Between vampire facials and magnetic face masks, there’s no shortage of Insta-worthy skincare breakthroughs. But what’s recently caught the interest of celebrities and dermatologists alike is a newer treatment that involves LED’s (yep, like the light): red light therapy. While LED lights have been around since the 60s, they’ve become advanced enough in recent years to use for at-home personal treatment—and it’s a good thing they have. Red light therapy, in particular, is touted for its ability to boost circulation, reduce inflammation, and smooth fine lines and wrinkles. Curious about the Kardashian-backed treatment? Keep reading to learn all about how red light therapy works and what kind results to expect.
Red Light Therapy Basics
LED stands for light-emitting diode. Just like LED light bulbs, LED light therapy is non-thermal, meaning it doesn’t produce heat. Rather, this FDA-approved treatment involves using different wavelengths of light to penetrate the skin cells and target a specific skincare concern. Depending on what you’re aiming to improve, the color of the light can vary, but red is one of the most common, and is said to boost the production of collagen and brighten dark spots – ultimately revealing a more glowing, clearer complexion. Because it exposes the skin to low levels of light (and involves no downtime or pain), red light therapy (often referred to as RLT) is considered a non-invasive treatment and has a great safety profile. Though results are more effective when done by a dermatologist, it can also be done at home with your own device—bonus points for being convenient.
Does Red Light Therapy Work?
Several celebrity facialists and dermatologists have given red light therapy their stamp of approval. But how exactly can a light improve your skin? By emitting light waves that penetrate deep into the skin’s dermis, red light therapy triggers a reaction on a cellular level. Over time and with consistent use, it can help with acne scars, photo aging, and burns. Results aren’t overnight and multiple sessions are required to see best results, but because LED light therapy doesn’t involve UV rays, it’s safe for regular use. Many clinical studies have also proven light therapy to be effective at improving several skin conditions (such as psoriasis) as well as wound healing. Finally, RLT has some health benefits: controlled trials have shown that it can reduce chronic inflammation, thereby helping reduce joint pain as well as offering pain relief for those with arthritis.
While the effects of red light therapy aren’t largely disputed, there are some discrepancies between doing it at-home versus getting it done in-office by a professional. At-home devices (think: those futuristic-looking LED face masks you see on your nightly Instagram scroll-through) have a considerably lower-strength than their in-office counterparts, and are therefore less effective. That said, if you’re using it to supplement your skincare routine or to upkeep your in-office treatments, it can be beneficial. Bottom line: red light therapy works, and an in-office treatment will yield more promising results versus using an at-home device.
What to Expect At Your Appointment
Wondering what happens during a red light therapy session? It’s a quick and painless treatment. Here’s everything you need to know, from how much it costs to how to prep your skin beforehand.
Prepping the Skin
Before getting red light therapy, be sure to limit sun exposure and wear an SPF of at least 30 to protect your skin from ultraviolet light damage. Whether you do the treatment at home or in an office, your skin must be free of makeup, cleansed, and dried thoroughly. To avoid irritating your skin pre-treatment, use a cleanser that has a gentle, sulfate-free formula. While some people choose to wear a lotion or moisturizer before their treatment, it’s not necessary and doesn’t affect results. After skin prepping, you’ll be given goggles to protect your eyes from the bright lights.
Choosing Your Light
The light you choose depends on what your skincare goals are. Blue light therapy is used to ward off acne-causing bacteria, control oils, treat cystic acne, and minimize breakout-related inflammation. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, blue light is for you. On the other end is red light, which is used to promote collagen production, target fine lines and wrinkles, minimize the look of acne scars, and plump up the skin. If you’ve begun to notice subtle signs of aging, go for a red light.
Cost and Duration
During a LED light therapy session, you’ll either be asked to lie down under an LED light, or your dermatologist may use a red light therapy device (such as a wand) on your skin. Depending on where you get your treatment done, LED light therapy can cost anywhere from $100 to $300 per session. Each session lasts about 20 minutes (enough time for you to get it done during your lunch break) and is painless. In fact, some people even find the bright lights to be relaxing. Best part? Unlike lasers, LED therapy is suitable for all skin tones and skin types.
Though short-term side effects are rare, be on the lookout for severe inflammation, redness, or itchiness after your appointment. Also, if you have a skin condition or you’re taking any acne medication (such as Accutane), you should consult with your dermatologist beforehand, as this can cause your skin to be more sensitive to the light and can lead to sun damage.
How Long Does Red Light Therapy Take to Work?
Depending on the skincare concern you’re treating, every person responds differently to phototherapy. Results are cumulative, but you’ll see minor results after three to four sessions. Unlike other, more invasive skincare treatments (such as micro-needling), there’s no recovery time when it comes to light therapy, meaning it’s business as usual after your treatment. Plus, LED light therapy can be done on more than just your face—it’s suitable for use on the neck, chest, arms, and legs as well.
To supplement your LED light therapy routine (and further target fine lines and wrinkles), use medical-grade silicone patches like the SiO Beauty Eye & Smile SuperLift Pack. These patches can be applied overnight and work to reduce the look of smile lines, fine lines underneath the eyes, and signs of aging around the lips. These patches, coupled with a light therapy routine, can help improve your skin’s youthfulness.
How Often Should You Do Red Light Therapy?
To reap the full benefits of your low-level light therapy treatments, you’ll need to do eight to 10 sessions spaced one week apart. After completing your sessions, your skin may require follow-up treatments to maintain results. If you’re doing light therapy at home, you can use your LED system in between your in-office sessions, or whenever you feel like your skin needs a boost.
RLT is a non-invasive, expert-approved skincare treatment that’s painless, quick, and effective. Multiple sessions are required to see best results, but you’ll notice promising results after just a few treatments. LED light therapy is a well-loved skincare treatment for the fact that there’s no downtime involved and it’s suitable for all skin tones. Also, in-office treatments are more effective than at-home devices. If you’re curious about how LED light therapy would work for your skin or are wondering which light to choose for your specific skincare concerns, consult your dermatologist to see what your treatment options are.