“You used to have to choose between organic skin care, or skin care that works,” Joanna Vargas explained as she slathered a homemade concoction of blueberries and cayenne on my face. “But now you can really have both.” She’s not just referring to the thriving industry of natural, organic, and clean beauty products; there are also new technologies that don’t involve harmful chemicals or processes that can thin and damage skin over time. And LED light therapy is one that Vargas thinks can revolutionize the organic facial.
Vargas’ New York salon is filled with organic products: her own, which smell like something that came out of your kitchen (in a really good way), and outside lines like Eminence Organics, a popular line in spas that features natural, active ingredients. She’s also a big proponent of green juice–she prescribes recipes to clients as part of their skin care routine–and DIY treatments made of kitchen ingredients. But unlike a lot of aestheticians with a similar approach, she also has a stock of hefty machines ready to administer LED light therapy.
Of course, what “organic skin care” really means is up for debate–one person’s toxin is another person’s certified organic ingredient–and technically speaking, things like lasers, lights, and even some surgery could be considered organic. But acid peels and even microdermabrasion–which can both be considered “natural” or “organic,” and are both also offered at Vargas’ salon–LED light therapy doesn’t damage the skin or have adverse effects over the long term (hyper-exfoliating products and chemical exfoliants can help reduce acne and scarring, but it can also cause skin to thin out over time, which isn’t a good thing for maturing skin).
Light therapy is used for everything from treating seasonal effective disorder to accelerated wound healing. And Vargas uses it to resolve an impressive range of skin issues, from fine lines, wrinkles, crow’s feet, and large pores to cellulite, stretch marks and uneven skin tone. Which I’ll admit, makes it sound more like a hoax than a scientifically-proven treatment. Her machines use a combination of red light and infrared light (which isn’t the same as UV light, so you’re not going to come out with a tan–or skin cancer). But the technology isn’t new; in fact, it’s been used in a medican setting for over 100 years.
The technology isn’t new–it was first developed by Niels Finsen in the early 1900′s. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1903 for developing light therapy to treat diseases like lupus, small pox, and tuberculosis. He also created the first device to generate technically synthesized sunlight, after discovering that the concentration of effective light rays varied by location. (Sitting under the sun in northern climates wasn’t particularly helpful to patients; sun-bathing in the Alps, however, was.)
I have to admit, the backstory of these machines is cold comfort the first time you have one hovering over your face; bright lights flash and oscillate between red, infrared, and other colors–all while you’re being told about how it’s stimulating the production of collagen and elastin in your skin to produce new skin cells and rapidly heal any damaged cells. It’s not for the claustrophobic (the machine literally hovers inches above your face for a few minutes or longer), and it’s also not that cheap (LED light therapy facials at Vargas’ salon range from $150-300).
But the effects are pretty telling: A facial peel with the LED lights left my skin smooth, cool and (dare I say) glowing. Without; my skin is hot, irritated and red; sometimes for days. And although there are certainly cheaper ways to treat many skin problems, if you’re ready to turn to toxic products, disfiguring acid peels, injections or medical procedures to change your face, it’s worth getting under an LED lamp once or twice.