How to Repair and Rejuvenate Damaged Skin with Red Light
If your skin is damaged, you may have resigned yourself to just being stuck with it—but that isn’t necessarily true. Red light therapy is one of the most effective treatments for rejuvenating healthy skin, restoring it to its vibrantly glowing, resilient, firm, and youthful state. In this article, we’ll explain how to repair damaged skin with red light.
Red light therapy can be used alone or as part of a holistic healing approach that supports skin health at the cellular level. Along with some good lifestyle choices, it could be the secret to regaining and maintaining youthful skin.
The Facts Behind Skin Damage
If your skin is damaged, you want it repaired, and you’d probably like that to happen quickly. But restoring and maintaining healthy skin isn’t a quick fix, and is about more than just beauty. It’s about your overall health. The skin is the largest organ in your body and is your first line of defense against pathogens. It also plays a crucial role in helping your body retain necessary water.
When the outermost layer of the skin (known as the skin barrier) is damaged, it is weakened and becomes more susceptible to further damage. If you’ve ever brushed off a bad sunburn as a “one-time thing,” think again. Deep beneath that reddened skin, UV rays have caused damage to skin cells, which has left them less able to perform their normal functions.
Every part of the body is interconnected. Damage to the skin could mean excessive moisture loss or the infiltration of bacteria, which can affect your organs’ ability to do their jobs. So it’s not just the skin that can be damaged by too much fun in the sun. Your whole body can suffer to some degree.
Let’s talk about why your skin is damaged so you can take steps to avoid a repeat, before moving on to using specific techniques to reverse the damage.
How Do You Know You Have Skin Damage?
The skin can be damaged in a number of ways. The sun is the main culprit, but it’s not the only one.
Other potential sources of skin damage include irritation from chlorinated pools, household products, or beauty products, all of which can cause burning, dryness, itching, redness, and/or rashes. Usually, avoiding these situations or products is enough to stimulate healing.
The skin can also sustain damage from poor nutrition; specifically, a processed diet high in sugar and artificial ingredients. This kind of diet can lead to chronically malnourished cells, which then prioritize survival over other functions like replication or self-repair.
Smoking, excessive drug or alcohol use, inadequate sleep, and chronic stress can also manifest as damage to your skin. This damage tends to creep up over the years so it may not become noticeable for decades.
You know your skin has been damaged when ...
You Have a Tan
In small amounts, sunlight is beneficial; for instance, it’s essential for stimulating the production of vitamin D. However, the body knows when it has had enough sun, and it responds by increasing the production of a pigment known as melanin. In fair-skinned people, this could be within five to ten minutes of unprotected sun exposure. In very dark-skinned people, melanin production is boosted after 45 to 60 minutes.
Melanin’s function is to darken the skin so it will absorb less harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. However, melanin can only do so much to protect the body from UV radiation. It is not enough of a barrier to block all UV rays; those that get through (or got through before the body boosted melanin production) can damage the genetic material within skin cells. This is what leads to a higher risk of developing carcinoma, melanoma, and other types of skin cancer.
You Have Gotten Sunburned
While the painful redness of sunburn can heal within a week or two, the damage to the skin is lasting. The long-term effects of repeated sunburn include premature wrinkling and sunspots (also known as age spots), which form after UV radiation damages the structural collagen that supports the skin, leading to abnormal melanin production.
A 2011 study, published in the scientific journal Biopolymers, focused on the long-term effects of UV radiation on collagen. The researchers found that Type I collagen (the type found in human skin) is under constant UV stress and that UV radiation accelerates
the collagen damage that is typically involved with normal aging
You’ve Experienced Chemical Irritation
Irritation from household chemicals, beauty products, or pollutants can cause damage to the epidermis (outer layer of skin). However, this is usually temporary, and avoiding these substances can give the body’s cells a chance to repair the damage.
You Have Acne Scars
Severe acne can cause lasting damage to the skin; acne scars are permanent changes in skin texture. Most commonly, acne scars manifest as an “orange peel” appearance, with bumps and indentations and a rough feel.
Your Skin Has Changed
For most of us, the aging of our skin can be a slow process. Then one day we wake up, look in the mirror, and receive a shock. “Where did these wrinkles come from??”
