What is Red Light Therapy? Skin experts explain everything

“What is Red Light Therapy?” is a frequently asked question of beauty editors and dermatologists. An emerging beauty treatment, LED light therapy (including red) has been touted as a skincare savior that can help with many major issues, from hyperpigmentation and acne to fine lines and dullness.

And, thanks to new devices for home use, red light therapy is more readily available than ever in our skincare routine. “LED light therapy has been used for over 30 years to help speed up wound healing as well as stimulate collagen and elastin production,” says Dr. Maryam Zamani, Founder of MZ Skin. It was first developed by NASA to help astronauts heal and repair tissue in space, “and has evolved to also help skin cells absorb topical skincare products more effectively,” says Dr. Zamani.

When it comes to red light therapy specifically, Dr. Zamani adds that it can help you achieve a host of skincare results, including “profound anti-aging benefits.” From how LED works to what it targets, our expert guide will shed light once and for all on the question of what red light therapy is. Plus, we reveal in-clinic LED treatments and the best red light therapy devices to try right now.

What is Red Light Therapy? The experts explain everything to you

What does red light therapy do?

“LED works like any other topical skincare ingredient,” says Dr. Dennis Gross, dermatologist and founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare. “Our skin cells have receptors for LEDs, which means light enters the skin cell, connects to a unique LED receptor, and triggers the body to convert light energy into cellular energy.” In terms of red light specifically, the LED penetrates the fibroblast cell and stimulates collagen production – “diminishing fine lines and wrinkles,” says Dr. Gross.

Other light therapy colors, including blue and yellow, have also been recognized for their skin benefits. The difference being that each color has a different wavelength and therefore a different effect on the skin. Red light (620-750 nm) and yellow light (570-590 nm) have long wavelengths which help on the surface of the skin, while blue light (450-495 nm) has short wavelength wave that targets the pores.

What is red light therapy used for?

We now understand the science, but what is red light therapy actually good for in practice? No one trick pony, red light therapy has been found to help with many skin care concerns. A 2014 study found that red light therapy subjects had significantly improved skin tone and sensation. “It stimulates the production of collagen and elastin to refine and strengthen the skin,” says Dr. Zamani. “Additionally, red light therapy increases circulation and decreases inflammation and redness-causing hyperpigmentation for prone skin,” adds Dr. Gross.

What about blue and yellow LED lights?
“Blue light therapy kills acne-causing bacteria,” says Dr. Gross, “both to treat and prevent breakouts.” And unlike most acne treatments, LED light therapy never dries out the skin, making it a great tool for anyone looking to get rid of acne without causing dehydration. “Yellow light therapy reduces inflammation and stimulates circulation,” says Dr. Zamani, who adds that this light is great for anyone looking for a solution for sensitive skin.

A woman wearing a blue LED light therapy mask

(Image credit: Getty images)

How long does it take to see results?
According to Dr. Gross, if you wear one of his LED devices for three minutes each day, you’ll begin to see improvement in three to four weeks. “You will notice a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles, firmer skin, more even skin tone and texture, and improved skin density.” Tick, tick, tick.

What type of skin is red light therapy best for?
“It’s a truly universal treatment, meaning all skin types benefit from LEDs,” says Dr. Gross. For anyone following a strict skincare routine for sensitive skin, Dr. Gross confirms that red light therapy is a great choice, “because it reduces redness and there is no risk of chemical irritation”. His only word of warning: “If you have an active skin disorder, consult your dermatologist before starting any LED treatment.” While it certainly sounds like a panacea, is there a catch? So far, the research on red light therapy is extremely promising, however, as an emerging treatment, more studies are needed to back up all of its claims.

Professional LED light treatments to try

And what is red light therapy actually good for in the hands of professionals? LED light therapy is a painless, non-invasive treatment that is increasingly being used in salons, alone or as part of another treatment. “It’s anti-inflammatory,” says Dr. Gross, which means it can help speed up the healing process of other treatments like chemical peels, gentle microneedling like the Aquagold facial, or the more invasive mechanical needling such as microneedling Skinpen, as well as microdermabrasion.

In terms of the treatment itself, it’s quite simple. Eye protection is placed over the top of your eyes before the LED panels are positioned a few inches from your face for ten to 20 minutes while you sit back and relax. Want to go under the red light? Here are our top treatments to try:

  • LED light treatments to The living room of lightin Nordstrom (USA) and Cowshed, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges (UK): For a quick and convenient facial, choose from one of five LED treatments that vary in duration from 25 to 55 minutes. There is blue light to help treat acne and help you get rid of pimples as well as signature and signature body, using near infrared light. Prices start from $60/£45 and treatments are recommended every one to two weeks.
  • LED light therapy treatment at MZ Skin The Clinic: Using a combination of colored LED light therapy (red, blue and yellow), this treatment can help with acne, rosacea, age spots and sun damage. Prices start from £70 and the recommended course is 3-5 treatments, one week apart.
  • Hydrafacial, locations nationwide at Hydrafacial (USA) Where Hydrafacial (UK) This famous glow-boosting treatment focuses on deep exfoliation and flooding the skin with nutrients, but ends with you and your therapist choosing LEDs to soothe, calm inflammation, or kill bacteria. if needed. Prices vary but expect to pay around $100/£80 for 60 minutes.

The best light therapy devices to use at home

woman&home thanks Dr Dennis Gross for Dr. Dennis Gross Skin Care and Dr. Maryam Zamani from MZ Skin for their time and expertise.

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