Skincare » LED Light Therapy 101: Do LED Light Facials Really Work?

LED Light Therapy 101: Do LED Light Facials Really Work?

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If you decide to peruse the facial treatment menu at your local spa, you may notice LED light therapy facials as one of the options. LED facials have become a common service at a lot of salons, said to improve everything, from the visible signs of aging to acne to sensitivity. They’re gentle and non-invasive, but are LED light facials really all that effective?

In this article, we’ll explore the science behind LED light therapy and whether it can have any real beauty benefits. We’ll talk about how it works, its benefits, and how to choose the best LED colors for your specific need. We also discuss salon LED treatments, how they compare to at-home devices, and how LED facials, in general, compare to laser treatments.

So, are you ready to find out why there’s so much fuss about LED facials? Keep reading!

In this article:

What Is LED Light Therapy?

LED stands for “light-emitting diodes,” and it’s simply a type of light source. LED light therapy works based on the premise that different colors of light have different wavelengths that penetrate through the skin down to different depths.

Blue light can penetrate into the epidermis, which is the top layer of the skin, yellow light can reach the top layers of the dermis, and red light can penetrate deeper into the dermis, where collagen synthesis occurs. These lights can affect the processes that happen at each layer of the skin to help improve its overall functions or to mitigate certain damage.

LED light therapy was first developed by NASA. Originally, LED lights were used in an attempt to grow plants in space, but later on, it was discovered that these LED lights could actually promote physical healing by regulating cellular function.

As often happens with technological and scientific discoveries, enterprising companies quickly started looking into whether they could monetize the technology. LED beauty devices turned out to be wonderful money-makers.

Do LED Facials Really Work?

It’s hard to differentiate the gimmicks from the truly effective treatments, but we’re happy to report that there’s some real, impressive evidence that backs the effectiveness of LED light therapy.

There have been numerous studies that showcase the real and robust effects that LED light therapy can have on the skin. In healthcare settings, dermatologists use professional-grade LED devices to treat conditions like acne and psoriasis, while infrared LED shows promise as a potential treatment for a few types of skin cancer. We’ll discuss the more cosmetic benefits of LED light facials in the next section.

However, as you read this guide, keep in mind that on their own, LED light facials are not a replacement for a consistent skincare routine with cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen. If you’re suffering from a skin disease like acne or rosacea, it’s also not an alternative for medical care, although it can work well as a complementary treatment.

What Is LED Light Therapy?

LED Light Therapy Benefits

Whether you choose a professional LED facial or a device you can use at home, here are the potential benefits of LED light therapy.

  • It can reduce the severity of mild inflammatory acne.
  • It can alleviate the redness associated with certain sensitive skin conditions, including rosacea.
  • Light therapy can help reduce the signs of premature aging, like fine lines and loss of tone, especially in combination with other anti-aging treatments.
  • Finally, there is some (albeit not very robust) research suggesting that LED facials may help with hyperpigmentation.

LED Light Therapy by Skin Type and Concern

If you have a specific skin concern, here is the kind of LED light facial that’ll work best for you.

LED Lights for Acne

Acne is a very complicated skin condition that’s caused by a combination of factors, including sebum production, inflammation, and the presence of acne bacteria on the skin. The blemishes caused by acne can also pop up in different levels of the skin, from surface bumps to deep cysts. Because of this, different LEDs can have different (but beneficial) effects on breakouts!

Blue Light is best for mild acne that’s closer to the surface of the skin. It gets into the epidermis and helps to decrease the amount of acne bacteria and inflammation on the surface of the skin. If you mostly deal with whiteheads and blackheads that aren’t inflamed, you probably won’t see any effects from an LED light facial.

Red light can also be beneficial for dealing with acne, especially when it’s deeper in the skin. Researchers theorize that it works by addressing deeper inflammation. On its own, red light is only partially effective, but it can work fairly well in combination with blue light.

The great thing about LED light facials is that they can be used along with other treatments without any increase in side effects. They work especially well in combination with skin-renewing acne treatments, like retinoids, salicylic acid, or benzoyl peroxide.

LED Light Therapy Benefits

LED Lights for Premature Aging

If you’re looking for an LED light treatment that’ll help target signs of aging, like wrinkles, fine lines, or loss of firmness, red light will be your friend. Most of these signs of aging are caused by the loss of collagen in the lower levels of the dermis, which is the level to which red light can penetrate.

