LED Light Therapy for Your Skin: Benefits, Dangers, and FAQ
Premature or rapid aging of the skin is a concern that can throw a wrinkle into life. It’s one of the top concerns that people of all ages deal with in different ways—some believe staying out of the sun is the answer, while others rely on eating leafy greens. Meanwhile, everyone agrees avoiding smoking is key.
However, these time-honored skin care techniques aren’t the only ways to ensure vibrant and elastic skin well into old age. And, it’s not just age that can affect skin.
A range of skin conditions like acne, psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, vitiligo, scleroderma, and various types of skin cancer are all cause for concern and can lead at times to irreversible damage. In these situations, lifestyle changes might not be enough to get your skin back to 100% as quickly as desired.
If you want to give your skin a boost, don’t look for just another acne creme or topical solution. Instead, look for ways to boost skin cell function, so your body can naturally heal itself. But this can be harder than it seems, because your body can be affected by such a wide range of factors.
The ability—or inability—of your skin cells to perform optimally can be caused by emotional stress, environmental toxins, lifestyle habits or malfunctioning in other bodily systems. It’s impossible to separate one bodily system from another and the skin relies on all of the other systems to deliver nutrients and oxygen to the cells. This set of chemical reactions that occur in all humans is called cellular metabolism—and this harmonious interaction is critical to health.
And it’s in this realm of health that LED light therapy may be the answer to healing not only the visible symptoms of skin problems, but improving underlying cell function as well.
How Does LED light therapy help my skin?
The benefits of red light therapy are all derived from improved cell function
LED therapy has a powerful stimulating effect on cellular metabolism, including improved cellular energy. A healthy body produces plenty of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), a key element in cellular regeneration, but as one ages the body’s production of this crucial organic chemical compound diminishes.
LED light therapy stimulates the body’s production of ATP, while also igniting your body’s synthesis of collagen and elastin—both elements that govern overall skin health. LED therapy also supports normal cell growth and stimulates the production of new blood vessels for improved blood flow to the skin.
Accelerated normal cell growth and regeneration is key. The more effectively and efficiently the skin cells repair themselves, the faster you will experience healing from various skin conditions.
How does LED therapy work?
LED therapy works by emitting low light wavelengths through the skin. The light penetrates the outer layers of the skin (the epidermis), much like sunlight. When you are soaking up the sun, your skin doesn’t just absorb the heat from the sun, it also absorbs its light. The so-called burning rays of the sun (UVB and UVA) are the light wavelengths that cause damage to the skin, including wrinkles, discoloration, and potentially cancer.
We can't see all wavelengths of light, but we can see most of the range that's used for LED light therapy—besides a few UV and Infrared wavelengths.
But, the sun also has positive effects, including the production of Vitamin D, stimulation of serotonin production, and regulation of the sleep-wake cycle by stimulation of something called the pineal gland. These effects go much deeper than “skin deep.”
We can’t see all of the wavelengths of light, but research shows that different wavelengths penetrate the body to different depths. Just like sunlight, LED lights have different biological effects depending on how deeply they penetrate the body.
For example, red light penetrates 8-10 millimeters (about ⅓”) into the skin, and can affect blood vessels, nerves, fingernails and toenails, lymph pathways, and hair follicles. As we’ll explore shortly, other colored lights, such as blue light at 415nm, can't match it in terms of depth. On the other hand, near-infrared light--one of the other common wavelengths used in LED therapy--has the ability to penetrate the entire body, including bone.
Whatever the color, in-office LED light therapy may consist of lying down directly under the lights or the use of LED wands that are moved over the skin by a practitioner. Either way, it’s a pleasant, absolutely painless, and non-invasive treatment.
How much does it cost?
When you’re looking at LED light therapy, there’s some good news, and some bad news.
The bad news is that insurance doesn’t cover LED light therapy or related at-home devices. Also, the cost of a single session can run $80 or more, depending on where you live and if the treatment is being applied in conjunction with another skin care therapy such as micro-needling.
This can add up pretty quickly as most healthcare practitioners recommend up to 10 weekly 20-minute sessions to heal a skin condition, usually followed by monthly or bi-monthly maintenance follow ups. How long this maintenance protocol lasts depends on the individual.
Can I use LED therapy at home?
Yes! The good news is that you can self-treat with at-home LED devices. It’s important to note that low-cost LED devices such as handheld wands or face masks won’t give you the dramatic results you would get from in-office treatments or high quality LED panels, because they don’t emit enough light.
To get the results you want, opt for high-quality panels, from a reputable brand (like us!). These types of quality LED panels are as effective as in-office treatments. You may see plenty of knock-off brands on Amazon, but be wary of anything under about $300. A low-cost device may provide colored light, but rarely with enough power to effect long-term chance.
How often should I use LED light therapy?
In the long run, buying a high-quality panel is a very cost-effective option. Certain skin conditions may require long-term maintenance treatments, which can add up quickly beyond the cost of the standard series of 10, 20-minute treatments.
LED Light Therapy Benefits
The skin is the largest organ in your body. You can quickly see and feel differences in the skin in response to stressors like too much sun, too much alcohol, or too much stress. You can think of the skin as an early warning system for problems that may be lurking under the surface, such as hormonal imbalances. Many people have reported benefits after using red light therapy for better skin.
The various wavelengths of LED lights have specific benefits. For skin-specific applications, you’ll likely see masks or wands with a variety of light colors, which we’ll discuss below. Two of the most powerful options though, are red and near-infrared light.
