Anti-aging Aspects of Red and Near Infrared Light and their Impact on Collagen Production.
I admit it, I am obsessed with Red Light Therapy! Not just the latest home treatment LED devices but the science behind photo biomodulation and all that it has to offer from an anti-aging and performance perspective. As a science graduate, the cell biology aspect of how LED Therapy works intrigues me and, as a woman of advancing years, the skin rejuvenation benefits of Red Light Therapy are hugely welcomed!
Having started my own Red Light Therapy journey back in September 2020, I first wrote a blog which evaluated the Best Value LED Devices for Home Use based on my research at this time. Shortly followed by a further blog which talked about Green Tea Antioxidants and LED Therapy as a perfect pairing.
This blog delves a little deeper, to look more closely at the mechanisms behind LED Light Therapy, as well as to answer the following questions;
- Which is best for anti-aging – Red, Near Infrared light or both?
- Can you overdose on Red Light Therapy?
- How to get the best results from your LED device.
Red Light Therapy at a Cellular Level
I have touched on the importance of mitochondria for cell health previously. Mitochondria are the organelles found in every cell of our body and are known as the power houses of our cells, responsible for producing energy in the form of ATP, or Adenosine Triphosphate. Mitochondria play a key role in the aging process. When their membrane potential and function declines, they produce less ATP and, if things are not looking good, they can signal cell death, known in science circles as apoptosis. So, keeping mitochondria healthy is key to pro-aging.
Red Light Therapy, also known as photo biomodulation, has been reported to alter the course of age decline, and can have a positive impact on mitochondrial health. LED light therapy can penetrate 2-3cm into the skin and through different body tissues from skin and bone to brain. Our mitochondria, located in every cell of the body, provide the main source for light absorption. But what exactly happens inside our mitochondria when photo biomodulation takes place?
Firstly, let us look at how ATP is produced in mitochondria. The production of ATP is known as mitochondrial respiration and the mitochondrial respiratory chain is made up of 5 integral membrane protein complexes; NADH dehydrogenase, Succinate Dehydrogenase, Cytochome C reductase, Cyctochrome C oxidase and ATP synthase.
Both red light and infrared light wavelengths are absorbed by one of the key enzymes involved in mitochondrial respiration, called Cytochrome C oxidase. Cyctochrome C oxidase is the last enzyme in the mitochondrial respiratory chain and is the primary photo-acceptor for the red-NIR light range. The prime function of Cytochrome C oxidase is to bind with oxygen to produce ATP. But a small molecule called nitric oxide, produced in the mitochondria and important for blood vessel health, also binds with the Cytochrome C oxidase protein and blocks its ability to react with oxygen.
One of the best understood mechanisms of photo biomodulation is that red light releases nitric oxide from the Cytochrome C oxidase enzyme, allowing it to bind with oxygen, restoring mitochondrial respiration and producing more ATP.
ATP production is relatively temporary though, so not all physiological improvements are because of increased levels of ATP. Aside from increased ATP production, photo biomodulation reduces the expression of key structural proteins associated with age decline, and reduces oxidative stress and inflammation, which we know contribute to aging. And then there is evidence that photo biomodulation increases the growth and production of cells, known as cell proliferation, and the movement of cells, better known as cell migration. Cell migration in response to chemical signals in the body is hugely important in wound healing and immune responses. And, if that is not enough, there is further evidence that photo biomodulation increases cell survival and reduces cell death (apoptosis) through the expression of key proteins.
Which is best for Anti-aging – Red or Near infrared light?
It is generally accepted that a combination of red light therapy and near infrared light is the best for anti-aging. We know that near infrared light penetrates more deeply than red light and can increase blood circulation, which can help to improve health. But a 2020 study on wound healing, carried out at the University of Florence, Italy, shows that red and near infrared have a distinctly different impact on collagen production, and that blue light also has beneficial biological effects. This study, which was performed on cultured in vitro fibroblasts, the most common type of cell found in connective tissue, was performed with 0.4J/cm2 energy density and 13mw/cm2 power density.
