What The Pros Wish You Knew About LED Light Therapy

Plus the at-home masks that are worth your money.

by Natasha Marsh
Originally Published: 
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Woman getting LED light treatment
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LED light therapy was first introduced to the world by NASA in the ‘60s, specifically to American astronauts to help with tissue healing and repair, and it quickly became a popular in-office treatment for it’s effect on the skin, namely, the way it helped create a youthful, glowy complexion. But how exactly is the type of light in an LED mask different than, say, your average light bulb?

Well, to start, as people age, the body’s natural ability to produce collagen — the protein that provides firm and youthful skin — decreases, creating a greater opportunity for fine lines and wrinkles to form. To combat the decline of collagen, you must stimulate the skin’s ability to make more of it. Enter: LED light therapy.

“LED, or light emitting diode, works by emitting infrared lights (causing heat) through varying wavelengths and spectrums,” says Karina Sulzer, CEO and founder of Skin Gym. “When light hits the upper layer of the skin at the appropriate wavelength, light converts to ATP — the scientific word for what cells need to rejuvenate and create collagen production,” says Sophie Tabrizy, Brand and Product Development Manager of Vanity Planet.

This non-invasive therapy triggers the cells in the dermis (read: the skin’s next deepest layer under the epidermis) to increase the metabolic activity and produce more collagen and elastin — it does this by exposing the skin to different wavelengths of light that come in different colors and affect the skin in a range of different ways. For example, blue light is great for acne-prone skin as it kills the acne-causing bacteria, whereas, red light stimulates collagen production, creating firmer, smoother, and plumper skin (more on both of those later).

LED light therapy has become so popular that there is even a growing list of at-home LED masks that you can apply on for a few minutes a day to (supposedly) get the same skin care benefits. So, what are those benefits exactly? What light is actually used? Does it hurt? Is it safe, and how much does it cost? Ahead, discover the answers to some of the most common questions about LED light therapy, and the seven at-home devices that really deliver, according to dermatologists and estheticians.

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What Are The Benefits Of LED Light Therapy?

There are a few different wavelengths of light that can be found in LED treatments: blue, red, and orange or amber light (although green and purple are also possible, albeit less common). “Blue light can help minimize current breakouts and fight against future breakouts,” says Sulzer. “Red light can help minimize redness and inflammation while combating aging concerns like fine lines and wrinkles over time. Orange light can help with your overall complexion and works to bring radiance back to dull skin.”

The diverse array of benefits is what makes the the therapy so appealing to beauty lovers and skin care novices alike. “[LED treatment] encourages the body’s synthesis of collagen and elastin — allowing the skin to repair itself and improve, skin texture, reversing scarring, elimination of active acne and even diminishing hyperpigmentation,” says Deisy Suarez, esthetician and founder of Desuar Spa.

Not only does LED treatment help with collagen and elastin production but it, “brings down inflammation and can decrease the population of P.acnes in the hair follicle, which can really help people struggling with acne and rosacea,” says Dr. Ashley Magovern, Dermstore’s medical doctor. “It can also help the red discoloration that acne lesions leave behind.”

Suarez agrees, adding that “Blue light, known for its antibacterial and germicidal benefits eliminates bacteria and treats severe acne. It also targets sebaceous oil glands, making them less active and preventing future acne breakouts.”

Who Is The Best Candidate For LED Light Therapy?

Short answer: everyone. “Those suffering from acne, sun damage, scarring, hyperpigmentation, loss of collagen, and elasticity, and those looking to heal their skin and preserve their youthful appearance are the best candidates for LED light therapy,” says Suarez. Better yet, because the therapy is non-invasive, even if you visit a skin care professional for a treatment, you won’t have to undergo any downtime to recover.

However, if you are under 12, pregnant or lactating, on steroids or Accutane, have a history of epilepsy, photoallergic, or an active skin disorder — you should consult a doctor or dermatologist before beginning LED treatment, even an at-home regimen.

In-Office Treatment vs. At-Home Devices

Unsurprisingly, spa and professional in-office treatments offer LED light therapy at a stronger intensity of light than what is available in at-home devices. “The total energy output of an LED device is determined by the power (optical output) and the treatment time,” says Dr. Dennis Gross, co-founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Skin Care. “Frequency is needed to sustain the energy that stimulates collagen.”

In-office treatments can be very powerful but if you receive one monthly in-office LED treatment, you won’t be able to have enough energy build-up to produce collagen over time. That is why the experts recommend seeing a dermatologist one to two times a week for treatment.

Comparatively, “at-home devices like the SpectraLite FaceWare Pro are less powerful, but are used daily,” says Dr. Gross. “Therefore, the two treatment options together provide optimal results. At the end of the day, the real key to effectiveness is consistent daily use. This is why I created an at-home LED device. I knew that patients needed daily treatment to accompany what I offer in my practice.”

Minor results can be visible after one session at a professional office, however, whereas with an at-home device, results would rarely be visible after just one use. Because the benefits are cumulative, for in-office treatment Suarez recommends 10 sessions or more in order to get maximum benefits. For at-home devices, Dr. Gross suggests following the usage instructions listed on your specific device. “For the SpectraLite FaceWare Pro, you should use the device once per day for 3 minutes,” he tells TZR. “The device will shut off automatically once the treatment is completed.”

Although at-home devices are a great maintenance option in between pro treatments, if you’re concerned about using a device as a non-professional, rest assured that the more costly devices also provide built-in safety measures like auto shut-offs and timers, and heat regulators to minimize their potential risk.

In addition to the intensity, in-office and at-home treatments vary by length of time. Professional procedures can last 15 to 30 minutes, whereas at-home devices can be as quick as 3 minutes.

How Much Does It Cost?

According to Suarez, you could receive an LED treatment as an enhancement at most spas for around, “$25 to $55 for 20 minutes or as a packed series for five sessions starting at $200.” And at-home devices can be found for as affordable as $75.

Are There Any Risks To LED Light Therapy?

The benefits of this type of skin therapy are clear. “Immediately after an LED treatment, you will see a decrease in redness and inflammation,” says Dr. Gross. “Over time with continued use, you will see a reduction in breakouts, brightened complexion and smoothed fine lines and wrinkles.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case as not all red and blue light wavelengths are created equal. Red light is measured by nanometers (one billionth of a meter) and is usually between 600-750 nanometers. As you go from 600 to 750 nanometers, the depth of penetration of that red light increases and makes it easier to address collagen and elastin production. The experts have seen patients who developed inflammation, redness, and rosacea after using a poorly designed mask. That’s why when deciding on the at-home approach you must make sure to select a device that has the output intensity (somewhere above 680) for the skin care benefits you desire.

How To Prepare For LED Light Therapy

Suarez recommends completely removing all traces of makeup before going into a dermatologist and before using your at-home LED mask or device. “Makeup often contains minerals that can deflect light, therefore it is important to first remove all makeup followed by a facial cleanser,” she states.

Post-use or treatment, Sulzer suggests using a hydrating serum, moisturizer, or facial oil but to avoid it prior LED treatment as it will block the LED from penetrating the skin.

While LED light therapy is not an overnight solution, it can address a variety of concerns: fine lines, wrinkles, severe acne, sweating and more. If you’re not totally ready to get treatment with a dermatologist, take a look at the seven at-home devices below that will produce similar results with daily use (and are packed by the pros).

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