LED, or light emitting diode therapy, is a skincare treatment that uses varying wavelengths of light, including red and blue. NASA originally developed it for plant growth experiments on shuttle missions and later found it to have promise for wound treatment. LED light therapy is now used by some aestheticians to help regenerate the skin from aging. It’s also used for acne.
Red, or infrared, light is used for treating the epidermis, which is the outer layer of skin. When the light is applied to your skin, the epidermis absorbs it and then stimulates collagen proteins, improving appearance of lines and wrinkles. Red LED light is also thought to reduce inflammation while improving circulation, which can give you a healthier glow.
Blue LED light therapy, on the other hand, targets the sebaceous glands, which are also called oil glands and make them less active. In turn, you may see fewer acne breakouts. Blue light can also kill acne-causing bacteria beneath the skin, which can help treat severe acne pimples, including cysts and nodules.
Oftentimes, blue LED light is used in conjunction with red LED light to help treat acne, decrease scarring and promote anti-inflammatory effects. One 2018 animal studyTrusted Source found that blue LED improved healing of third-degree skin burns.
However, there are so many light devices on the market, from those that can be worn as a facial mask to those that you shine onto your skin like a torch. Do they really work and are they really worth the expense?
On the other hand, we have the LED lights that are offered at the salons and those offered in some clinics, all purporting to deliver some skin benefits. Do they work? And if they do, are there differences in what you pay for?
We test out a variety of light devices and came up with some truly surprising results.
Handheld LED device
What is this: This is a handheld LED device for home use. Apparently you are supposed to hold it against your skin to help your skin rejuvenate over time.
How does it feel: It didn’t feel very warm against my skin but again, it didn’t feel very bright as well. I diligently use it against my crow’s feet for a week.
Does it work: No difference even after a week. i can’t really say there was a difference to my skin even after a week of twice daily use. It was also difficult to stay motivated as the treatment did not have any sensation nor any instant benefits after each treatment.
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LED mask for home use
What is this: This is a facial mask that you can wear at home. It has little LED lights on the underside that rests in contact with your skin. Depending on the colours, it is supposed to confer different benefits on the skin.
How does it feel: I was very taken in by the rainbow colours. This was way easier to use than the handheld device as I didn’t have to hold it against my skin which means it frees my hands to do other stuff like style my hair. So it was easier to incorporate into my facial routine as it did not really add to the time I usually spend to prepare for work.
Does it work: Even though there were many different colours, I felt that most of them made no difference. Only the red light seemed to make my skin a little brighter and perhaps the bue light did calm my pimples down a bit. Compared to the handheld device, this one worked better as it treated the entire face at the same time.
Spa Grade LED light
What is this: This is a small portable LED light used in spas and some clinics. I went for a session of the LED light which was part of a facial package.
How does it feel: I was told my the therapist that they have many different colours for different functions but based on my research, the only colours that seemed to work was red and blue and so I chose to undergo the red light. The distance of the light to the face was fixed as the device sits in across the face as shown in the picture above so you cannot adjust the lights to be closer to the face even if you wanted. The lights were brighter than the home devices but not so bright that I cannot open my eyes and look around. It was a comfortable treatment.
Does it work: Even though I was told some people only undergo this treatment once a week, i tried it twice in one week to see if I could amplify the results. But I was surprised that I honestly could not really see much of a difference even after a week. I really expected more as the cost per treatment was much higher than the handheld devices. So it was a disappointment. Perhaps the face wasn’t positioned close enough to the lights or the lights were not dense enough, I reasoned.
What is this: This is medical grade device found in some medical clinics. The main difference is in the number of tiny LED bulbs and the actual intensity of the light. This is by far the strongest of all the above treatments. It comes in the rejuvenating red version as LED Red and the anti-acne blue version as I-Clear.
How does it feel: Immediately, I could feel the brightness even though I had goggles on my eyes. It took about a minute for my eyes to adjust and feel comfortable. The distance of the light to the skin could be adjusted by the therapist.
Does it work: I could almost instantly feel the difference in my skin after. I thought my skin looked brighter immediately after and I noticed a reduction in outbreaks for the week after!
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In theory, LED photobiomodulation light can confer several benefits for the skin. The issue is that despite many vendors touting the different wavelengths (or colours of light), it appears the red and blue spectrum are the only ones that actually work well. Additionally, the type of device used to deliver LED light makes a world of difference to the final result. My feeling is that while some handheld devices may be inexpensive, you do end up getting what you pay for, thus shortchanging yourself on the final outcome. If you have a serious medical skin condition or would like to see rapid, visible improvements, your best bet is to go get a medical grade LED light. You will know it from the intensity of the treatment which will require a minute for your eyes to adjust to the intensity of the light.