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How Red Light Therapy Helps Repair Sun-Damaged Skin

We’re all excited to get some sunshine as we head into the summer months. However, sun damage is more than a bit of sunburn here and there. Sun damage not only ages skin more quickly, but it also can cause real harm in the form of skin cancer.

The damage is already done for some of us, but you can repair sun-damaged skin, like wrinkles and sunspots. Red light therapy can help repair sun damage and reveal younger-looking skin, with the bonus of being a quick, painless treatment.

Types of Sun Damage

Ultimately, the cause of skin damage is too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. This type of light radiation is damaging, whether from true sunshine or regular exposure to ultraviolet light bulbs. Your suntan is a natural response to protect the skin from radiation: your skin produces more melanin to reflect ultraviolet light instead of absorbing it. However, everyone should wear sunscreen for prolonged sun exposure regardless of skin tone.

See how you can manage your sun exposure to prevent skin damage.

There are a few different types of skin damage:

Sunburn: We’ve all had a little sunburn before, but what is it, exactly? Sunburn is a radiation burn from UV exposure; it’s a reaction to damaged DNA caused by UVB light. When DNA is damaged, the body has an immune response to repair or remove damaged cells, which causes the redness and eventual peeling of the skin.

Wrinkles: UV light, especially too much of it, can cause a breakdown of collagen and elastin in our skin, which affects the skin’s firmness and elasticity, causing wrinkles.

Sun Spots: An increase in melanin causes your suntan, but too much UV exposure can cause melanin to build up in clusters that cause dark spots, called sun or age spots. While your tan fades in the winter months, sun spots stick around.

Melasma: The overproduction of melanin also causes melasma, which is brown or gray skin patches where melanin production has gone overboard.

Actinic Keratosis (AK): Actinic keratosis causes scaly, crusty patches on the skin from too much sun exposure. AK is one of the most dangerous forms of sun damage, as around 10% of actinic keratosis patches become cancerous.

How Red Light Therapy Repairs Sun Damage

Red light therapy (RLT) uses specific wavelengths of red and near-infrared light to activate the body’s natural healing processes. RLT increases the body’s production of collagen and elastin, which helps repair sun damage and other skin concerns, like scarring and hyperpigmentation. It also increases the body’s natural immune response to help clear away dead cells and repair damaged ones.

Boosted collagen production smooths and firms skin, helping improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Red light therapy doesn’t just make more collagen, either; it also protects existing collagen, helping skin retain its elasticity.

A targeted photodynamic therapy combines red light therapy with a photosensitizing medication to remove actinic keratosis patches. In this procedure, you take an oral medication that increases your skin’s sensitivity to light, and then a dermatologist will use a strong red light to remove AK spots.

Learn how to properly prep your skin for red light therapy.

Benefits of Red Light Therapy for Sun Damage

Other common treatments for sun damage include chemical peels and topical creams and gels. However, these can cause reactions in individuals with sensitive skin, and some topical treatments like retinoids (a common OTC solution for wrinkles) increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight. Additionally, while chemical peels are safe, they’re often painful. A chemical exfoliant triggers the shedding of the top layer of skin, often leaving the skin sensitive until healed.

The purpose of these treatments is to increase cell turnover, which is part of the reason they affect sensitive skin or cause sensitivity. However, red light therapy activates the body’s natural processes to increase collagen production and repair tissue damage. Additionally, red light therapy has no downtime, and there are no harmful side effects.

Learn more about what you can expect from a full-body red light therapy session.

Prevent Sun Damage

Damage from UV radiation ages skin the fastest, which can be dangerous. While some damage can’t be helped, especially for those with outdoor jobs and hobbies, protection from UV radiation minimizes risks. Always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen when spending time outside, and reapply every 80 minutes or after swimming or sweating. Wear protective clothing, especially if you have sun damage like sunspots and melasma, as treatments for these conditions aren’t as effective with repeated sun exposure.

Sun damage doesn’t have to be permanent, and there are more options than expensive creams and chemical peels. If you’re looking to tackle sun damage and reveal healthier, younger-looking skin, click the link below to find a TheraLight provider near you.


This blog was originally published on April 20, 2020, and was last updated on February 10, 2022.

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