As more and more people have learned about the incredible benefits of red light therapy, many have adopted it as part of their regular self-care routine — and found that its reputation is well-deserved. If you’re one of them, perhaps you’ve wondered whether handheld LED light therapy devices can work as well for you as larger panels. Here’s a handy guide to the seven best portable devices for your skincare, anti-aging, and overall health and wellness routines.
1. PlatinumLED BIOMAX 300
When it comes to small, manageable devices, the PlatinumLED BIOMAX300 panel is in a league of its own. Although it measures just 19” high by 9” wide, this panel delivers superior irradiance — which refers to the amount of light emitted by the device and absorbed by the body — even compared to many larger devices. In fact, the portable package produces 150 mW/cm2 (milliwatts per square centimeter) compared to most competitors who max out at 100 mW/cm2. This extra power means your body absorbs more light in less time, which reduces the necessary treatment time and speeds up results.
It’s also the only red light therapy device to offer a five-wavelength combination of 630 nanometers (nm) and 650nm red light; and 810nm, 830nm, and 850nm near-infrared (NIR) light. This gives you the entire range of wavelengths optimized for use with virtually every condition, from aging skin to deep muscle bruises.
While not as small or light as other handheld devices, the BIOMAX 300 offers incredible versatility in treating small or larger areas of the body, making it a worthy investment in home red light therapy.
2. PlatinumLED BIO 300
The PlatinumLED BIO 300 is the same size as the BIOMAX 300, but the wavelengths are different. The BIO 300 features 660nm red light, 850nm NIR light, and a combination of the two. These extremely effective wavelengths allow you to treat a wide variety of conditions; the 660nm reaches a range of skin tissue to promote healing and regeneration, while the 850nm penetrates even deeper to trigger anti-inflammatory benefits.
3. Joovv Go 2.0
If you’re looking to downsize, the Joovv Go 2.0 is a small device that delivers red and NIR light. At just under 2 lbs. and measuring 3.75” x 5.75”, this tablet-sized light is extremely versatile. Although it might not be considered a traditional handheld device, it’s easy to set up on a flat surface for hands-free use. Joovv claims greater than 100 mW/cm2 irradiance for the Go, but how much of that power is absorbed by your skin depends on your distance from the device, which is not specified on the website.
The treatment area is pretty tiny, so you have to keep the device close to your body to receive its full benefits. At $545 — pricier than the more powerful PlatinumLED BIOMAX 300 — you’re paying for portability.
4. MitoPRO 300
The MitoPRO 300, by Mito Red Light, is a light, iPad-sized panel weighing just 7 lbs and boasting four therapeutic wavelengths: red light (630nm and 660nm) and NIR light (830nm and 850nm). Its irradiance factor is on par with the competition: >100 mW/cm2. Being a smaller device than the BIO 300 means that its maximum treatment area is smaller as well. That said, it’s well able to target specific areas of the body with a little more power than, say, the Joovv Go 2.0.
The MitoPRO 300 fits onto a stand (sold separately) and can connect with Mito Red Light’s larger devices for an expanded treatment area.
A Word About Wands and Masks
Wands and masks may top a lot of lists for at-home red light therapy devices, but they’re often cheaply made and not nearly as powerful as the other products mentioned here. You’ll have to commit to longer and more frequent treatment sessions to see a fraction of the gains possible with a PlatinumLED device or other powerful devices. Still, wands and masks are worth mentioning because of their popularity. If you are insistent on maximizing portability and are willing to sacrifice efficacy, check out this list of the smallest devices that might be worth a look:
5. LightStim Wands
LightStim offers three wands: a wand specifically for treating acne, a wand that targets fine lines and wrinkles, and a wand used to treat pain. LightStim wands, which weigh 1.1 lbs., are plug-in devices, meaning you get consistent treatments without worrying about depleted batteries.
According to the manufacturer, LightStim wands offer a multi-wave combination of blue, yellow, red, near-infrared, and infrared light, though it’s unclear which wavelengths are used in which wand, or in what combination.
The treatment area for LightStim devices is 2” for the acne wand and 3” for the wands intended for treating wrinkles and pain. The 2” wand features 36 LED bulbs, whereas the 3” wands have 72 LED bulbs. Nowhere on the LightStim website does it mention irradiance, which is an important detail to omit.
6. Tendlite Red Light Therapy Device
Battery-operated and intended for joint and muscle pain, the Tendlite Red Light Therapy Device is easy to hold, weighing just 2.4 ounces and measuring 4” long and 0.8” in diameter. That said, it’s impossible to treat even a modestly sized area of the body, so this device is probably best used for small spots like thumb joint pain, sun-damaged skin, crow’s feet, or an emerging bald spot.
The Tendlite features one wavelength: 660nm red light. This is a curious choice, given the limited absorption of red light. NIR light is far more effective at penetrating the joints, muscles, and bones, making it more suitable for a device that advertises to do just that. Still, for an ultra-compact travel-worthy red light device, this one is hard to beat.
