LED light therapy for skin is an untouched reservoir of rejuvenation that shows the potential to reduce the signs of aging and can be a wonderful part of your daily self-care routine. Here’s why.
With an area of about 20 square feet, the skin is the largest and heaviest organ in the body. Although it’s pretty tough, the skin is also fragile and prone to damage. Premature aging, acne, psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, vitiligo, scleroderma, and slow-healing wounds are some of the skin conditions that may affect you during your lifetime.
In some cases, lifestyle changes such as staying out of the sun, eating more leafy greens, and cutting out smoking and drinking can dramatically improve the health of your skin. But in other situations, lifestyle changes may not be enough to reverse damage or prevent further damage.
If you want to give your skin a boost, don’t look for a topical solution or tool. Instead, seek ways to boost skin health from the inside by using specialized LED lights. This therapeutic technique, known as light therapy, supports normal healthy cell functioning and stimulates certain biological processes that support skin health.
If you’re concerned that LED light therapy may be hazardous, rest assured that it is not; it’s gentle and free from side effects. In fact, the right kind of LED light can have far-reaching benefits for your entire body.
Note: See which light therapy devices work best for skincare and see how to use them in our guide to the best red light therapy devices to use at home.
What Is Light Therapy?
LED therapy is the process of using a device fitted with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to shine specific wavelengths of light onto bare skin. It's painless, non-invasive, natural, and free of side effects.
This makes LED light therapies popular with anyone looking to reduce fine lines, wrinkles and to rejuvenate their skin.
You may use an LED panel positioned so you can comfortably sit or lie down to get maximum exposure to the light. Or, you may use LED wands that are moved over the skin, LED face masks, or wraps that remain tightly in place over the treatment area.
The skin is highly reactive to light. And it’s a good thing that light affects the skin because the skin is an early warning system for problems that may be lurking under the surface. Hormonal imbalances, for example, can quickly manifest on the surface.
You can quickly see and feel the difference in your skin in response to stressors like too much sun, too much alcohol, or too much emotional stress. Fortunately, you can also see rapid responses to beneficial light
One of the key ways that LED light therapy benefits your body – from the inside out – is by reversing what’s called mitochondrial dysfunction. This is a condition that occurs when the mitochondria, which are tiny energy-producing organelles inside cells, can’t effectively or efficiently convert raw materials into cellular fuel. This fuel is in the form of a molecule known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
A healthy body produces plenty of ATP) within each cell. ATP is a key element in cellular regeneration and the ability of cells to perform their specialized functions. But various factors can negatively impact the body’s ability to produce this crucial organic compound.
The ability (or inability) of your skin cells to perform optimally can be caused by emotional stress, environmental toxins, lifestyle habits, chronic inflammation that leads to oxidative stress, or malfunctioning in other bodily systems.
LED light therapy stimulates the body’s production of ATP, while also igniting your body’s synthesis of collagen and elastin, which are proteins that govern overall skin health and contribute to youthful skin.
LED light therapy also reduces chronic inflammation, supports normal cell growth, and stimulates the production of new blood and lymph vessels for improved circulation to the skin.
Combined, these processes enhance normal cell growth and regeneration. The more effectively and efficiently the skin cells repair themselves, the faster you will experience healing from various skin conditions.
And it’s in this realm of health that LED light therapy may provide the answer to healing not only the visible symptoms but also the underlying cause of poor skin tone or chronic conditions.
In short, LED light therapy has a powerful stimulating effect on cellular metabolism, which causes a positive ripple effect of biological processes that enhance skin health.
How Does Light Therapy Work?
Natural light from the sun appears as a warm white color, but it is composed of all the colors in the spectrum; when viewing these colors collectively, our eyes see white. Wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation that we perceive as different colors of light have varying effects on the human body.
As light penetrates the outer layers of the skin (the epidermis), it reacts with light-sensitive chromophores in the cells. This reaction sparks different biological effects depending on how deeply the wavelengths absorb into the body.
Red light, for instance, penetrates 8 to 10 millimeters (about 1/3”) into the skin. At that depth, it can positively affect blood vessels, nerves, lymph pathways, and fibroblasts, meaning cells that are responsible for the production of collagen and elastin.
