Virtually everyone will have to deal with sagging skin at one point or another. While it is commonly associated with rapid or major weight loss, loose skin is also simply a byproduct of aging, albeit to a lesser degree. Over time our skin loses its natural plumpness and elasticity, and gravity starts to win the battle.
Drooping skin can be a harsh reality for many people. After all, our quality of life as well as access to healthcare and proper nutrition means that we not only maintain our health much longer, we also feel younger than ever before. Gone are the days when turning 50 meant having a cropped perm and wearing slacks up to your armpits. People at any age are allowed to feel and look as youthful, sexy, and trendy as they wish - and they would like their skin to reflect the youthfulness they feel on the inside.
While there are many procedures on the market for firming and tightening loose skin, they’re often prohibitively expensive and usually involve the removal of skin, or the injection of a foreign substance. What if there was a way to use your body’s own collagen-producing ability to plump up sagging skin naturally, and non-invasively? Well, guess what. You can do just that with red light therapy. Often described as the fountain of youth, red light therapy has been clinically shown to reduce wrinkles, promote the healing of scars and blemishes, and tighten sagging skin, resulting in a more youthful appearance - you know, one that matches the ‘you’ on the inside.
How exactly can red light therapy treat loose skin? We’ve got the lowdown for you right here. But first - why do we have loose skin?
Causes of Loose or Sagging Skin
There are many variables involved in the loss of skin tone and elasticity. Chances are at least one of these will have you thinking, “yup, that’s me”. Here they are, in no particular order
When people think of loose skin due to weight loss, they usually imagine someone who’s dropped more than a hundred pounds, leaving them with handfuls of excess skin that they have to have surgically excised. While this is sometimes the case, losing even a small amount of weight can cause some degree of sagging in the skin. Fat acts as a plumping agent, smoothing out wrinkles and masking loss of bone mass. This is where that old - and horrifically outdated - adage comes from that says a woman of a certain age must choose between her face and her butt. Um, no thanks.
A pregnant belly must expand to fit a full-grown baby (and sometimes more!) in a matter of months. This rapid stretching of the skin can not only cause tears, which manifest as stretch marks, it can also weaken the integrity of the connective tissue (the network of fibers that provides structure and elasticity to your skin).
The younger a person is, the easier it is for the skin to bounce back after pregnancy. Given that the average age for having children has increased significantly in the last century, the number of women dealing with loose skin post-pregnancy has increased as well.
We’ve already touched on aging, but let’s go over the specifics. The two main proteins involved in skin tone are collagen and elastin.
Collagen comes from the Greek word ‘kolla’, which means glue. This is a fairly apt designation, as it essentially acts as the glue that holds your tissues together. Elastin, on the other hand, is the stretchy component. The two proteins working together provide structure that is robust yet supple.
Naturally, as we age, the body’s production of these substances wanes. In fact, it starts to slow down early, at about age 25. This is why we can seemingly use and abuse our skin when we’re younger with little immediate consequence. Unfortunately, however, we may pay for it down the road.
Did you know that chronic sun exposure in your childhood and teens can come back later to bite you in the behind? Indeed, so many people wish they could go back in time and warn their younger selves about the importance of sunscreen and hats.
Sunlight that reaches your skin is made up of UVA and UVB light. While UVB is the main culprit in the development of skin cancer, you can blame the loss of skin elasticity on UVA light. It penetrates deep into the dermis layer of the skin, where it damages collagen and elastin fibers. Also called photoaging, UV damage is the main reason our skin sags as we age. In fact, it’s responsible for 90% of the visible changes to our skin, a result of the cumulative effects of a lifetime of sun exposure.
Smoking has long been known to cause a variety of life-threatening diseases, but it can also contribute to increased wrinkles, and thinner, sagging skin. First, nicotine causes the narrowing of blood vessels, preventing essential oxygen and nutrients from reaching skin cells. Second, the more than 7,000 (yes, we did a double take, too) chemicals in cigarette smoke triggers the breakdown of collagen and elastin, causing the skin to age at a much faster rate than for non-smokers. And it’s not just limited to the face - smoking is one of the leading causes of sagging skin in the arms and breasts, as well.
The overall effects of smoking are so varied and so nasty that we’d almost consider it to be the antithesis of red light therapy - and it’s not such a far-fetched theory, as you’ll see.
