What Is LED Light Therapy for Skin?

LED light therapy is a skin treatment that doesn't use ultraviolet light. Instead, it uses skin-safe, low-level light in different wavelengths and colors. These include:

  • Amber
  • Blue
  • Red
  • Green

Sometimes different LED lights are combined with a photosensitive drug called 5-aminolevulinic acid. This medicine is applied to the skin and used in combination with the LED light. While this might make your skin more sensitive to light, it helps the treatment -- also called photodynamic therapy -- work better.

While LED light therapy is typically done in a dermatologist’s office, several LED light facial devices are available for at-home use. These include:

  • Light facial masks
  • Light wands for targeted spot treatment
  • Ultrasonic devices
  • Mesotherapy electroporation devices
  • Professional LED light machines

These lights are used for lots of different skin conditions. Receiving light therapy from your doctor is a promising skin treatment, but at-home devices require more research. It’s not entirely clear, for example, whether home light masks work or have lasting effects.

Benefits of LED Light Therapy

LED lights have been available since the 1960s, but have only been used in the past few years to treat the skin. Different wavelengths enter the skin at different depths, making this therapy useful to treat a variety of skin conditions, including:‌

Acne. Blue light is often used to treat acne. Studies show that blue light can kill the bacteria responsible for acne. It can also ease how much your oil glands make. This stops the hair follicle from becoming clogged and causing acne.

Red light is also typically used in combination with blue light to help ease inflammation and redness.‌

Aging. Red light stimulates skin cells called fibroblasts. These help make collagen, which are important parts of skin recovery. Some studies have found that red LED light therapy tightens skin, reduces wrinkles and fine lines, and makes skin smoother and softer. ‌

Photodynamic therapy with 5-aminolevulinic acid and LED light also ease fine lines and makes the skin softer.

Wound healing. Red LED light stimulates collagen, which is important for healing wounds. People who have had surgery for skin resurfacing have also had red LED light therapy after the procedure. Studies have found that this form of light therapy lowers redness, swelling, and bruising, and speeds up the healing process.

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Hair loss. Red LED light therapy can help stimulate hair growth for those with male- or female-pattern hair loss. 

Psoriasis. Red and near-infrared LED light therapy can help lower redness and inflammation in psoriasis. One study showed that these light therapies also lowered psoriasis pimples and plaques, or red, itchy, scaly sores.‌

Skin cancers. Photodynamic therapy has been performed using both red and green LED lights to treat skin cancers. After the medication is applied to the skin, red and green lights have been used to treat Bowen’s disease and red light has been used to treat basal cell carcinoma lesions.

‌Studies have shown that the red LED light is typically better than the green one in treating Bowen’s disease and also at removing basal cell carcinoma lesions. 

Generally, LED light therapy is safe when it’s used alone without sensitizing medications or creams. LED lights don’t damage the skin or skin tissues. 

Risks of LED Light Therapy

While several medical studies note the benefits of LED light therapy for the skin, there isn’t enough research available yet to know for sure how well these treatments work. ‌

LED light facials might be a better choice compared to other options, like lasers, because they generally have fewer side effects. They can cause mild reactions though, including:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Dryness

If your doctor uses photosensitizing drugs, you might have burning and redness. Here are a few additional considerations.‌

Home devices. At-home masks, wands, and other devices have been available for a few years, but these are not medical-grade products. They aren’t as strong, so while you have the benefit of not burning your skin, you likely won't have the same effect you get from a professional treatment with your doctor.‌

Other sensitizing medications. Some medications can increase your sensitivity to light. These include some antibiotics and an acne medication called isotretinoin. You should not use home LED light masks while you’re on these medications. 

Eye safety. You should use eye protection while having LED light therapy. If you take certain medications, light therapy can make your eyes more sensitive to light. It can also cause eye damage to people who have other eye problems.‌

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One of the problems with home devices is that they often don’t have a way to protect your eyes. One brand, Neutrogena, recalled its home LED face mask for this reason.

Overall, if you are concerned about your skin, you should talk to your doctor. LED light therapy at your doctor’s office can improve your skin over time. At-home devices are weaker and they might not give you the same results. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 20, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Annals of Family Medicine: "Blue-Light Therapy for Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis."

Harvard Health Publishing: “LED lights: Are they a cure for your skin woes?”

Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology: “Phototherapy with Light Emitting Diodes.”

NHS: "Isotretinoin capsules (Roaccutane)."

Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery: “Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring."

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