Types of Light and What Each Wavelength Does
Color therapy has been used successfully for centuries. The basis behind it is that each wavelength has a specific frequency. We only see a small fraction of this light, roughly between 380 and 780 nanometers (nm), and that’s what we refer to as visible light.
Light therapy has been used since the 1950s to treat various psychological and physical conditions. In the decades since then, scientists have made huge advances in understanding the unique effects of each color in the spectrum of visible and invisible light.
Because white light is a combination of colors, it is considered a full-spectrum color, or light. White LED light therapy uses bright-white full-spectrum light, a common therapy for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), emotional eating, jet lag, addictions, and even some cancers.
Ultraviolet (Invisible) Light
Ultraviolet wavelengths (around 390nm) have been used to treat skin conditions, alleviate inflammation, increase cell regeneration, and balance and calm the skin. However, too much exposure has been proven to cause skin damage and can potentially cause skin cancer.
Blue wavelengths measure around 415nm. Blue LED light has antibacterial properties, and it is particularly effective against acne-causing bacteria, which makes it a popular acne treatment. Blue light has been used to treat emotional disorders such as depression and addiction.
Blue light does have a downside, however. Its wavelengths are extremely short, too short to penetrate the skin, which significantly limits the usefulness of blue light in treating most skin disorders beyond acne.
The main challenge with blue light is that it has been shown to accelerate skin aging and contribute to the eye disorder known as macular degeneration. This discovery is fairly recent, having been revealed as scientists have studied the effects of blue light exposure from computers, phones, tablets, and other electronics.
Green wavelengths measure around 525nm. Although very few studies have been done on green light, it has shown potential for treating migraine headaches, as well as for reducing redness and irritation of the skin.
Yellow wavelengths measure approximately 550nm. Amber light is used to heal eczema, sunburn, psoriasis, rosacea, and to reduce redness. It penetrates deeper into the skin than blue wavelengths, but because of its shallow penetration depth, amber light’s usefulness in skincare is limited.
In the next section, we’ll explore the two wavelengths that fall into what’s known as the “therapeutic window” of wavelengths that have extraordinary benefits, and no side effects: red and near-infrared (NIR) light.
What Color Is Best for Your Skin?
Red light therapy is a term that commonly encompasses both red and NIR wavelengths. It is the most popular and most widely studied form of light treatment due to its broad range of effects.
Red wavelengths (630nm to 660nm) are effective at treating conditions on the top layers of the skin, including:
- Stimulating hair regrowth (both male and female pattern hair loss);
- Reducing acne inflammation and breakouts;
- Reduction of fine lines, sagging skin, sun damage, and wrinkles;
- Elimination of psoriasis;
- Accelerated skin wound healing;
- Healing of non-melanoma skin cancers;
- Reduction of post-injury swelling and inflammation.
Near-infrared wavelengths, which range from 810–850nm, penetrate deeper than red light. Thus, NIR light therapy supports healing deeper in the body and has a positive ripple effect on skin health. Benefits proved by research include:
- Reduced recovery and accelerated healing following plastic surgery;
- Accelerated healing and reduced infection;
- Reduced inflammation;
- Balanced thyroid function (hypothyroidism is a major cause of dry, flaky skin);
- Improved fat metabolism;
- Stimulation of the lymphatic system for more efficient waste removal from the cells.
At the root of it all, the key to skin health is improved cellular functioning. Both red and NIR light can help improve cell functioning at the “skin-deep” level and in the deeper layers of tissue just beneath the skin.
How Much Does Light Therapy Cost?
When it comes to skincare, you get what you pay for – but you don’t have to travel to a dermatologist’s office and pay high fees for red light therapy. Thanks to advances in LED technology, you can administer light therapy in your own home.
You’ll get superior results by using a high-powered LED light therapy panel that delivers the most powerful concentration of red and NIR wavelengths.
You can get some results with wands, masks, and wraps that emit red and/or blue lights. You’ll need patience, however, since these devices don’t have the light power output of more powerful at-home devices. In other words, you’ll need more and longer light therapy treatments to achieve the same results.
Some handheld devices and masks on the market use both red and blue wavelengths to treat acne and aging; but again, research suggests that blue light frequencies may be harmful to the skin. For this reason, we don't recommend at-home devices that emit blue light.