The reason these options are so powerful is that they exist at or above the limit of the visible light spectrum, which means they’re composed of relatively long wavelengths of light. In general, the higher the wavelength, the deeper into the body the light will penetrate.
Red light penetrates deeper into the skin than other wavelengths of light.
So red and NIR (near-infrared) light can penetrate deeper into your skin than green, blue, yellow, or other colored light alternatives. Keep that in mind when shopping for an LED light device.
We’ll review the full color spectrum a bit later on, but for now, here are a few key benefits of red and NIR light–the most powerful LED light wavelengths you should consider.
Red light, (630nm to 660nm) is effective at treating conditions on the top layers of the skin, including:
- Stimulating hair regrowth in men and women.
- 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 light (NIR) (810-850nm) penetrates deeper than red light, which supports healing deeper in the body, and has a positive ripple effect on skin health. Benefits include:
- Reduced recovery and accelerated healing following plastic surgery.
- Accelerated healing and reduced infection.
- Reduced inflammation.
- Balanced thyroid function.
- Improved fat metabolism.
- Stimulation of the lymphatic system.
Just remember, the key to skin health is improved cellular functioning. Both wavelengths of red light can help improve that functioning, but the difference is just a matter of depth. Is red light therapy good for psoriasis? Learn More.
LED Light Therapy Dangers and Risks
Different people exhibit different sensitivities to LED light treatment. The good news is that side effects from LED light therapy are rare and generally very mild if they occur. If you have any of the following symptoms following treatment, discontinue use and call your doctor:
In some cases, this could be due to the “healing response” or what’s sometimes known as the Herxheimer Reaction--a healing crisis or a detox reaction. Inflammation is one of the ways that the body deals with something harmful or irritating. This immune system reaction to the toxins that are released during healing can be distressing, but temporarily worsening symptoms don’t mean the treatment isn’t working; in fact, it often means the treatment is effective. It doesn’t feel good to have a healing response, but again, this is very rare with LED light therapy!
However, 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!
And always remember, 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 treatment, including LED light therapy.
LED Light Therapy Colors
Chromotherapy is a treatment method that uses the visible spectrum (colors) of electromagnetic radiation to promote healing and cure diseases. Color therapy has been used successfully for centuries. The basis behind chromotherapy is that each wavelength (what we see as colors) has a specific frequency. We only see a small fraction of electromagnetic radiation, roughly between 380 and 780nm (what we call visible light).
In the 1950s, studies found that neonatal jaundice could be cured with exposure to sunlight. Recent research has proven the beneficial effects of various types of LED light. The result of this research is that color is coming into its own as an effective therapeutic tool. For example, red light is used when athletes need to perform with quick bursts of energy, while blue light is best for sports that require a steady energy output such as long-distance cycling or running.
Chromotherapy is now used to improve the performance of athletes. For example, whereas red light appears to help athletes perform in short, quick bursts of energy, blue light assists in performances requiring a steadier energy output. Research has also found that specific parts of the brain are not only light-sensitive, but respond differently to different wavelengths.
This is important for skin health, as light enters the body through the eyes and skin. Light triggers the hypothalamus, which regulates all life-sustaining bodily functions, the autonomic nervous system, endocrine system, and the pituitary (the body's master gland). Different wavelengths have different effects on the endocrine system, which regulates hormones; and hormonal balance, or imbalance, directly affects the skin.
White isn’t a color, per se: it’s a combination of colors and therefore it’s considered a full-spectrum color (or light). Bright white full-spectrum light is a common therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), emotional eating, jetlag, addictions, and even some cancers.
The purple wavelength is around 390nm. It alleviates inflammation, increases cell regeneration, and has a balancing and calming effect on the skin.
The blue wavelength is around 415nm. It is proven to have antibacterial properties, and overall cleanses and purifies the skin. Blue light therapy is highly effective at treating acne, and acne scars, and it has been used to heal injured tissue, preventing scar tissue, and speed up healing of burns and lung conditions. On an emotional level, blue light has been used to treat addiction and depression.
The yellow wavelength is around 450nm. It is commonly used to heal eczema, sunburn, psoriasis, rosacea, and to reduce redness.
The cyan wavelength–a lighter shade of blue light–is around 490nm. It’s a soothing, anti-inflammatory, and is ideal for treating inflamed skin, acne, reducing swollen capillaries and blocking pain.
The green wavelength measures around 525nm. It has a balancing effect on the complexion, reduces hyper-pigmentation, lightens sunspots, and minimizes redness and dark circles.
Learn more: Light therapy work for rosacea
The Benefits of Red Light For Skin
Red light is the most popular form of LED treatment due to its broad range of effects.
These effects are also widely studied; research indicates it's especially useful for stimulating collagen production to create softer, fuller, smoother, and more elastic skin. Collagen is like the body’s own bandage: this protein is used to repair and rebuild skin. Increased collagen production also reduces the size of pores, and reduces fine lines and wrinkles.
As a study published in Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery states that mitochondria in the skin cells absorbs red light and supports the production of more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the energy source for all cells. Armed with extra energy, cells are able to function optimally for more youthful skin.
Red light therapy is a great way to tighten your skin, treating skin conditions, and promote overall health and vitality. The full spectrum of light can be beneficial, depending on your current skin and goals. But for the best long-term, deep results, make sure to include red and possibly near-infrared light in your LED light therapy routine.
Be sure to check out our full range of red and NIR devices for your light therapy needs.