Gentlewaves LED: no better than placebo

About a year or two ago, a new type of LED device started appearing at the various plastic surgery meetings. It was suggested that certain frequencies (colors) of light could have beneficial properties on the skin, through a theory known as photomodulation. There was no heat, no pain, no downtime, no complications… Sitting under a bank of pulsing colored LED’s for a short treatment was supposed to improve your skin.

Well, longtime readers of this blog will begin to notice their noses twitching. We’ve often commented “when you do less, you get less”. So how could this low-power, non-thermal photomodulation thing work?

A group of investigators from the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary tried to confirm some previously published good results on the GentleWaves LED system, which uses an amber LED bank for facial skin treatments. Good scientists regularly do this – confirming earlier experiments. But something surprising happened. I’ll let their abstract published earlier this year in Dermatologic Surgery tell the story…..

“METHODS AND MATERIALS: Facial skin was exposed to pulses of 588+/-10-nm-wavelength light from a photomodulation device for 40 seconds once a week for 8 weeks. Photographs, clinical assessment, and a subjective questionnaire were taken at baseline, at the last follow-up, and 1 month after that. Thirty-six patients’ pre- and post-treatment photos were arbitrarily scrambled, and 30 independent blinded observers were asked to pick the post-treatment photo. Two time-point comparisons were evaluated.

RESULTS: For every facial characteristic studied and for both time-point comparisons, patients reported highly statistically significant improvements. In extremely sharp contrast, neither the physician’s assessment nor the independent observers’ evaluation indicated any improvement.

CONCLUSION: Patients genuinely believed that several of their facial features had improved, even though there was no detectable objective change. Our data therefore suggest that the LED photomodulation treatment from the device tested is a placebo.”

Take-home lesson: This device was FDA approved. This means it is safe, as in non-damaging. FDA approval of devices, unlike FDA approval of drugs, does not imply that the device is effective. Gentlewaves LED photomodulation device appears to be hype. Don’t waste your money.

Lesson #2: when reading scientific studies, look for objective evidence of improvement – rather than just the subjective opinions of the patients’ themselves.

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