Human skin is truly an incredible organ and is the epitome of multitasking. The skin holds us in and provides a physical barrier against injury and infection. The skin is crucial to homeostatic temperature control, cooling the body through sweating while having an insulating capacity as well.
Sweating when the body temperature elevates as in a sauna allows the skin to act as a powerful organ of elimination, ridding the body of toxins and heavy metals encountered in our toxic world. At the same time the skin acts as an absorption route for a variety of substances.
Much of the sensory input from our environment travels to our brain from cutaneous receptors. These receptors send information to the brain along sensory nerves providing important information ranging from temperature and pain to position-movement sense or proprioception.
The skin responds to our emotional states by blushing or the formation of “goosebumps”. The skin can feel cold or hot in response to emotional states and feelings can even result in breaking out and rashes. Exposure to sunshine allows the skin to help in the formation of vitamin D.
Unfortunately many if not most people have unhealthy skin. The skin comes into contact with a great many toxins. Skin is inactivated by clothing and bathing in very hot water. Most Americans today are relatively sedentary and do not sweat enough.
There are also many diseases and disorders that primarily or secondarily involve the skin. Direct and indirect costs borne by our society related to these skin problems run into the billions of dollars each year.
Low level laser (light) therapy (LLLT), phototherapy or photobiomodulation, all refer to the use of light for altering biological activity of certain target within the human
An enormous amount of research over the past 10 to 15 years has discovered many beneficial applications of phototherapy
in treating a variety of health problems and disorders.
LLLT uses either non-ablative low power lasers or non-coherent light sources consisting of filtered lamps such as the
tungsten filament heat lamps used in near infrared lamp saunas or light-emitting diodes (LED). The main medical
applications of LLLT have been reducing pain and inflammation, augmenting tissue repair and promoting regeneration of
different tissues and nerves, and preventing tissue damage.
There are multiple significant variables in terms of dose parameters: wavelength, power density, pulse structure,
coherence, energy, irradiation time, contact vs non-contact application, repetition regimen and more. Lower doses can
result in reduced effectiveness of the treatment and higher ones can lead to tissue damage.
While treatment protocol uncertainties remain, there is one irrefutable fact of phototherapy. Virtually all LLLT
research and medical applications revolve around the use of light in the visible red and near infrared spectrum.
This is the same light spectrum emitted by the tungsten filament lamps in near infrared lamp saunas.
The same light is contained in sun light, in fact, over 50% of sunlight that reaches the surface of the earth is near infrared
4 Tiny receptors in our bodies called chromophores have an optical window that only absorbs and
responds to near infrared light.
LLLT for Skin Rejuvenation
Skin starts showing its first signs of aging in the late 20s to early 30s and it usually presents with wrinkles, dyspigmentation, telangiectasia, and loss of elasticity. Common features are reduction in the amount of collagen,
fragmentation of collagen fibers, degeneration of elastic fibers, dilated and tortuous dermal vessels, and atrophy and disorientation of the epidermis. The passage
of time and environmental influences are responsible for the aging process; however sun exposure seems to be one of the most important
causes of these changes.6
Acne vulgaris is a relatively common skin disorder, with a reported prevalence of up to 90% among adolescents. Although
typical acne is neither a serious nor a contagious condition, it can greatly impact the emotional and social aspects of
an individual’s life. Current therapies for acne vulgaris include topical antibiotics and other topical compounds. In
severe cases oral antibiotics and hormones have been used.
LLLT for Herpes Virus Lesions
One of the most common virus infections is caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV is chronic and lasts one’s entire
life. The exposure of the host to physical or emotional stresses such as fever, exposure to UV light, and immune
suppression causes virus reactivation eruption of “cold sores”.27 Anti-viral drugs have been only partially effective.
LLLT has been suggested as an alternative to current medications for accelerated healing, reducing symptoms and
influencing the length of the recurrence period. 28 29 30 31 32
Vitiligo is an acquired pigmentary disorder characterized by depigmentation of the skin and hair. The underlying
mechanism of how the depigmentation occurs is uncertain. Therefore, stimulation of these epidermal and dermal cells may
be a possible treatment option. Treatment of vitiligo has generally been unsatisfactory.33
LLLT has been suggested as an alternative effective treatment option for patients with vitiligo. Phototherapy has been
shown to improve pigmentation.34 3536
LLLT for Hypertrophic Scars and Keloids
Hypertrophic scars and keloids are benign skin tumors that usually form following surgery, trauma, or acne and are
difficult to eradicate. The use of LLLT as a prophylactic method to alter the wound healing process to avoid or
attenuate the formation of hypertrophic scars or keloids has been investigated. Near infrared (NIR) LED therapy has
been shown to improve scar formation without adverse effects.37 38 39 40 41
Patients treated with NIR LED showed decreased symptoms of burning, redness, swelling, and peeling after acute sunburn.
People that receive laser therapy may suffer devastating burns. LED treated laser burns have demonstrated accelerated
healing.42 43 44
More recently LLLT has been considered for treatment of plaque psoriasis. A recent preliminary study showed no adverse
side effects and a resolution of
psoriasis. The limitation of this study was the small number of patients enrolled, however the results observed
encourage future investigations for use of LLLT in treating psoriasis.45
The UV range (< 400 nm) exposure is responsible for almost all damaging photo-induced effects on human
skin. 46 47 48 Existing solutions to
prevent UV damage are based on either avoidance of sun exposure or by use of sunscreens. Sun avoidance might be hard to
implement, especially for the people involved in outdoor occupations or activities. Topical sunscreens have their own
limitations as well.
It has recently been suggested that infrared (IR) exposure might have protective effects against UV-induced skin damage
mainly by triggering protective/repair responses to UV irradiation. 49 50
LLLT for Treatment of Hair Loss
Androgenetic alopecia (AGA) is the most common form of hair loss in men, affecting almost 50% of the male
population.52 Several other forms of hair loss also exist such as telogen effluvium (TE), alopecia
areata (AA), and alopecia induced via chemotherapy.53
In 2007, the FDA approved LLLT as a possible treatment modality for hair loss. 54
Multiple studies have shown LLLT to be beneficial in treating hair loss. In male pattern baldness (AGA) patients
described significant improvements in overall hair regrowth, a decreased rate of hair loss, thicker feeling hair,
improved scalp health and hair shine. About 65% of the patients that receive chemotherapy for cancer develop alopecia.
In an animal model hair regrowth proceeded more rapidly after LLLT. 55 56 57 58 59 60
LLLT for Fat Reduction and Cellulite Treatment
Low level light or laser therapy (LLLT) is a form of light therapy. Light therapy is used interchangeably with phototherapy or photobiomodulation. Non-ablative lasers, LED’s, and near infrared lamps are used in a wide variety of applications in the management of skin problems and disorders. They provide a safe, user friendly, and effective alternative to traditional treatments which are often expensive, problematic and of limited effectiveness.
The large and rapidly growing body of research in this field does not specifically address the use of near infrared lamp saunas but one fact bears repeating. Virtually all research and actual application of phototherapy involves near infrared light. Every wavelength utilized in research and clinical use is contained in the light emitted by the tungsten filament bulbs in a near infrared lamp sauna. Use of near infrared saunas will only increase as awareness of this powerful tool grows in the public mind.
(Featured image courtesy of Olivier Valsecchi)