Ehlers-Danlos Syndromes are a group of 13 distinctive connective tissue disorders that are generally characterized by joint hypermobility, tissue fragility, and skin hyperextensibility (skin that stretches further than normal.
In a nutshell, EDS is caused by the formation of weakened collagen fibers. The condition is genetic and affects between 1 in 2,500 and 1 in 5,000 people, although recent research suggests it may be more common. While most types are non-life-threatening, extreme cases can be painful and can significantly limit mobility. Mild cases are not without issue, either, often causing social discomfort and body confidence issues.
Common Treatments for Loose Skin
There are a variety of treatments on the market today promising to help you regain your youthful appearance. Some are more effective than others, some more invasive than others, and some more expensive than others. Let’s take a look at your options.
It’s possible to tighten up skin in some areas by increasing muscle mass. While fat is generally the best plumping agent for your skin (albeit not the healthiest), developing muscles can have a similar smoothing effect. Strength training is especially effective for tightening loose skin in areas such as the arms, back, and butt. And yes, face workouts are a thing, too.
There are some simple lifestyle changes you can make to prevent sagging skin, as well as to improve its appearance. Adjustments such as drinking more water, limiting alcohol intake, wearing sunscreen daily, and adding antioxidants to your diet can improve your skin’s elasticity, and are relatively easy to incorporate.
While significantly more difficult, quitting smoking has been found to increase blood flow within hours, and you’ll likely see a difference in the overall appearance of your skin in just a few weeks time, including greater skin tonicity (provided you practice good skin care).
Women, and increasingly, men, are continually bombarded with ads for firming creams chock-a-block with collagen-boosting properties. They all promise to improve the tautness of the skin, but with such a variety of ingredients and price points, how do you know what works and what’s just fluff?
Retinol-based lotions appear to be the most effective in plumping up saggy skin, but don’t expect a miracle. Many of these products are simply great moisturizers that work by plumping up the top layer of the skin, causing a temporary smoothing effect.
Chemical peels can improve the appearance of the skin by removing the top layer of skin with a chemical solution, exposing a smoother, tauter layer underneath. While less invasive than many other clinical procedures for loose skin, it’s not without risk and discomfort. Post-procedure, you can expect swelling, redness, scaling, and blisters that crust and peel off over a period of 7-14 days. Potential side effects include temporary or permanent discoloration of the skin and scarring. The average cost of a chemical peel in 2019 was $644, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
There are two types of laser resurfacing, ablative and non-ablative. While they both work to tighten skin by stimulating collagen production, they are very different procedures. Ablative lasers are more invasive, as they remove the top layers of the skin. Healing can take up to three weeks, and there is a risk of infection during this time.
Non-ablative lasers don’t remove any skin. Rather, they simply heat the skin to stimulate collagen production. There is little to no downtime for this procedure, and the side effects are minimal.
Both procedures are rather pricey; ablative resurfacing has an average cost of about $2,000, while its counterpart costs roughly $1,200 per treatment.
During this ultrasound treatment, sound waves are diffused beneath the skin where they gently heat the dermis, producing a tightening effect and stimulating the production of new collagen. The treatment is considered non-invasive, as the layers of skin are left intact. Results are said to appear gradually in the two to three months following treatment, although some patients see a change immediately.
Cost of treatment can vary depending on the size of the area being treated, with full face and neck estimated at around $5,000. Results can last up to a year.
Rather than tightening skin by stimulating collagen production, the aptly-named dermal fillers fill areas where sagging occurs, adding volume to the skin. Most commonly used to smooth out laugh lines and nasolabial folds, and to plump up lips, fillers have reached peak popularity. This is thanks in part to celebrities and influencers trotting out perfectly plump faces in recent years, but also due to fillers' drastic yet easily obtained results.
What’s the downside, you might ask? First, it’s pricey: one syringe costs $500-600 on average, with many procedures requiring two or more. Second, while effects can last up to two years, some fillers can dissolve in as little as three months. Fillers can also sometimes produce unnatural-looking results - especially when administered by a less experienced professional - causing what many call “pillow face” or “duck lips”. Finally, depending on how much filler you use, it can cause the skin to stretch even further, resulting in even saggier skin down the road.
