If you’re seeking natural ways to improve skin tone and appearance, you may have heard about red light therapy. There are hundreds of devices available, including masks, wands, caps, wraps, and panels. So how do you choose? And how should you use your device?
In this article, we’ll explain how red light benefits the skin and how you can incorporate red light facials into your daily self-care routine for the most satisfying results.
We can’t claim that red light therapy is the fountain of youth… but we can say it’s a giant leap in the right direction. Read on to find out why!
How Does Light Affect the Skin?
The fact that light affects the body has been known since ancient healers first prescribed sun therapy for a variety of ailments. Today, we know that some wavelengths of natural sunlight are beneficial, while excessive exposure to others, especially ultraviolet (UV) light, is harmful.
Two wavelengths of invisible and visible light are commonly used in treating skin conditions: red and near-infrared (NIR). The term “red light therapy” is often used in reference to both red and NIR light. These wavelengths range in length from 650 to 850 nanometers (nm).
Red light therapy, also called photobiomodulation (PBM), infrared light therapy, and low-level light therapy (LLLT), uses devices fitted with powerful LED bulbs that deliver red and near-infrared wavelengths to bare skin.
While many early studies used lasers (thus the original names for the treatment—low power laser therapy or low-level laser therapy), LED panels deliver the same effects without lasers. And LED technology allows you to self-treat various health conditions in the comfort of your home.
Red light therapy is painless, non-invasive, natural, free of side effects, and highly beneficial in supporting the body's self-healing mechanisms.
How Red Light Therapy Works
Thousands of independent studies and scientific reviews show that human cells respond positively to red and NIR wavelengths. The secret lies in stimulating the mitochondria, which are tiny organelles inside cells that produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary cellular fuel.
Sometimes, due to inflammation, chronic stress, disease, and/or other factors, the mitochondria don’t produce enough ATP. When this happens, the cells don’t have enough energy to perform their functions. This is known as mitochondrial dysfunction, and it’s one of the main reasons skin can age too quickly: Your cells just don’t have the “oomph” to do their jobs when they are struggling to survive.
Red light therapy has been shown to reverse mitochondrial dysfunction—and it sparks a chain of positive effects that shows potential to help turn back the clock on your skin. Giving yourself a red light therapy facial could be the answer you’ve been looking for to enjoy firm, youthful skin once again.
How do we reverse mitochondrial dysfunction? By using red light therapy to make the mitochondria more efficient at converting the chemical energy from food into ATP.
When red and NIR light photons enter the body, they interact with light-sensitive chromophores within the mitochondria. This interaction excites the mitochondria and stimulates ATP production. More energy gives cells the boost they need to perform their functions more successfully, even if they are suffering from oxidative stress due to inflammation.
In a 2008 scientific journal article, University of California at San Diego researchers Joseph Tafur and Paul Mills state that mitochondrial photostimulation using red light therapy improves signaling involved in cellular homeostasis (everyday cellular functioning) and cell proliferation.
Cell proliferation allows healthy cells to replace damaged cells, which are largely responsible for sagging, wrinkled, and papery skin. Healthy cells mean less skin roughness and noticeably smoother and softer skin.
According to a 2017 paper by world-renowned LLLT expert Michael R. Hamblin, red light therapy also reduces inflammation; increases microcirculation to bring nutrients and oxygen to the skin and remove toxins; and increases collagen production for firmer and more elastic skin. We'll more deeply explore the benefits of both red and NIR light therapy in the next section.
Red wavelengths, which range from 630 to 660nm, are used to treat surface skin conditions including fine lines and wrinkles, photoaging, and chronic skin disorders. Studies on this range of red light have consistently shown an increase in intradermal collagen density after treatment. This is profound because collagen is a protein that makes up 80 percent of the skin.
Collagen creates a strong latticework that supports skin and creates a firm texture. Due to aging, sun damage, inflammation, and other causes, collagen production can slow down to the point of skin losing its firmness, which results in sagging skin. An intradermal collagen density increase means that the structures supporting the skin can be restored to their normal tightness and resiliency.
Another component of aging is reduced production of elastin, the protein that allows the skin to stretch—and red light therapy can help increase the protein. During a 2007 study, researchers from Seoul, South Korea treated participants with a combination of 633nm red light and 830nm NIR light twice a week for four weeks. After the study, the researchers found a marked increase in skin elasticity among participants. An examination showed highly activated fibroblasts, which are the precursors to both collagen and elastin.
Because NIR wavelengths are longer, they penetrate beyond the deepest layers of the skin into the muscles, joints, bone, and even into the brain. NIR wavelengths are most widely known for reducing chronic inflammation, which causes oxidative stress and accelerates aging.
NIR wavelengths also improve the circulation of blood and lymph (fluid of the lymphatic system), which is essential for good skin tone. Blood brings oxygen and nutrients to the skin, and lymph removes toxins and pathogens. So, increasing circulation boosts skin health.
A 2020 study by researchers from Italy and Russia found that red light therapy stimulates the growth of endothelial cells, which are the cells that make up the tiny capillaries within the cardiovascular and lymphatic systems. Red/NIR light also stimulates vasodilation (dilation of blood vessels), which promotes better circulation.
Red Light Facial Rejuvenation at Home
You can give yourself a red light facial every day, or several times a week as part of your normal skincare routine to improve skin tone, reverse sun damage, and smooth out fine lines and wrinkles for a younger-looking you. You’ll see results in just a few weeks, and optimal results in one to four months.
