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Do anti-aging lights really work?

No one wants to look old and many will do anything to achieve a youthful appearance. See more healthy aging pictures.
©iStockphoto.com/DenGuy

Let's face facts -- no one wants to get old. No one wants wrinkles crisscrossing their face like a gas station road map. No one wants gray hair, crow's feet and liver spots. Even the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon didn't want to get long in the tooth. That's why he set out looking for the Fountain of Youth.

De Leon failed, but that hasn't stopped our search for that legendary fountain. Instead of a rushing spring of mineral water, our Fountain of Youth comes in the form of pills, lotions, creams and dozens of other anti-aging products. Our desire to stay young forever is big business. Sales of anti-aging lotions, supplements and other products are expected to top $291 billion by 2015 [source: World Health.net].

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Topping the list of I-don't-want-to-get-old remedies is light therapy. Light therapy is a medical treatment in which beams of light supposedly melt the years away. How does light therapy work? Our body's own aging process, coupled with exposure to the sun and pollution, destroys collagen, the connective tissue in our bodies that keeps skin healthy and wrinkle free [source: Bouchez]. Light therapy uses highly concentrated beams of light energy to tunnel though the skin and jump start the body's natural collagen production. 

Anti-aging light therapy comes in two main forms. The first is photo-dynamic therapy, which is light therapy administered by a doctor. The second are hand-held anti-aging lights that consumers can buy. But the biggest question is do either of these light therapies really work, or are they simply methods hawked by the modern-day snake oil salesman? Go on to the next page to find out.

 

Doctors use PDT to activate oxygen molecules in aging skin, which, according to one study, helps skin rejuvenate itself.
Doctors use PDT to activate oxygen molecules in aging skin, which, according to one study, helps skin rejuvenate itself.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

For years doctors have used photo-dynamic light therapy (PDT) to treat various diseases such as brain cancer. PDT uses light-sensitive drugs that produce disease-killing oxygen molecules when activated by a high-intensity light source [source: Alai]. Dermatologists have also used PDT as a treatment for acne, rosacea and skin cancer.

Today, doctors use PDT to activate oxygen molecules in aging skin, which, according to one study, helps skin rejuvenate itself. Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor treated 25 people with PDT. The patients ranged in age from 54 to 83 and all had sun-damaged skin [source: Preidt].

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Researchers, led by Dr. Jeffrey S. Orringer, applied a photo-sensitive medication called 5-ALA to the damaged skin. The drug was left on the skin for three hours before it was treated with a laser [source: Preidt]. Over the next six months, researchers took tissue samples of the patients' skin. The samples showed the emergence of high levels of a protein that plays an important role in the growth and development of new skin cells. The skin's outer layer also became thicker [source: Preidt].

Moreover, patients had higher levels of enzymes and other compounds associated with the production of collagen. Doctors said the use of the photosensitive medication in conjunction with the laser created more beneficial changes in skin than laser therapy alone [source: Preidt].

Vicky Wright, a registered nurse in Tennessee, underwent a type of light therapy known as Fractional CO2 Laser Resurfacing. The treatment uses a carbon dioxide laser that delivers thousands of beams of light to bore through the skin's tough outer layer. The light destroyed the old skin cells, while stimulating the body's natural collagen production. The result left Wright with skin that looked fresh and young [sources: Bradley, Bouchez].

Why go to the doctor and spend thousands of dollars to have the years blasted away when you can do it all from the comfort of your home? Many companies market hand-held Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights as an affordable, natural way to look younger without surgery.

According to advertisements for these do-it-yourself anti-aging lights, some infrared light lamps stimulate cell activity in skin causing it to look younger. Where do we sign up?

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It's no secret that light therapy can grow, rejuvenate and heal damaged skin. Dr. Harry Whelan, a professor of neurology and pediatrics and hyperbaric medicine, and director of the hyperbaric medicine unit at the Medical College of Wisconsin, says LED lights were first invented by NASA scientists studying ways to grow plants in space. Researchers soon found that LED lights stimulated cell growth when used to heal wounds and treat brain tumors. Whelan says if cells are struggling, they can heal much faster when LED lights are applied [source: WUWM].

When used as anti-aging lights, they supposedly direct infrared light at the skin to smooth wrinkles and improve texture. The devices are costly, between $200 and $400, and there is little evidence that hand-held LED lights that consumers can get at their local big box store can make you look younger. A 2009 study conducted by the Good Housekeeping Research Institute concluded these scaled-down versions of what dermatologists use have little impact on wrinkles [source: Pitman].

Good Housekeeping studied five of the leading brands. Over a six week period, a series of volunteers used the devices following the manufacturers' instruction. The study found that with a few exceptions, fine lines and wrinkles were still visible [source: Pitman].

Only two of the lights improved skin slightly. The magazine's editors said while consumers might get some benefits from hand-held LED devices, they are expensive and time consuming to use. In other words, we'd be better off using a much less expensive face cream [source: Pitman].

The search for the Fountain of Youth continues.

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Sources

  • Bouchez, Colette. "Top 6 Anti-aging Breakthroughs." Web MD. (May, 2011). http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/features/top-6-antiaging-breakthroughs
  • Bradley, Barbara. "Fractional CO2 Laser Skin Resurfacing latest face of anti-aging." The Commercial Appeal. Feb. 11, 2010. (May, 2011). http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2010/feb/11/rejuvenation/
  • Pitman, Simon. "Consumer watchdog find home LED anti-aging devices ineffective." Cosmetrics Design." April 15, 2010. (May, 2011). http://www.cosmeticsdesign.com/Market-Trends/Consumer-watchdog-find-home-LED-anti-aging-devices-ineffective
  • Preidt, Robert. "Study: Light Therapy appears to rejuvenate aging skin." USA Today. Oct. 23, 2008. (May, 2011). http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-10-23-photodynamic-skin_N.htm
  • Web MD. "Photodynamic Therapy." (May, 2011). http://www.medicinenet.com/photodynamic_therapy/article.htm
  • World Health. "Global Anti-Aging Products Market to Reach $291.9 Billion by 2015, According to New Report by Global Industry Analysts." Feb. 19, 2009. (May, 2011). http://www.worldhealth.net/news/global_anti-aging_products_market_to_rea/
  • WUWM.com. "Light & Wound Healing." July 12, 2010. (May, 2011). http://www.wuwm.com/programs/lake_effect/le_sgmt.php?segmentid=6070

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