You have skin damage if your skin feels less supple, even when you’re not dehydrated; if it looks dull and “pasty” or red and irritated; if there’s an increase in imperfections or blemishes; if you are developing fine lines and wrinkles; if your skin doesn’t bounce back when stretched (try this on your elbow or neck); or if your skin feels thin and papery.
This damage is caused by environmental, dietary, and lifestyle factors and not diseases. To read about the damage caused by psoriasis and other chronic skin disorders, please review the articles on the PlatinumLED blog.
What Is Needed for Healthy Skin?
Knowing what you need in order for the skin to be healthy will help you understand the importance of a holistic approach that supports healing from the inside as well as the outside.
Why Do Some People Have Such Healthy Skin?
Why is it that some people’s skin stays supple and firm well into their golden years, while others start to develop wrinkles in their 30s? Part of it is genetics and lifestyle, of course, but aside from that, people with healthy skin have high-functioning cells. Here are some factors that influence cells to function at their best.
For years, scientists rejected the notion that there was a connection between diet and dermatological conditions. But as researchers from Baylor College of Medicine explain: “Studies from recent years have made it clear that diet may influence outcome.” In a 2014 paper published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, the researchers discuss how positive dietary changes can influence the course of skin diseases and slow the progression of skin aging.
Healthy skin requires adequate hydration. People with healthy skin tend to drink more water than people with unhealthy skin.
Little or No Chronic Inflammation
Chronic inflammation interferes with cellular functioning by causing oxidative stress. This stress damages cells, proteins, and DNA. A body that’s free of chronic inflammation gives all cells an opportunity to function at their best.
The blood and lymph (a fluid that flows through the lymphatic system) are two components of the circulatory system. Strong blood flow ensures that cells get oxygen and nutrients, while lymph flow ensures that wastes and toxins are removed from cells.
Good Collagen and Elastin Production
Good collagen and elastin production can make skin beautiful at any age. Collagen is a protein that makes up around 80 percent of the skin. In normal, healthy skin, collagen forms a strong and resilient latticework that supports the skin. Elastin is the protein that allows the skin to stretch and bounce back after being stretched.
All of these are important for healthy skin. Yet the reality is, nutritional and lifestyle changes may not be enough to boost optimal cellular functioning.
Can Skin Damage Be Reversed?
In many cases, the answer is yes: It is possible to reverse skin damage if you take a holistic approach. This means not relying solely on topical treatments like oils or creams, but rather, supporting your body at the cellular level.
The body has a remarkable ability to heal itself… but this process must be supported—or at least, not interfered with.
The next section will discuss how to reverse skin damage and prevent further damage.
How Do You Heal Damaged Skin?
You will have the greatest success by supporting your skin from inside and out using a variety of therapies and approaches.
Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy is a painless and natural approach that has roots in ancient sun therapy. But unlike natural sunlight, which exposes the skin to UV light, red light therapy uses only the wavelengths of light that have been widely studied and are known to stimulate positive biological processes in the body.
One of the primary ways red light can heal skin damage is by revitalizing cellular activity. Tired cells are malfunctioning cells—which means they can’t do their jobs to full capacity.
Specifically, the energy generators inside cells, known as mitochondria, are not producing enough fuel for the cells to function at top form. This is a condition known as mitochondrial dysfunction, and it has been associated with accelerated aging, poor muscle functioning, and even neurodegenerative diseases of the brain.
Red light has been shown to be an effective therapy for mitochondrial dysfunction.
How Does Red Light Work?
The human body is very responsive to light. All light is beneficial to some degree (including UV light), but too much can be harmful. Red light and near-infrared (NIR) light are exceptions, as confirmed by thousands of independent studies.
Red light therapy involves shining red and/or NIR light onto the body to stimulate biological processes. These wavelengths, which fall within a particular “therapeutic window,” include red wavelengths between 630 and 660 nanometers (nm) and NIR wavelengths between 810nm and 850nm.
When red and NIR photons absorb into the skin, they interact with light-sensitive chromophores in the mitochondria. This stimulates the mitochondria to convert glucose into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the fuel that cells need to do their jobs, repair themselves, migrate, and replicate. Thus, red light performs like a stimulant for cells, but not in a caffeinated way, whereby the effect is temporary.