Surgery is by far the most invasive of all procedures, and carries the highest risk. The results, however, are permanent. It’s often the only way to effectively remove excess skin after significant weight loss, and in such cases may be covered by your insurance.
Non-weight-related skin tightening surgery, such as face lifts and tummy tucks can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. As with any surgery, there is risk of complications and infection, and the recovery time is quite long. In fact, it usually requires taking a few weeks off work, and bruising and numbness can last for months.
The takeaway here is that while there is a wealth of options available to you if you’re looking to tighten loose skin, the inexpensive treatments are generally not very effective, and the effective treatments are often - you got it - extremely expensive, not to mention risky and invasive.
This is where red light therapy comes in. Red light therapy works by optimizing your body’s natural performance at the cellular level, which, among many other benefits, stimulates collagen production. But how, exactly, can light do that? Let’s go over the basics, shall we?
Red Light Therapy: A Safe and Effective, and Affordable Alternative for Treating Loose Skin
Light, at all kinds of frequencies, can have a profound effect on many aspects of our lives. Sunlight is crucial for the synthesis of vitamin D, for example, which is beneficial to our health. The same light, however, can cause cells to become cancerous, and is a primary culprit for skin damage. Blue light stimulates wakefulness, which is a good thing when we’re referring to early morning light filtering in through the window, but not so much when we’re scrolling on our phones before bed.
There are complicated mechanisms behind these phenomena which we won’t get into here. Suffice it to say that it is well understood that light can penetrate our tissues and affect our health in myriad ways. And red light is no exception. What makes red light therapy stand out, however, is that there are virtually no known negative effects.
How it works
Also known as photobiomodulation or low-level light therapy, red light therapy uses light-emitting diodes (LED) to safely diffuse red and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths of light deep into the skin. Here, it penetrates all the way to the cells and into the mitochondria. We’re tempted to say this is where the magic happens, but there is no magic involved. It’s simply cold, hard science.
Speaking of science, you may be familiar with the mitochondrion as the powerhouse of the cell. It’s responsible for the production of adenosine triphosphate (ADP), the energy that powers every square inch of the body. A variety of factors may come into play throughout your life that slow down ATP production, resulting in the suboptimal functioning of various tissues and organs. Sluggish mitochondrial functioning can cause a variety of issues, including decreased collagen and elastin production in your skin’s connective tissue, leading to loose, sagging skin.
Red and infrared light exposure triggers a biochemical reaction within the mitochondrion, allowing it to use oxygen more efficiently to produce ATP. This boost of energy allows the body’s various cells to perform much more efficiently.
It also kicks off a positive feedback loop within the body: one of the effects of an increase in ATP is improved blood flow. This in turn allows for more oxygen to reach the cells, which increases ATP production, and so on.
Red light therapy also appears to trigger the activation of stem cells, which are known to play an important role in tissue repair and healing.
For further reading on how red light therapy works as well as its many benefits, check out this article.
Current research on red light therapy for loose skin
Given that red light therapy is applied directly to the skin at close range, skin issues tend to respond particularly well to the treatment. And there is no lack of research on the topic. Here are some of the most salient studies on the beneficial effects of red light therapy on skin tone and firmness.
- In a 2006 study on red light therapy and photoaging skin, subjects received red light therapy treatment over 5 weeks, and were subsequently evaluated after 12 weeks. The vast majority reported significant improvement in softness, smoothness, and firmness, and showed improvements in wrinkles as well. Biopsies on select subjects also revealed thicker collagen fibers.
- A 2009 study looked at effects of photobiomodulation on the regulation of collagen metabolism in vitro. Using human reconstructed skin (HRS), researchers were able to look at the mechanisms behind red light therapy’s effect on the skin. They found that it reversed the downregulation (sciency word for reduction at the cellular level) of collagen. They determined that red light 660nm is a safe and effective way to enhance collagen production.
- A 2014 study compared subjects who received red light therapy treatment twice a week for 30 sessions with those who received no treatment. The treated subjects showed significant improvements in skin complexion, feeling and smoothness, and collagen density (as measured by ultrasound). Control subjects in contrast showed no such benefits. The researchers concluded that red light therapy is a safe and effective tool for skin rejuvenation and intradermal collagen increase.
