What are the Risks and Benefits of Low Level Laser at Home
Original Article on laser therapy by
Julia Breur, Ph.D., LMFT
There is no shortage of anti-aging products on the market, from creams to exercise equipment and from nutritional supplements to cosmetic surgery. Because there are so many options, prospective patients must be selective and well-educated about the various approaches. If not, significant financial resources could be spent on ineffective methods. On the other hand, any anti-aging product or device must be safe—it makes no sense to look younger if you risk injury or illness. One option that may provide the best of both worlds is low level laser therapy. Depending on the product, low level laser therapy can be used safely at home for anti-aging purposes.
Most people that can afford to have cosmetic surgery usually choose one or more of these procedures to turn back the clock. While the surgery is elective and effective, it is still surgery and as such, comes with a certain amount of risk and discomfort. Also, plastic surgery depends greatly on the skill and artful eye of the surgeon. We have all seen famous examples of excessive or failed facial plastic surgery.
On the other hand, some products may be too good to be true. Skin creams, lotions, and moisturizers are not necessarily effective in preventing the onset of visible aging. The skin is a remarkable barrier and can prevent most creams and lotions from penetrating to deeper skin layers. In fact, most over-the-counter topical products create a thin layer on the skin and then slowly rub off as you go about the activities of your day. Few topical products actually penetrate and lock moisture into skin. At best they prevent moisture from evaporating off the surface of skin in a manner not unlike plastic wrap. While this may be temporarily plumping for skin, it does not have the long-lasting effect that users want.
Certainly high intensity lasers have been effective at wrinkle reduction. These devices use highly powered and concentrated light energy to ablate (burn) wrinkles from the skin. They can be used to destroy the top layers of the skin creating smoother skin (after the swelling and redness goes away). There is no doubt that high intensity lasers can ablate skin and wrinkles, but they are far from harmless. The skin is mechanically changed by this process. This skin suffers first degree burns as a result. Because of the intensity of the energy used, high level lasers can only be used by a medical professional. This makes treatments relatively expensive. What is more, the wrinkles eventually come back, which means more professional treatments are necessary (and more money).
Low level laser therapy strikes an interesting balance between effectiveness, safety, and affordability. In contrast to high intensity lasers, low level light therapy does not change the surface structure of the skin. The energies used in this approach are much lower and safer with no destruction of tissue. Low level laser typically utilizes the 400 to 980nm wavelength spectrum of light even at low energy values of 5 to 500mW of power. Red light (wavelength ~635 nm) does not penetrate too deeply and is ideal for treating the skin. Blue light (~405 to 420 nm) is near the ultra-violet range and is ideal for killing bacteria such as when treating acne with the laser light penetrating down to the dermis (deep layer) of skin. The dermis is where active skin cells are mainly located (most of the skin cells you see on the skin’s surface are actually dead!) The 820-980 “Infrared” lasers are invisible light and serve many applications including treating deep conditions to a depth of 4 or 5 centimeters.
Because of the low energy output used in low level laser therapy, the treatment is remarkably safe. The technology has been cleared by the FDA based on the safety and effectiveness of the product. It is important to use devices that come from a reliable source such as the Softlaser Plus and The SL50 Evolution lasers that have been thoroughly tested for safety and effectiveness. In general, low level laser use is associated with very few side effects or complications. When used properly, low level lasers are extremely safe.
Perhaps there is no better evidence for this safety than the fact that low level laser use is available at home. Non-medically trained people, including patients, can purchase and use the device on themselves. The availability of home-use low level lasers for anti-aging speaks to the remarkable safety profile of the device and technology.
The above two devices mentioned from Health and Beauty, Inc. provide safe, affordable, effective low level light energy for home use. The Softlaser Plus operates at 635nm (Visible Red Light) which means that it can penetrate to the active layers of the skin. The light energy is non-invasive and painless because of the 5mW of power it operates at. The Sl50 Evolution also has 5mW of power but incorporates 12 lasers, 8 in the 635nm wavelength and 4 in the 830nm wavelength. Both incorporate treatment timers, massage function, pulsed and continuous wave frequencies and meet all laser safety requirements. On the other hand, just because low level laser is available at home for anti-aging use does not mean that it is too weak to be useful. On the contrary, low level laser treatment simply improves the look of skin by a different mechanism, not a less effective one. As was mentioned, high energy lasers ablate or destroy tissue to remove wrinkles. Low level lasers do not change the visible structure of the skin immediately. They do not burn the skin or cause inflammation. The low level laser stimulates living cells within the skin. The light energy tells the cells to start producing the proteins and growth factors that make the skin firm yet smooth.
Low level laser tends to cause the skin to contract after treatment. This can be seen in wound healing1 but also applies to anti-aging uses as well.2;3 What appears to occur is that low level light therapy stimulates fibroblasts (a type of skin cell) to produce collagen and other proteins and peptides that naturally occur in the extracellular matrix. In other words, the low level laser energy stokes up the same cellular processes that were used when skin was soft and smooth but has diminished with age. Instead of mechanically removing wrinkles from the surface, low level laser energy makes the body rejuvenate itself from within.
Perhaps the greatest benefit to patients is that because low level lasers are safe, effective, painless, non-invasive and drug-free. They are also more affordable than other techniques and procedures long term. By using low level laser at home for anti-aging, trips to the dermatologist or plastic surgeon are a thing of the past. Ablative techniques, dermal fillers or botulinum toxin will need to be repeated by a professional. With an at home low level laser, anti-aging treatment can be done when needed to maintain optimum results (up to a maximum amount per day). The only cost is the low level laser device—the “labor” is free!
(1) Hopkins JT, McLoda TA, Seegmiller JG, David BG. Low-Level Laser Therapy Facilitates Superficial Wound Healing in Humans: A Triple-Blind, Sham-Controlled Study. J Athl Train 2004;39:223-229.
(2) Dahan S, Lagarde JM, Turlier V, Courrech L, Mordon S. Treatment of neck lines and forehead rhytids with a nonablative 1540-nm Er:glass laser: a controlled clinical study combined with the measurement of the thickness and the mechanical properties of the skin. Dermatol Surg 2004;30:872-879.
(3) Fournier N, Dahan S, Barneon G et al. Nonablative remodeling: a 14-month clinical ultrasound imaging and profilometric evaluation of a 1540 nm Er:Glass laser. Dermatol Surg 2002;28:926-931.
(4) Mary Dyson PhD, FCSP, Emeritus Reader in the Biology of Tissue Repair, Kings College
London, UK; Former Professor, Department of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation
Sciences, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, USA. “Laser Therapy” a
research paper done exclusively on the Sl50 Evolution and the Softlaser Plus.