The body’s systems are directly interrelated, and stimulating high functioning in one system can boost functioning in other systems. If you boost the functioning of cells in the lymphatic system, for instance, you also boost the functioning of skin cells that have now had their “trash service” restored and they are no longer burdened by built-up waste and toxins.
As for how red light specifically helps the skin: It stimulates optimal cellular functioning, reduces inflammation, and boosts circulation and collagen/elastin production—three key elements of healthy skin.
The Effect of Red Light on Inflammation
When cells suffering from oxidative stress are irradiated with red light, they produce more ATP. One 2018 study that confirmed this was co-authored by Dr. Michael Hamblin of Harvard Medical School, who is one of the world’s foremost experts in the field of red light therapy.
Dr. Hamblin also wrote in a 2017 paper that red light has a modulating effect on the inflammatory response. It supports the acute inflammatory response, which is necessary for healing; but it also inhibits the chronic inflammatory response, which is directly responsible for many chronic diseases, including heart disease, blood vessel disease, and diabetes, among others.
The Effect of Red Light on Circulation
Nutrients in, waste out; that’s a very basic explanation of the circulatory system. In a 1991 study on wound healing, researchers working with mice found that red light stimulated faster regeneration of veins and lymph vessels.
As confirmed by a 2017 study by researchers from Vienna and Salzburg, Austria, red light supports the proliferation of endothelial cells. These are the cells that make up the inner layer of blood and lymphatic capillaries, which are the tiny vessels near the skin’s surface.
The Effect of Red Light on Collagen and Elastin Production
Red light has also been shown to stimulate fibroblasts, which are the cells responsible for collagen and elastin synthesis. A 2014 study on the anti-aging effects of red light, which was conducted by researchers from Germany, found significant increases in collagen density.
Tips for Using Red Light Therapy to Repair Damaged Skin
To recap, red light increases cellular energy, reduces inflammation, promotes better circulation, and stimulates more collagen and elastin production. Here is how to make the most of this powerful natural therapy.
1. Use both red and NIR wavelengths.
Red light penetrates the skin where it stimulates skin cell metabolism, capillary formation, and collagen production. But, red light doesn’t absorb deeper than the skin. NIR wavelengths do, however. They penetrate into the underlying tissue, where they can address any systemic inflammation that could be lurking under the surface.
2. Use a high light energy output LED device to achieve maximum light energy output.
Don’t use weak handheld wands. You’ll need a device with enough power to deliver the red and NIR light energy into all layers of the skin—particularly the dermis and epidermis.
You will get the best results with LED panels that offer a combination of red and NIR light. The PlatinumLED BIO series lets you choose 660nm (red) and 850nm (NIR) wavelengths, which you can use together in a 50/50 ratio. The PlatinumLED BIOMAX series uses five different wavelengths of red and NIR light simultaneously in a ratio that uses the most widely studied wavelengths of light, in the most beneficial combination.
3. Be consistent and patient.
Apply red light therapy in several 10- to 20-minute sessions per week for several months until you notice improvement. Then, continue with maintenance treatments to keep your newly rejuvenated skin looking its best.
It’s important to stick with the treatments because skin cells take about 30 days to grow, and they don’t all regenerate at once. Your skin is many layers deep and it will take time for all of the damaged layers to slough off and form new, healthy layers to replace them. Depending on your age and the level of damage, this could take four to twelve months.
If that seems like a huge time investment, think of it as a part of your daily self-care routine, just like brushing your teeth or showering. The process itself is pleasurable and if you’d like, you could do a short meditation session to relieve stress while receiving the treatment.
Now, we’ll talk about other treatments you can use in conjunction with red light therapy to achieve the best results in the shortest amount of time.
Support skin health from the outside with the right topical treatments.
- Soothe irritated skin with aloe vera gel or witch hazel extract.
- Vitamin C creams and vitamin E oil are antioxidants that help reverse oxidative stress.
- Lightweight oils such as jojoba, calendula, and coconut oil help hold in moisture. Avoid olive oil or olive oil products, which actually dehydrate the skin.
- Avoid skin care products that contain fragrance; in some cases, even natural essential oils can be irritating.