The study concludes that, red light favours the first inflammatory response and the proliferation stages of wound healing. Red light stimulates the growth and production of essential cellular elements and migration of cells to the wound, starting to form the Extracellular Matrix [ECM]. Near infrared, and to a lesser extent blue photo biomodulation, on the other hand, promote the maturation stage of wound healing with latex remodelling, stimulating the differentiation of fibroblasts towards more mature cells called myofibroblasts, which synthesise and deposit Type I and Type III collagen, leading to wound closure with the formation of a scar.
How can we relate this to pro-aging? Well, reduced synthesis of collagen types I and III is characteristic of chronologically aged skin. If increased collagen production is the goal, then a combination of red and NIR light will best drive all elements required for skin rejuvenation.
Red Light Therapy promotes the growth and production of fibroblast cells, as well as the capability of these cells to degrade and remodel collagen. Remodelling of the Extracellular Matrix, including collagen synthesis and breakdown, is co-ordinated by proteins found in the ECM called matrix metalloproteinases (MMP’s), which can degrade both matrix and non-matrix proteins. Fibroblasts treated with red light synthesize more MMP’s, which then increases the proliferation of these cells and promotes the break down of collagen and remodelling of the extracellular matrix. Red LED light therefore provides the first step to prepare the extracellular matrix for the laying down of new collagen fibres.
Treatment with Near infrared light does not increase the number of cells but stimulates fibroblasts to differentiate into their more mature cell type, myofibroblasts. These mature cells synthesise and secrete Type1 and Type 3 collagen, as well as other extracellular matrix components. Near infra red, and to a lesser extent blue light, decreases the synthesis of MMPs, which slows the rate of fibroblast proliferation. So, treatment with near infrared light provides the second step that allows larger, more mature cells to develop, which can produce and secrete collagen.
In summary then, both red and near infrared light have very different but complementary aspects with regard to anti-aging and used together will enhance collagen production. Red light increases fibroblast proliferation and gives us more small cells, which break down collagen and prepare the extracellular matrix for the laying down of new collagen. And Near infrared light decreases cell proliferation and produces larger, more mature cells, which are capable of secreting collagen. So, a treatment regime which incorporates both red and near infrared light will optimise anti-aging benefits.
Home Devices that combine Red and Near Infrared Light
With a plethora of devices available now for home use, we no longer need to rely on a trip to the beauty clinic to take advantage of the anti-aging benefits of red and near infra red light. Not all devices though incorporate both red and near infrared led lights. So, be sure to check before you buy.
Depending on your budget and your goals, you might opt for an LED mask or an LED panel. Masks offer the flexibility of multi-tasking whilst you watch TV or do the ironing! Whilst an LED panel will allow you to target a larger area and reduce treatment times. Here are a few home treatment devices which offer both red and near infrared wavelengths in the same device.
Current Body Skin LED Light Therapy Mask £265.00 – £349.00
Specification: 633 and 830nm
This award-winning LED mask is a clear favourite with celebrities, including makeup artist Wayne Goss, and former Pussycat doll Ashley Roberts. One of the first on the scene to offer a flexible, contouring, easy to wear, light-weight silicone mask, this mask has taken Instagram by storm.
Aduro 7 + 1 LED Mask £237.00 – £296.00
Specification: 7 LED colours, infra-red skin boosting.
Heavily researched and reviewed on You Tube, the Aduro mask offers 11 different treatments from various colours of LED, including wrinkle reducer, acne buster, radiance skin, skin rebalancer and ‘red away’.
Boots No. 7 Age Defying LED Mask £112.50
Specification: Red & Near infrared, 60+ LED’s
This LED Mask is a listed as a new product at Boots. Whilst the website offers little information on the specification, it appears similar to the Current Body and Aduro LED mask and offers excellent value for money.
Mitored Pro Series $649:00
Specification: LED 150 x 5w, Wavelengths 630nm 660nm 830nm and 850nm
Light Intensity 125mW/cm2 @ 6 inches
The patent pending MitoPRO series from US company Mitored incorporates the four most bio-active wavelengths 630nm / 660nm (Red) and 830nm / 850nm (Near Infrared). This dual red and near infrared panel offers an excellent option for a half Body treatment.
Red Light Rising – The Advantage 900 £1,500.00
Specification: 900w, 300 LEDs, Wavelengths 660nm and 850nm.
