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More Than A Pretty Face: LED and Overall Wellness

Contact Author Amy Gardner, LightStim

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Knowledge not only informs, it also inspires the pursuit of possibility. LED (also referred to as low-level light therapy) is widely known as a noninvasive and effective treatment for acne and overall skin rejuvenation. But if you take a closer look at the compelling clinical evidence brought forth in recent years by a variety of accomplished and credible scientists across the globe on how LED actually works, you may come to think of these applications as mere hints at the possibilities. Before we explore this any further, let us consider the significance to our industry.

Our Changing World

The world we live in has changed in an unprecedented way over the past couple of decades, and we are both reaping the benefits and paying the price. Technology has made it possible for us to sit in the comfort of our own homes and communicate, learn, interact and conduct business without much obstacle at any moment of the day. While quite convenient, a major downside to this is that we are seldom truly “unplugged” for more than brief intervals of time here and there—there is less and less quiet time and personal space.

One might think we would make more of an effort to disconnect (electronically speaking) in pursuit of just being, but most of us do not make this a priority. We live in a society that promotes doing—or, achievement and multi-tasking. From a cultural standpoint, we believe these are good things, and to some degree they are. This can, however, create an often unrecognized, and sometimes even accepted, atmosphere of chronic stress that takes a silent toll on our health. Even as we congratulate ourselves on all we are getting done.

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I do not know that we can realistically quantify our level of stress and compare it to that of our ancestors, but it is clear that we know much more about how stress directly affects our health and well-being than they did. We know that this chronic stress—often accompanied by poor diet, exposure to environmental toxins and certain lifestyle choices—has a profound impact on our overall health, including long-term considerations like immune function, and even the rate at which our cells age.

Because we know this, relaxation techniques and spa services have not only become wildly popular in recent years, they have also contributed to the soaring growth of the “wellness industry.” As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”1

Wellness is rooted in a proactive versus reactive approach, and is intended to enhance quality of life. What does this mean for our industry? The answer is: plenty.

According to a report issued by the Global Wellness Institute, “Spas are already providing wellness, even if they don’t recognize or claim it. The tradition of spa as a place for healing, renewal, relaxation and feeling well positions the spa industry as one of the most logical sectors to take advantage of (and help lead) the wellness movement.”2 Of course, most spa and skin care professionals have provided wellness-related services throughout their entire careers, even if they have never promoted them as such.

Spa Services And Well-Being

We know that there are physiological benefits to many of the treatments skin care professionals provide that go much deeper than their obvious effects on the skin. For example, massage directly promotes local blood circulation and helps relieve muscle tension and soreness, but the evidence surrounding the therapeutic and immunological effects of touch makes a strong argument in favor of a less obvious pathway to healing—the mind-body connection.

There have been many studies documenting health benefits that directly result from compassionate touch throughout the years. One study originally was intended to give rabbits heart disease by putting them on a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet. It was discovered that rabbits contained in lower cages in the room experienced much less severe heart disease than did rabbits in higher cages, despite them being genetically identical and on the exact same diet. This observation confounded the team until they found out that one researcher was taking the rabbits in the lower cages out occasionally to pet and talk to them.3 To verify these findings, a subsequent controlled study was done which concluded that the rabbits that were petted had 60% less severe heart disease than those that were not.

Studies like these help us to appreciate that what happens in the spa, including touch and a general atmosphere of care and comfort, most certainly contribute to wellness via the mind/body connection.

LED and Wellness

There are, of course, other spa treatments and modalities that are in keeping with the promotion of wellness. This is where we can take a closer look at the possibilities for LED. If you are familiar with the use of LED for esthetic purposes, you know that it works on a cellular level to initiate various processes that produce desired effects on the appearance of the skin. Many of the same processes are believed to contribute to overall health because they help optimize cellular production and efficiency, especially when the treatment area is of a much larger scale than that of most esthetic devices. This is the essentially the logic in support of full-body LED bed treatment.

Creating cell energy: Over time, the human body generally becomes less efficient at producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the body’s fuel source. In relation, light-based energy of specific wavelengths helps to stimulate ATP production.

In esthetics, we associate ATP with fibroblast cells and the synthesis of proteins like collagen and elastin to plump and firm the skin. However, if we consider that there are literally trillions of cells that perform a variety of critical tasks throughout the human body on a moment-to-moment basis, and that somewhere upwards of 200 cell types have the ability to absorb light energy of certain wavelengths, the importance of ATP takes on a whole new meaning.

Human cells have so much on their plates, such as: breaking down molecules; producing a host of proteins, enzymes, growth factors and inflammatory mediators; synthesizing DNA and RNA; and cell signaling, just to name a few. Therefore, sufficient energy is imperative to healthy cell function.

In fact, most theories of aging are based upon progressive cellular impairment as a result of multiple causes, so the idea of stimulating energy production to help fortify the cell to successfully accomplish these tasks makes a great deal of sense in terms of using the body’s own resources to keep it in better working order.

O2 to the rescue: Some LED devices are cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to stimulate local blood circulation. This is a tremendous benefit of full-body LED since “local,” under these circumstances, means the entire body. Adequate blood circulation is, of course, important to health and healing, as blood is a vehicle by which oxygen and nutrients are transported throughout the body. It is also important to note that many disorders and diseases associated with aging, such as coronary artery disease, heart attacks, strokes and dementia, are in part a result of ischemia, or inadequate blood flow.

The miracle molecule: Studies have shown certain wavelengths of light have the ability to release nitric oxide (NO) from cells, making it bioavailable. Nitric oxide is a gas that is naturally produced by the body, and is often referred to as “the miracle molecule.”

As with ATP, the human body’s ability to produce NO diminishes dramatically with age. In fact, it is estimated that by the time we reach the age of 40, we produce roughly 50% of the NO generated in our youth, and that by age 60, we are at approximately 15% capacity.4 To make matters worse, what we do produce may become “bound” in cells, making it unavailable for the body to use.

Why is this important? NO has the following three primary functions.

  1. When formed in nerve cells, NO is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in cell signaling, allowing cells to coordinate and facilitate various processes.
  2. When produced in the endothelium, NO triggers dilatation of blood vessels and arteries to improve blood flow and discourage the formation of arterial plaques.
  3. When produced in white blood cells, NO helps regulate immune function to protect from harmful bacteria and other threats to the body.

Once again, it is clear that assisting the body in the production and utilization of its own natural resources is absolutely critical in keeping with a pro-active and wellness-focused philosophy.

The Many Faces of Healing

In a society that is becoming increasingly invested in health and well-being, and as members of an industry that is well positioned to contribute to the wellness movement, we have a unique opportunity to help heal in ways we are only beginning to understand—and that is a beautiful thing.


    3. J Kabat-Zinn, Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. Dell Publishing; New York (1990)

Amy Gardner is a licensed esthetician and director of education for LightStim.

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