- 2013 gave us an important metaanalysis on the benefits of red light therapy for the treatment of skin issues as well as the underlying mechanisms. Their analysis concluded that red light therapy is beneficial in the treatment of a variety of skin issues, including wrinkles, scars, acne, and hyperpigmentation, and can also be used to reduce and prevent UV damage.
- A 2017 study measured the effectiveness of three different facial treatments, including red light therapy, on the wrinkles and moisture content of women’s eyes, foreheads, and cheeks. Researchers found that red light therapy had a significant positive effect on women’s faces.
Let’s Talk Safety: What Are the Risks and Side Effects of Red Light Therapy?
The body of evidence supporting the numerous, wide-ranging benefits of red light therapy is continually growing, and one aspect that has remained consistent throughout the many years of research is the treatment’s exemplary safety profile. Virtually every study to date has determined that red light therapy carries no major risks or side effects. The only minor side effects recorded have been slight temporary redness at the site of exposure, and slight eye discomfort (this is natural, as the light emitted is quite bright. Goggles are generally provided for this reason) In fact, red light therapy is not only considered safe for daily use, frequent, consistent use is recommended to achieve desired results.
How to Use Red Light Therapy to Tighten Loose Skin
Ready to take the plunge? Here’s how you can enjoy tighter, smoother skin with red light therapy.
Visit a Clinic or Spa
Many upscale clinics, spas, and gyms have equipped themselves with industrial red light therapy machines in recent years. Treatments can be pricey, however, ranging anywhere between $50 and $300 per 15-20 minute session. Given that red light therapy’s effectiveness hinges on frequent, consistent use (we’re talking a few times a week), it’s simply not a feasible treatment plan for people with both limited time and funds.
Use an at-home red light therapy device
Personal red light therapy panels are becoming more popular - and more powerful, with sleek, compact devices rivalling the industrial monoliths found in professional settings in terms of effectiveness. All this at a fraction of the price.
Here’s how you can maximize the skin-tightening benefits of your red light therapy device:
- Make sure your skin is clean and free of sunscreen and makeup before treatment;
- Place your device between 6 and 12 inches away from the target area;
- Start with a short session (5-10 minutes) and slowly work your way up to 20 minutes per session;
- Continue using 3-5 times per week;
- Repeat until desired results are achieved (this may take several weeks), then reduce frequency to 1-2 times per week for maintenance.
Your red light therapy device is not just limited to treating loose skin, either. Depending on the area of the body being targeted, you can treat a wide variety of issues and ailments. Some of the many benefits of red light therapy include:
- Wound and scar healing;
- Muscle growth, performance, and recovery;
- Weight loss;
- Hair growth;
- Cognitive health;
- Immune health;
- Hormones and sex drive;
- Pain and inflammation;
- Mental health and depression;
- Sleep disturbances;
- Eye health;
- Oral and dental health.
Don’t be surprised if you see unexpected benefits, as well. Many clients begin red light therapy treatment for one issue only to discover sneaky little improvements in areas that they didn’t even realize needed improving. Better mental clarity, healthier hair, and better sleep are some of the common surprises our clients have relayed to us.
Choose the Right Device For You With Rouge Red Light Therapy
Did you know that Rouge Red Light Therapy panels beat out the most popular brands on the market in terms of power and effectiveness? Third party testing revealed that Rouge panels have more LEDs, higher energy output, and more concentrated power than the leading competition. Check out the details here.
Rouge has a growing family of red light therapy panels and accessories, designed to help you achieve your treatment goals at the right price. Our Rouge Ultimate panel is the biggest of the bunch - and one of the largest home devices out there. Designed for head to toe care, it allows you to get the full body treatment in one quick session.
Next down the line is the Rouge Pro. Large enough to tackle half the body in one go, it’s ideal for those who still want big coverage, but at a slight smaller price.
The Rouge Essential is great for treating larger targeted areas such as muscle groups, while the Rouge Tabletop is perfect for smaller target areas - like the face.
Finally, the Rouge Nano portable device is designed to tag along with you wherever you happen to be so you can grab a quick session on the go.
Check out our selection of quality, affordable red light therapy panels here.
We all want who we are on the outside to reflect who we are on the inside. The power to reduce the signs of aging and look your best exists within your body. Take the first step to unlocking that power today.