Is pulse red light therapy better for skin than continuous?

Light therapy has become one of the biggest boom areas for the beauty industry in the last 10 years, with home LED masks and devices of every shape and description now widely used.

For skin rejuvenation, it’s red light that has really emerged as the hero of the spectrum.

Most of the top-selling red lights masks use LED (Light Emitting Diode) which means they emit varying wavelengths of light to treat different skin concerns.

And for the best outcomes the device should use small amounts of infrared along with red LED lights.

This combined red light therapy is thought to work by strengthening the mitochondria in our cells which play a vital role in supporting and boosting a cell’s energy, working in tandem with the energy-carrying molecule found in all cells called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

Can you have too much red light?

Though the science is a little shaky on just exactly how much red light is considered optimal – both in terms of time and intensity – we do know you can have too much of a good thing.

Studies suggest red light emits a burst of free radicals (unstable molecules) that are initially helpful to the skin – but only up to a point. That’s why we want to be mindful of the time we spend on individual sessions using constant light until we discover more.

According to Maysama skincare founder Bev May Sanderson, who has a degree in microbiology and has spent considerable time researching red light, there is a way to enjoy the benefits while avoiding a build-up of free radicals.

Her conclusion that pulse light has advantages over constant is supported by a review published in the Lasers in Surgery and Medicine Journal which compared pulsed low level light therapy (LLLT) with continuous wave and concluded that “overall pulsed light may be superior to CW light with everything else being equal.”

However, the authors made clear that continuous light may have advantages in particular treatment scenarios in health settings and that more research was required to establish the best modalities for different conditions.

Pulse light benefits

In our recent interview on The Honest Channel, Bev had this to say about why she opts to use pulse over constant light for her skin.

She said: “When you look at the mechanism of red light, if you shine the red light on the cell it makes the cytosol – which is the fluid inside the cell – expand. When you turn the light off the cell contracts so if you have pulsed light you get this breathing effect where the cell expands and contracts expands and contracts. What happens is you’ll have micronutrients that surround the cell and then those are sucked into the cell when the cell contracts.”

This, she believes, could also support the updake of skincare ingredients and antioxidants during pulsed light treatment.

Then there’s the free radicals theory.

Bev explains: “Free radicals are these very excited molecules that go in search of an unpaired electron and so they scavenge to try and find this other electron and then they’re happy bunnies but in the meantime they can do a lot of damage to cell components, to lipids to proteins.

“So free radicals in excess are not great. We don’t want an overabundance of free radicals but they’re not all bad. I think it’s important to understand also they are signaling molecules so a low amount of free radicals is beneficial and it’s actually those that kickstart the whole process with photobiomodulation (light therapy).

“It’s the free radicals that signal to the cell to produce DNA, all the things that happen are triggered by this initial burst of free radicals.”

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Avoiding the build-up

“What we don’t want though is this build-up of free radicals so if we have a prolonged single session of red light, the red light produces free radicals as a byproduct and that continues over that session and then what happens is when you get this abundance of free radicals it can create oxidative stress.

“It also reduces the efficacy of your red light device because you want the red light device to produce more ATP, more cellular energy, and you want it to drive the regeneration of cells.

“When you get an excess of free radicals it actually starts to inhibit those very two processes that you’re using your red light for to start with so you get this curve and you get inhibition if you go too far which is why we always have a treatment time that you should adhere to.

“Where pulse light gives you a benefit over static red light is that you don’t get the build-up of free radicals. The reason for this is when the light is on you get a burst of free radicals then when the light is off the cell will then use up its reserves of ATP that have been produced and the free radicals that were produced have a very very short lifespan so they just dissipate.”

If you have a continuous red light panel you can get the benefits of pulsed simply by turning your head from side to side as you use it. And for those who use a mask without a pulsed option, there are still lots of benefits to be enjoyed from red light therapy – it’s just important to stay within the recommended time limits for use so as not to overdo it.

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Watch the full interview with Bev May Sanderson.