, consider an at-home device. Iluminage does a brilliant ‘Skin Smoothing’ laser that’s FDA-approved and clinically proven to reduce fine lines and wrinkles (78% of the women who tried it noticed a significant improvement in lines in just two weeks). Use five times a week on clean skin (evenings are best, after you’ve cleansed and before applying serums and night cream) and wait for the magic to happen.
SPF

With each and every one of these treatments – particularly laser and IPL – it’s paramount that you wear an SPF of at least 30 after and between appointments, because these lights create such sensitivity that your skin will be much more susceptible to sun damage (meaning you’ll need more laser treatment in future). Try Skinceuticals Sheer Mineral UV Defense SPF 50, £22, or La Roche Posay Anthelios XL Ultra Light Tinted Fluid SPF 50, £17.
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