Light Intensity 161 mW/cm2 @15cm
This full body panel is the new ELITE focused performance light from UK company Red Light Rising. Composed of 300 LEDs and comprising of 660nm (red) and 850nm (near-infrared) precise wavelength light diodes, this panel has been designed for maximum benefit. The modular design allows panels to be combined to create your own dream set-up.
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Can you overdose on LED Light Therapy?
When something positively impacts on our health, it is all too easy to assume that you should do more or have lots of it. But that is not necessarily the case. It is possible to have too much of a good thing!
In fact, there is a phenomenon called the biphasic dose response, also known as hormesis, whereby low levels and high levels of stimuli exert opposite effects. Weak stimuli slightly accelerate vital activity, stronger stimuli raise it further, but a peak is reached so that even stronger stimuli suppress it, until eventually a negative response is seen. This applies not only to photo biomodulation but to an extended list of substances on living cells. The biphasic dose response curve, often termed Arndt-Schulz curve, typically reported in Red Light Therapy studies looks like this;
A biphasic dose response has been frequently observed with photo biomodulation where low levels of light have a much better effect on stimulating and repairing tissues than higher levels of light. In the context of Red Light Therapy, the increasing “stimulus” may be irradiation time or increased irradiance.
Whilst numerous studies support the biphasic dose response with photo biomodulation, sadly it has not been possible to get a consensus on what the optimum parameters and dosage are for the various applications of Red Light Therapy.
The complexity and inconsistency in results from multiple studies for parameters such as fluence, power density and treatment times is one of the main reasons why photo biomodulation has not be adopted in mainstream medicine.
When using Red Light Therapy, it is probably simplest to consider three parameters that make up the ‘medicine’ (wavelength, irradiance and energy density) and then to consider time as the ‘dosage’.
Wavelength – typically red at 630nm and NIR at 830nm.
Irradiance (intensity or power density) – calculated as power (W)/area (cm2)
Energy Density – measured as J/cm2.
You might think that if the power is doubled and the time is halved then the same energy is delivered but reports suggest that a different biological response is often observed, so you cannot rely on this.
With so many different parameters, how can we be sure not to ‘overdose’ on Red Light Therapy? In all honesty, the output of most anti-aging LED masks on the market, like Current Body, Aduro or Omnilux, is low relative to an LED lamp or panel, so overdosing is unlikely. If you are using a body panel, such as the MitoPRO series or Red Light Rising Advantage series, then adherence to company recommendations on dosage is more important.
How to get the Best out of your Red Light Therapy Device
Earlier, I referred to the production of ATP from mitochondrial respiration, but mitochondrial respiration also produces free radicals as a by-product. Whilst low levels of free radicals are important to act as signalling molecules, excess free radicals can inhibit biological processes and lead to free radical damage. An excess of free radicals can lead to a condition of oxidative stress, whereby free radicals attack key cellular components including proteins, lipids and DNA. And prolonged oxidative stress ultimately leads to the cell death.
Controlling the level of excess free radicals, also known as Reactive Oxygen Species [ROS], produced by LED light therapy is therefore important to reduce oxidative damage from free radical exposure but also helps the results of Red Light Therapy to be realised sooner. A 2009 study conducted by NASA scientists using green tea antioxidants, indicated that results from Red Light Therapy were seen ten times quicker when combining antioxidants and Red Light Therapy. Data shows that botanical extracts with a similar phytochemical profile to green tea, like green rooibos extract and guarana extract, may also serve to significantly reduce the impact of free radical damage and offer a great pairing for use with Red Light Therapy devices. A more recent 2019 study shows that concomitant treatment with antioxidants and red light therapy induces antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-apoptotic effects as a result of reduced damage to cellular components. An increase in the proliferation of dermal fibroblasts is also observed when combining these antioxidant extracts and low-level light therapy, supporting the biostimulation of fibroblasts, which in turn will support collagen production and pro-aging benefits.
MAYSAMA Green Rooibos Pressed Serum is a potent antioxidant serum formulated with aspalathin-enriched Green Rooibos Extract, which offers 70 x the antioxidant capacity of organic rooibos. Not surprisingly, MAYSAMA serum is finding favour for use with Red Light Therapy devices with skincare educators all over the world, including US Master Esthetician and You Tuber Penn Smith, as well as You Tubers Pretty Over Fifty and Natural Kaos.
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