7. Dr. Dennis Gross DRx FaceWare Pro
One of the most recommended LED masks on the market, the Dr. Dennis Gross DRx FaceWare Pro is the best-known and most popular device in the Dr. Dennis Gross line. This hard mask features 100 red and 62 blue light LED bulbs, the combination of which, according to research, is beneficial for clearing up acne and improving skin health. This is because blue light has been found to destroy acne-causing bacteria, while red light stimulates collagen production deep within skin cells, which helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
It’s unclear from the manufacturer’s website which wavelengths the device features. And, as with all masks and wands, the irradiance and overall power are much less than what you’d experience with one of the more robust handheld devices mentioned.
How Does Light Therapy Work?
If you’re like many people who are fascinated by all that red light therapy can do, you may be wondering how, exactly, it works. To understand the science behind this healing therapy, let’s review a few facts about light.
When we see sunlight streaming through a window, it appears warm-white or colorless to our eyes. But in fact, natural light is an entire rainbow of colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. When these colors are combined, they form the visible spectrum of light, which we see as white.
Light is discussed in terms of wavelengths, which are measured in nanometers. Scientists have learned that certain wavelengths of light impact the human body: Some are beneficial, while over-exposure to others (like ultraviolet light from the sun) can be harmful.
For millennia, light has been used to treat various physical and psychological disorders. Why? It turns out that the human body is biologically reactive to light, with different colors having different effects. As mentioned earlier, blue light, which typically ranges in wavelengths from 500nm to 520nm, can reduce bacteria on the skin and is therefore effective at treating acne. Green light (520nm to 560nm) can soothe irritated skin and has been effective for skin wound healing.
Research shows that red light, with wavelengths from 630nm to 700nm, can be very effective for treating wrinkles, fine lines, acne, and hyper-pigmentation, as well as chronic skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema. Red light therapy is a well-researched method for improving skin complexion, skin smoothness, and collagen density. The ability of red light to stimulate collagen production in skin cells and increase metabolic processes within cells (increasing cellular energy), makes it the most popular wavelength to use for skin rejuvenation.
Red light’s cousin, near-infrared light, ranges from 810nm to 850nm. Because of its longer wavelength, NIR light is absorbed more deeply in the body, giving it the ability to reduce inflammation and making it the most powerful light therapy for overall wellness.
What Are the Benefits of Red Light?
When red light is applied to the body, it absorbs into the epidermis (surface of the skin) and dermis (the thick layer of tissue below the surface). Red light has a bioactive effect, meaning the body responds to the light with increased energy production in cells. This is similar to the process of photosynthesis in plants. In fact, red light was used to grow plants before it was ever used on people.
NASA scientists who were studying red light to grow plants in space found that exposure to the light accelerated photosynthesis — and they also discovered (by accident) that the light cured rashes on their hands. This discovery prompted scientists to explore how red light might be used to benefit human health.
In the late 1990s, research showed that red and NIR light have similar effects on human cells; specifically, it caused them to produce more energy with resulting positive effects on skin health, muscle tone, wound recovery, and joint health.
One of red light therapy’s most notable effects is how it stimulates the production of collagen and elastin in skin cells, which are the two proteins responsible for firm, supple, and youthful skin. This, in combination with increased cell energy in the hair follicles and increased circulation, make red light an excellent therapy for hair loss.
With red light therapy, the wavelengths penetrate the skin about 1/3” (8.47mm) — an ideal depth for treating skin conditions and hair loss. Near-infrared light, with its longer wavelengths, can penetrate the body to about 3” (76.2mm), where it has anti-inflammatory and healing properties in the large muscle groups and other tissues.
Most remarkably, NIR light can penetrate bone, which means it supports the immune system by stimulating the production of stem cells. Studies on NIR light’s neuroprotective effects on the brain make it an exciting new therapy for treating traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke, and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Today, technological advances mean that powerful and safe LED devices are available for use at home. Best of all, red and NIR light therapy for home use is completely safe for long-term use, with no unwanted side effects.
Now that you understand red light therapy and its benefits, let’s consider the purpose and efficacy of portable light therapy devices for boosting skin as well as overall health.
What Are Portable Devices Good For?
Due to their size, small portable LED red light devices are most effective at treating the skin on the face, and for use while traveling. You can use portable devices for any area of the body that would benefit from red light therapy (and the list of benefits is long!), though the smaller size of these devices means you’ll only be able to treat a small patch of your body at a time.
You can take a handheld device with you when you travel, or even do a session during lunch hour. This is a much more affordable and convenient solution when compared with visits to a dermatologist or skin-care clinic. However, it’s important to do your research before purchasing a portable device, or else you’ll end up with a consumer product that is far less effective than the clinic-grade tools available in gyms, studios, and doctors’ offices.
What Should You Look for in a Portable Device?
There is an overwhelmingly wide range of choices of portable LED devices on the market. Focusing on a few key features can help you make the best selection.
As previously mentioned, different wavelengths of light have different effects on the body. Some devices offer you the choice of a particular wavelength, while others allow you to use different wavelengths alone, or in combination. Blue light (usually in combination with red) and red/NIR light are the most beneficial combinations that are typically found in LED devices.