- Avoid foaming facial cleansers; instead, use a mild soap, a gentle oil cleanser, or even raw honey, and be sure to rinse thoroughly.
- Wear natural fabrics, such as cotton and wool. Today’s wool t-shirts and underwear are extremely breathable and no-itch. Avoid synthetic fabrics (including microfiber products) that cling to the skin and don’t allow it to breathe.
- Do not exfoliate skin when it’s raw, peeling, or tender, and never pick at healing or peeling skin to avoid introducing bacteria.
- Use retinoid creams to boost collagen, but use these vitamin-A derived products with caution, as they can cause irritation.
- If you wear makeup, use the best products that are clinically proven to be mild and non-irritating (you will have to spend more, but it’s worth it).
- Don’t wear heavy makeup and never sleep with makeup on.
In short, the less you put on your skin, the better; and the more natural and simple, the better.
An anti-inflammatory diet is one of your best skin-supporting tactics. First and foremost, cut out all added sugar and simple carbohydrates. Sugar is one of the top inflammatory agents found in the modern Western diet, and it is known to accelerate skin aging.
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet rich in antioxidants (leafy greens, nuts, fish, and fruit) and protein. Talk to a nutritionist and get help with supplements, if necessary.
Stay hydrated. Hunger and thirst signals are virtually identical, and sometimes we simply mistake thirst for hunger and end up eating more and never satisfying our thirst. As confirmed during a 2015 study by researchers from Portugal and Spain, proper hydration is vital to normal skin physiology.
Here’s why hydration is so essential:
Intracellular water is the main component of cells and accounts for about two-thirds of the body’s water. Extracellular water is located in the blood and between cells.
Cells, and the spaces around them, continually exchange fluids. This process depends on pressure, which is easily disrupted by dehydration.
When dehydration causes an imbalance of salts and minerals, this can lead to two different types of problems: too much pressure in the cells, whereby they can’t receive what they need because their internal pressure prevents substances from getting in; or too much pressure in the extracellular matrix, which means cells can’t get rid of waste material because of external pressure.
Proper hydration can restore the pressure between cells and the extracellular matrix, for more efficient cell functioning.
Meditation, hobbies, exercise, being in nature, and simplifying your life can remove much of the chronic stress that has your body in a constant fight or flight mode. If your body is engaged in a defensive survival mode, its resources are directed away from the healing mechanisms of the parasympathetic nervous system.
In a perfect world, you would face the stressor and act (run away, hide, or fight it) and afterward, you’d return to a normal calm state where your body can repair itself. But modern stresses tend to be more emotional than physical.
When you worry, you replay a feared future event over and over again, each time causing a surge of adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones that prepare your body for action… which never happens because there’s nothing to fight. Each stress hormone secretion interferes with the parasympathetic nervous system.
If you can’t literally “run it off” you have to somehow release these substances from your system, or they will accumulate and cause systemic damage.
Aside from improving your diet, adopt these essential skin-friendly lifestyle modifications.
- Avoid smoking; this also means avoiding second-hand smoke.
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol intake (alcohol = sugar).
- Use a sunscreen, wear sun-blocking clothing, and/or avoid the sun when UV radiation is strongest, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Get enough sleep.
- Exercise daily to boost circulation and help your body release toxins and waste.
- Minimize your time in chlorinated pools or hot tubs, and always shower afterward.
- Avoid long, hot showers or baths.
- Laugh more. Laughter is truly the best medicine.
As you can see, repairing skin damage takes more than putting on more lotion. Together, these treatments can revitalize your appearance, your health, and the way you feel about yourself.
The Natural Way to Better Skin Health
Nature provides you with many ways to support skin repair and help you restore skin health in the comfort of home. What you apply topically, and what you do internally, play a vital role in determining how quickly and effectively you repair damaged skin. Red light therapy is both a topical and an internal (cell-level) approach that can be the keystone to excellent skin health.
As a bonus: Many people turn to red light therapy to treat wrinkles or sun spots … and are thrilled to find that red light boosts well-being in all kinds of other areas, such as reversing hair loss and speeding up post-workout recovery. Browse through the articles on the PlatinumLED blog to read more about red light therapy, and see what else it can do for you.