Led Photomodulation explained
In the ever-increasing modalities of skin treatment therapies comes LED Photomodulation, the latest form of Phototherapy.
This relatively new process has the unique ability to stimulate and/or inhibit cell-signalling pathways for skin rejuvenation and potentially represents the next frontier in anti-aging medicine.
Photomodulation is a process that manipulates or regulates cell activity using light sources without thermal effect. This is achieved using portions of the visible light spectrum that does not contain any Ultra Violet or Infra-Red, thus achieving a non-thermal, non-invasive, and non-ablative method of skin rejuvenation.
The primary goal of non-ablative rejuvenation is the stimulation of new collagen and dermal extra-cellular matrix substance, which visibly improves the appearance of wrinkles without disturbance or damage to the overlying epidermis.
Until recently, our thinking about how to accomplish this has involved primarily thermal methods, whether it is heating of the dermis to stimulate fibroblast proliferation or heating blood vessels for photocoagulation. Intense Pulsed Light and Laser treatments are the most common modalities used that employ thermal methods. Although highly effective, there are the thermal discomfort considerations that some clients will not be prepared to accept. This is where LED Photomodulation has its place in the market.
How does it work?
LED Photomodulation uses low intensity light emitting diodes to create a process similar to plant photosynthesis whereby plants use chlorophyll to convert sunlight into cellular building blocks.
The light emitted by the LEDs is absorbed by epidermal cells and produces a remarkable cascade of events.
ATP, (Adenosine Triphosphate) the form of energy that cells utilise, is produced in this process and used to power the metabolic processes that synthesize DNA, RNA, needed proteins, enzymes, and other biological materials needed to repair or regenerate cell and tissue components; foster mitosis or cell proliferation; and/or restore homeostasis.
Studies of LED Photomodulation have shown skin textural improvement accompanied by increased collagen deposition with reduced MMP-1 (collagenase) activity in the papillary dermis. Using Photomodulation, scientists theorise that we are both slowing down collagen breakdown and building up new collagen.
One of the benefits of LED Photomodulation is that a wide range of Fitzpatrick skin types can be treated safely. Because of the low-intensity and specific bandwidth control of the light source, (Absorbed energy typically less than a 25-watt light bulb) there is no thermal damage to the epidermis.
With this in mind, LED Photomodulation offers novel, safe, non-ablative approach to photo ageing when used in conjunction with specific skin care products.
Light doses ranging from 1.0 to 6.0 Jcm-2 in the frequency range of 560nm 780nm (Orange-Red) have been proven to be most effective for skin rejuvenation treatments that relate to rehabilitation of the microcirculation and encouragement of fibroblast activity. Techniques that pulse the light at specific cycles or codes (on-time and off-time) have reportedly proved most effective and this technique has been patented as the term LED Photomodulation by one US based company.
Wide bandwidth devices have the ability to provide a number of therapeutic treatments in addition to cellular rejuvenation. The chart below shows the various properties of the light spectrum.
Frequency of use
To achieve optimum results, an average of eight treatments over a four week period are recommended in conjunction with tailored skin care and home care regimen, followed up by maintenance treatments at three to six month intervals. Because the technology is still relatively new, it is unclear how often maintenance treatments will be required, but clinical experience to date suggests once a month minimum.
Improvement has been noted to occur even three to four months after finishing the last treatment, indicating that the collagen deposition is an ongoing process, which continues months afterwards.
There are two stipulations for treatment: Firstly, (and quite obviously) the clients skin must be meticulously cleaned prior to exposure to LED light source, with heavy make-up completely removed.
As with all technology, there are some obvious but simple rules for gaining maximum effectiveness from photomodulation treatment devices.
The most obvious, (but the least mentioned by device marketers) is that the light energy coming from the device should be stronger than the ambient light in the room it is being used.
What this means is the darker the room used to perform the treatment, the more energy in the bandwidth of light chosen for the treatment will reach the skin. To put this in context, if a typical LED device was used in a room with 40 watts of fluorescent lighting, the effectiveness of the LED panels would be reduced to less than half. This is because the skin surface is being bombarded with parts of the frequency spectrum that we don't want to be present at treatment time. A good analogy is a camera flash on a sunny day - mostly useless.
Post treatment protocols
As with IPL and microdermabrasion, the strict post treatment use of sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher must be employed; especially if the client is going straight out in to bright sunlight. This is because the cells are still quite "active" and can be more susceptible to UVR.
Although Phototherapy is relatively safe if used properly, it is not without risks.
As with all treatment modalities and technologies, some essential basic knowledge in Phototherapy is important before one proceeds to use this modality.
Phototherapy has been used in medicine for three decades, with Hungarian physician and researcher, Dr Endre Mester first demonstrating the beneficial effects of monochromatic light in the late 1960s.
Substantial research has been conducted since for the wound healing properties of various bandwidths of light, with NASA funding research for burn rehabilitation and cell activity studies, with the concept of using low energy, narrow band or coherent light with specific pulse sequences and durations consequently termed photomodulation.
LED Photomodulation terminology
A LED (light-emitting diode) is a semiconductor device that emits incoherent narrow-spectrum light when an electrical current is applied to it. Because LEDs are low intensity, they are used in arrays or banks of up to 2000 individual units to deliver therapeutic levels of light.
There are two types of LEDS used for light delivery:
Using individual monochromatic LED banks for each specific colour band. Colours are used individually or in combination to deliver bandwidth required.
Microprocessor controlled polychromatic LEDs using RGB technology. This state-of-the-art digital technology produces up to seven different colours similar to the method used in LCD and Plasma TV and computer screens.
Light in the visible spectrum is often termed Monochromatic or Polychromatic. The two terms are explained simply as the following:
Monochromatic: A single bandwidth of light. i.e. red.
Laser light is a good example of a Monochromatic light source.
Polychromatic: A light source consisting of multiple bands of light (ie violet, blue, green, red, yellow) in the visible spectrum. (Approximately 380nm – 770nm)
Intense Pulsed Light (or daylight) is an example of polychromatic light.
About the Author:
Ralph Hill is the technology writer, illustrator and editor for Virtual Beauty Corporation. He has a background in science, electronics and electro-mechanical devices, but enjoys researching and writing on a myriad of skin care related topics including cosmetic chemistry and anatomy & physiology.