Power (light output)
Make sure the device you choose has enough “juice” to deliver these light photons deep into the skin. This journal article by researchers from South Korea discusses how the desired effects of LED light therapy are only possible if the device uses the correct wavelength(s) and delivers enough power and energy to ensure that as many light photons as possible are absorbed into the body.
It’s important to note that the power consumption of an LED light therapy device does not necessarily correlate with its light output. An inefficient device will produce little light output and significantly weaker effects.
Ultimately, you will get the most value with high-powered LED light devices, especially those that deliver multiple wavelengths of light.
Types of Devices to Consider
When considering portable LED devices, should you choose a wand, face mask, cap, or small panel? Each has specific applications. Consider your needs to determine which type of light therapy device will give you the best results.
Face masks and caps, for instance, have very specific uses and don’t give you the flexibility to treat other parts of the body. If you’re looking for applications such as reducing muscle fatigue in your quads while also stimulating collagen production in skin cells to reverse sun damage on your face, a face mask or cap will not work for you. Instead, you’ll want to choose a device that is large enough and powerful enough for both uses.
Wands come in a few different styles, but all are meant to be comfortably held in the hand.
- LED light therapy wands are great for travel.
- Wands are ideal for spot-treating small areas of the skin, such as localized acne or wrinkles and fine lines around the eyes and mouth.
- The small size of wands means that you’ll need to spend more time treating larger areas, and you’re likely to miss spots. If you want to treat hair loss, for example, wands should be avoided because it’s difficult to know whether you treated the whole scalp or just a few patches.
- Also, it is physically uncomfortable to hold a wand over your head for the duration of an LED light session.
- Many LED light therapy wands deliver fairly weak light output, especially if they are battery-powered. As the battery depletes from use, so will the light output. Given this low light output, it is puzzling that some manufacturers suggest three-minute treatments. The only way to achieve anywhere near the highly effective irradiance of larger devices is to spend more time using the device, not less; the suggested usage time for small panels is anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes per body area.
Bottom line: The best use for wands is for travel or when you only want to treat small, targeted areas.
A mask fits snugly over your face. It is a good solution if you want to rejuvenate your face without using Botox, chemical peels, or other costly and aggressive methods.
- A face mask puts your skin close to the LED bulbs so you’re assured of even and all-over exposure.
- All-over facial rejuvenation and chronic skin conditions on the face can be achieved quickly and conveniently when you use a mask.
- You’re limited to the treatment of the skin on your face (you won’t be able to treat the skin on your neck).
- Some people may feel claustrophobic wearing a mask.
- Many LED light masks deliver fairly weak light output, although this reduced effect is partially minimized because the LED bulbs are so close to the skin.
Bottom line: You should choose LED light therapy masks only if your sole focus is facial rejuvenation.
Caps fit over your scalp and are intended for treating hair loss. Consider a cap if hair restoration is the only application you need.
- A cap gives you full scalp exposure to the light so you’re assured of even exposure, and your entire scalp will benefit from increased circulation and hair follicle cell stimulation.
- You’re limited to just treating your scalp.
- Many caps deliver fairly low light output, although the effect of this reduction is partially minimized because the LED bulbs are so close to the skin.
Bottom line: The best use for caps is hair restoration.
While they may not be what you think of as “portable,” small panels are more efficient and offer a significantly higher light output in a relatively compact size. You can expect superior results using panels over all portable devices.
- A mini-panel can be the ideal solution for targeted treatments, such as the skin on your face or aching joints in your hands. This is because you can position it conveniently and enjoy hands-free red light therapy.
- You get the same power (light output) and high quality as you would with a larger device, for less money.
- Mini-panels need to be mounted on a base or hung to avoid holding the device for the duration of your treatment session.
- Mini-panels are not actually portable, although elite athletes are known to travel with them.
Bottom line: Red LED panels have a broad range of applications since they can treat large areas of the body, and they have the power output needed to ensure optimal light absorption into the body. Panels are the best option if you want to treat conditions that are more than “skin deep,” and if portability isn’t so important to you.
Why Go Bigger?
Many people purchase an LED light therapy device to treat a specific condition, such as wrinkles, fine lines, and saggy, papery skin — and after using the device, they quickly discover red light’s innumerable other benefits. If they’re stuck with a mask, cap, or low-powered wand, they’re unable to tap into the true potential of red light therapy as a full-body treatment.
Before you buy a red LED device, read our blog to discover the many uses for red and NIR light therapy devices.
Get the Best Results with a Powerful Yet Portable Panel
Wrinkles, fine lines, balding, joint pains, and other signs of aging aren’t a given when you can treat them effectively and painlessly with red light. Portable LED light therapy devices are convenient and great for travel; but because of their weak light output, they are not the ideal solution for treating various parts of the body.
If you want to get the maximum benefits from red light therapy, your best bet is to go with a high-output compact panel such as the PlatinumLED BIOMAX 300 or the PlatinumLED BIO 300, both of which deliver red light as well as NIR light. Then, all you have to do is commit to several treatments each week on an ongoing basis, to enjoy firm, supple, youthful-looking skin — as well as the many inner benefits of red light therapy, including reduced joint pain, better circulation, faster muscle recovery, and much more.