In the long run, buying a high-quality LED light panel that emits red and NIR wavelengths is a cost-effective and highly beneficial option for skincare and overall health. Certain skin conditions may require long-term maintenance treatments, the cost of which can add up quickly if you’re taking the treatments in-clinic.
And when you factor in the many other health benefits of LED lights in the therapeutic window (such as faster recovery after workouts, hair regrowth, fine lines and wrinkles, treatment of neuropathy, relief from back pain, osteoarthritis joint pain, and much more), you can see that at-home LED devices can be an important investment in your overall well being – and it’s an investment you’ll quickly recoup in the form of better health and fewer doctor visits.
How to Use Light Therapy
Preparing for an LED light therapy session involves cleansing the skin, especially if you’re using sunscreen, which will block much of the light that’s shining on your skin. It’s also important to apply the treatment to bare skin, as clothing will also block the light.
You can use light-blocking goggles to shield your eyes from the light, although red wavelengths have been shown to improve various eye conditions, including macular degeneration. In general, using light-blocking goggles will give you a more soothing experience during your treatment time, which could be anywhere from five to 20 minutes at a sitting.
During the treatment, simply sit or lie about 6–8” from the LED light device for maximum light absorption. You can be farther away, but you’ll want to increase treatment time to compensate for the lower number of light photons that are absorbed into your skin.
As well, if you're using a light therapy mask or wand, you'll want to increase your treatment time to compensate for the lower light power output of these devices.
Some people like to meditate during their treatment sessions, which is great because de-stressing is a powerful way to support your health. Or, you may prefer to listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook.
If you have sensitive skin, be sure to start with a two- to five-minute session to determine your sensitivity, and gradually work up to 15- to 20-minute sessions. You can enjoy short sessions every day or longer sessions three to five times per week.
After the treatment, you may feel slight tightness or experience redness in the treated area, which should go away quickly. If you like, you can apply a cool, moist towel to the area.
You will not get a tan or experience any unwanted change in skin pigmentation as a result of LED light therapy that uses red or NIR wavelengths. You may notice that age spots or sun spots start to fade away and that your complexion is becoming more even over time.
As you experience positive results with LED light skin treatments, you may find that invasive treatments such as microneedling, as well as irritating treatments like chemical peels, are not as effective as non-invasive, painless, and pleasurable red light treatments. This is especially true if you intend to treat fine lines and wrinkles and otherwise reduce the signs of aging.
How Quickly Can You Get Results?
The key to success is consistency and patience. Your skin didn’t age or develop chronic conditions overnight, and it’s important to realize that red light therapy is an inside-out approach that treats the root cause of poor skin conditions.
Since skin cells take about a month to regenerate, and they don’t all regenerate at once, you can expect to see the desired results after an estimated one to four months of consistent use.
Potential Side Effects
In general, red light therapy has no side effects.
With that said, different people may exhibit different sensitivities to LED light therapy. The good news is that side effects from LED therapy are rare and generally very mild if they occur. If you have any redness that persists for more than a few minutes following treatment or you develop a rash, pain, tenderness, or hives, discontinue use and call your doctor.
Side effects that don’t go away could be signs of a deeper problem. Always listen to your body, and never dismiss its distress signals.
If you think there’s even a small chance that you have a serious condition like skin cancer, you must consult with your doctor before starting any type of skin treatment, including LED light therapy.
What Skin Types Are Suitable for Red LED Light Therapy?
Red LED light therapy can be beneficial for all skin types. If you’re particularly sensitive to light, however, be sure to start with very short sessions. Even a few minutes a day can have wonderful benefits without giving you “too much of a good thing.”
Where Can You Buy Red LED Light Devices?
The best source for a high-quality, high-light-power output LED light therapy device that emits both red and NIR light is right here.
Smaller LED lights, such as a therapy mask, wand, or wrap, are widely available online. While more affordable, you will not get fast, profound benefits – you'll need many more sessions to get good results.
Shining a Light on Excellent Health
Be sure to check out the PlatinumLED Learn page for more insights into how red and NIR LED light therapy can be the single best investment in your overall health. And it's not just a part of your skincare routine; its far-reaching benefits will astound you.