Interview: Dr Colin Whitehurst
Bh asks the creator of Omnilux light therapy about how this new type of skin treatment works and if it's right for you...
The cosmetic benefits of photodynamic therapy (PDT) were first stumbled upon by accident. While researching alternatives to laser in the treatment of skin cancer, Dr Colin Whitehurst of the Christie Hospital in Manchester, UK, created a PDT lamp with the properties of a laser that would kill cancer cells without damaging surrounding normal tissue. He then discovered that his lamp was not only improving cancer lesions, but was also rejuvenating the skin around them. Further research ensued, Photo Therapeutics patented the lamp and the first Omnilux was born.
What is Omnilux and how does it work?
The Omnilux is, simply put, a facial treatment that uses light in place of products. The Omnilux lamp features a matrix of light emitting diodes (LEDs) that deliver narrowband light at a specific wavelength. While white light, or the clear light that surrounds us, is a combination of different colours, "narrowband light is the isolation of a single colour," explains Dr Whitehurst.
"Think of it as an artist's box of coloured pencils. With the Omnilux, we select one specific colour from that box in its pure form, based on what we want it to do for the skin."
These different colours of light penetrate the skin to varying depths, causing the skin to respond by healing itself. "The light [works to] recharge the mitochondria of skin cells, giving them the energy to perform at maximum capacity. We would normally get that energy from food and oxygen, but things like damage, disease and age affect the efficiency of that recharge," says Dr Whitehurst.
"This treatment not only recharges the mitochondria, it also opens up the communication between the cells so that they work together more effectively. It's like having a construction site where the workers have had lunch, the trucks are all fuelled up and everybody can hear their instructions clearly. Everything works faster and better."
What's the difference between Omnilux and other light therapies?
Non-invasive and non-ablative, Omnilux PDT delivers the benefits of light, without the ravages of heat or UV. Lasers and Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) can have dramatic results, but they cause downtime and damage that is at best inconvenient and, at worst, painful. "This [Omnilux] is a painless, even relaxing, experience that has no side effects and needs no healing time," highlights Dr Whitehurst. "The key difference is that while things like lasers and chemicals force a process, this stimulates the body's own natural mechanisms without inflicting an insult or injury on the skin."
Which skin conditions can be treated with which colours of light?
Omnilux Blue uses blue light that penetrates less than 1mm to combat acne. "The blue light is at a frequency that activates a chemical that acne bacteria produces," explains Dr Whitehurst. "When activated, this chemical then kills the bacteria."
Dr Whitehurst says that a course of blue light PDT – usually eight sessions over four weeks – can improve acne by 70 to 80 per cent and, when combined with Omnilux Revive, severe acne can be improved by up to 75 per cent.
Omnilux Blue is also used to treat actinic keratosis, the patches of dry, scaly skin that can form as a result of sun exposure and are considered a precursor to skin cancer.
Omnilux Revive emits pure red light, which reaches 5–8mm deep to rejuvenate the skin. Boosting the skin's natural processes – including healing, detoxification, excess melanin removal and the production of elastin and collagen – the Revive red light strikes at the heart of many common cosmetic complaints, giving the skin a smoother, healthier and more even appearance. It can also speed up healing time following other cosmetic procedures like peels, microdermabrasion, IPL or laser.
Results depend on the original state of the skin and the number of sessions undertaken, but anecdotal evidence suggests some benefits can be seen instantly.
Omnilux Plus is the medical application of PDT that is not used in salon facials, but by doctors to treat skin cancer.
Who shouldn't use Omnilux?
"Because it's not causing an unnatural reaction, it's suitable for almost anybody," says Dr Whitehurst. However, people prone to light-based reactions or who are taking medications that can cause photosensitivity should check with their doctor before having an Omnilux facial.
"Finding new colours of light that will benefit the skin is as rare as finding a diamond in the desert," explains Dr Whitehurst. But developments are in the works.
Research is being conducted into using near infrared Omnilux technology to treat deeper wounds like muscle injury. Invisible to the eye, this light can penetrate to a depth of 1.5cms, Whitehurst says.
This therapy is not yet on the market, but, following overseas launches and subject to Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) approval, near infrared Omnilux is on the cards for Australia in the foreseeable future. Watch this space…
Where can you find Omnilux?
Omnilux Blue and Revive facial treatments are available in salons and clinics around the country. Omnilux Plus is restricted to medical practitioners. Phone 1800 808 993 for stockists.