Both in-vivo and in-vitro studies have found that LED treatments can help stimulate fibroblasts to induce more collagen production in the skin. The result is smoother, firmer-looking skin and even fewer fine lines. The effects of red light on skin aging are promising, but one thing to note is that the research is not as robust as it is for the effects of blue light on acne.  

LED Lights for Sensitive Skin

If you have sensitive skin, you experience redness and irritation very easily. Quite a few different LED colors have shown some promise in reducing erythema, which is the scientific term for skin redness. 

Yellow light is the classic. It reaches a higher level of the dermis than red light, but lower than blue light, effectively targeting the area where the capillaries that make the skin look red are present. Red light, on the other hand, has been found to aid in deeper and more severe skin healing and redness, so it might also be useful for severely irritated skin.

LED Lights for Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a skin condition that usually results in scaly, dry, and itchy patches on the skin.

For those with psoriasis, LED light treatments of all colors can be helpful, all the way from the shallow blue wavelength to deep infrared light. Your doctor might recommend doing LED treatments in the clinic, or they might suggest you buy a device for at-home use. 

LED Lights for Hyperpigmentation

Hyperpigmentation, which refers to dark marks usually caused by sun exposure or skin trauma, might also be helped with LED treatments. The research isn’t very robust, but some studies suggest that both blue and red LED lights might be helpful for fading skin pigmentation. In salons and clinics, green LED is usually recommended as the best treatment for hyperpigmentation. We’ve seen some promising before and after photos, but no scientific research to really convince us.

If you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation, LED light treatments definitely won’t hurt, but they’re not an alternative to more mainstream pigmentation treatments.

Are LED Light Facials Safe?

What’s It Like to Receive an LED Facial at a Salon?

At a salon, LED facials can be done on their own, but they can also be combined with other treatments, like microdermabrasion and peels! A facial that only involves the LED light without any other treatments normally costs around $100-$200, although the price can get even higher at dermatological clinics or luxury spas.

In a salon or clinic environment, the professional-grade LED devices are usually much stronger than at-home options, and they also cover the entirety of the face at once. As a result, they’re likely a little more effective, so fewer treatments are needed.

There’s also the bonus of enjoying getting pampered by a professional since most salon facials usually involve a facial cleansing, massage, some level of exfoliation, and some skin-soothing treatments at the end. 

However, even at the salon, you’ll still need to do multiple LED facials on a weekly basis to see results, so the price can climb up very quickly, while an at-home device is just a one-time cost for many treatments. 

Are LED Light Facials Safe?

As long as you take adequate precautions, LED facials are perfectly safe and painless. Since they don’t emit any UV rays, LEDs don’t cause any long-lasting damage to the skin. Also, notably, LED facials are considered safe during pregnancy, unlike a lot of other acne and anti-aging treatments.

Some studies have reported side effects, like mild skin irritation and dryness, but even then, they were quite rare. We haven’t seen any reports about such experiences with at-home treatments. 

The most common side effects of an LED facial actually impact the eyes, which can be quite sensitive to visible lights. Regular exposure can lead to macular degeneration, while in the short term, some people can experience migraines. In 2019, Neutrogena recalled its Light Therapy mask exactly over such concerns. 

Wearing light-protective goggles (the same kind you’d wear during a tanning session) can help mitigate all of those risks. If you have a light-sensitive condition like epilepsy, make sure to speak to your doctor before undergoing an LED facial.

LED Light Therapy by Skin Types

LED Light Therapy vs. Laser Treatments

Light therapy and laser facials are two very different types of treatment. Laser treatments can only be done by dermatologists and medical aestheticians because their results are more extreme but so are their side effects. LED treatments, on the other hand, are very gentle but less dramatic, and they can be done in the salon or at home.

With LED treatments, it’s the light itself that stimulates the skin, and the facial doesn’t really feel like anything. Laser treatments (as well as IPL treatments) rely on heat to stimulate different levels of the skin, so the results are more dramatic, but the facial is a little painful. Laser treatments can help with a wider range of skin issues, unlike LEDs, which are limited to the benefits we listed above. 

Depending on the type and level of intensity of the laser facial, the skin may be anywhere from just a little red and irritated to very sensitive and in need of special protection. However, with LED treatments, there is zero downtime, and post-treatment sensitivity is extremely rare.

Photos via @inskin_, @ladywritesblog, Instagram