How to Get a Red Light Facial at Home
Here are some guidelines to help you get started using red light as part of your daily self-care routine.
Invest in a Quality Red Light Device
Rather than low-powered handheld devices such as wands or masks, we recommend using high light energy output LED panels. Here are two of the best choices, both from PlatinumLED:
- The powerful panels in the PlatinumLED BIO series allow you to choose red light (660nm) alone; NIR light (850nm) alone; or a combination of both in a 1:1 ratio.
- The PlatinumLED BIOMAX series offers superior light power output and a full-spectrum combination of five of the most scientifically validated red and NIR wavelengths in a potent ratio. These panels can be linked and positioned on vertical or horizontal stands for the ultimate in comfort.
You may have seen red light wands and masks on the Internet, but don’t waste your money on them. They are underpowered, meaning they won’t deliver enough light energy into your body’s tissues. You may get some results with these devices, but results will be much slower and less noticeable than with a high-powered red light therapy device.
Use Both Red and NIR Light
It’s important to use both red and NIR light to fully support your skin. Red light absorbs just below skin deep, whereas NIR light’s longer wavelengths penetrate deeper into the body.
The primary benefit of NIR wavelengths is reducing chronic inflammation, which could be wreaking havoc on your body’s systems—including the largest system, your skin.
Most people who suffer from chronic inflammation are not aware of it. It can be caused by numerous factors: chronic stress and the impact of an overload of stress hormones, poor sleep, poor nutrition, and/or environmental toxins. After a month or so of using red light, you may realize that you feel better overall, which often signals a reduction of systemic inflammation.
Check out the differences between the PlatinumLED BIO and BIOMAX series. With both series, you get the most powerful light output available on the market, as well as the most beneficial (and most widely studied) wavelengths of red and NIR light.
Allow Time for Your Skin to Rejuvenate
It’s important to know that red light therapy is not a quick fix. It works at the cellular level and addresses the underlying conditions of aging skin, including chronic inflammation and mitochondrial dysfunction.
Your skin did not start to sag, develop wrinkles and sunspots, feel papery, or lose its luster overnight. Your skin will not bounce back overnight. So don’t lose patience.
Skin cells take about a month to regenerate and they don’t regenerate at once. Collagen and elastin proteins also need time to form and bolster your skin’s support structure.
You should view red light therapy as a longer-term but highly effective treatment. If you like, you can give yourself a red light facial every day. But you’ll also see fabulous results with consistent three to five 10- to 20-minute sessions per week.
It may take one to four months to see optimal results. You may continue with a red/NIR LED light therapy maintenance program indefinitely to keep your skin cells functioning at their best.
You can amplify the benefits of red light by supporting your body through good nutrition, drinking plenty of water, avoiding smoking and alcohol, limiting sun exposure, keeping stress at a minimum, using fewer chemical-laden beauty products, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of sleep.
You may also find that as you treat your skin, you experience other benefits including fat loss. Check out these related articles to discover the ways that red light therapy can rejuvenate your entire body.
What About Blue Light as a Facial Treatment?
You may have also seen ads and articles about blue light therapy and other types of light therapies as treatments for skin disorders. Although it is true that blue light has benefits, its applications are relatively limited compared to red light.
Blue wavelengths are much shorter than red and NIR wavelengths. Because of that, they cannot penetrate the skin beyond 1mm deep (which is about the thickness of a credit card) making the light effective only on the very outermost layers of skin, where it is considered an effective treatment for:
- Acne: Blue light has been shown to have antibacterial effects, which makes it an effective acne treatment. A study by researchers from the U.S. and the Netherlands found that blue light therapy killed acne-causing bacteria in mild-to-moderate inflammatory facial acne, and improved skin condition.
- Solar keratoses (scaly bumps that result from sun damage): While common in skin aging, 10 percent of keratoses may develop into skin cancer. Research has shown that photodynamic therapy, which utilizes blue light along with a photosensitizing chemical solution, may destroy precancerous cells. This treatment is administered by a doctor.
- Improved skin texture and reduction of enlarged oil glands (known as sebaceous hyperplasia).
- Depression: The main reason sunlight is effective at treating seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is blue light, which has a powerful energizing effect.
Although blue light definitely has benefits, the primary challenge is that it accelerates aging. Here’s how:
Blue wavelengths primarily enter the body through the eyes, where they help regulate our circadian rhythms, hunger, and body temperature.
In the morning, exposure to blue wavelengths causes a decrease in melatonin and a spike in cortisol, signaling wakefulness. After sunset, exposure to blue wavelengths naturally decreases, allowing melatonin levels to increase and cortisol to decrease, signaling sleep.
Today, however, most people have far too much exposure to blue wavelengths, especially after dark. Artificial lighting and electronics (including smartphones) emit large amounts of broadband blue light that is now known to interfere with sleep, cause oxidative stress, and lead to accelerated skin aging. Blue light has also been associated with the development of macular degeneration, a serious eye disease that causes vision loss.
In general, you might consider avoiding blue wavelengths as a skin treatment and use red and NIR light therapy instead. Red and NIR waves penetrate deeper into the skin for greater benefits without any unwanted side effects.
Also, consider adjusting the nighttime color settings to amber on your computer, tablet, and phone to reduce your exposure to blue wavelengths, especially after dark. Or, buck the trend and avoid using any electronics after sundown, which will help you get a better night’s sleep.
Red Light Therapy for a Younger-Looking You
All in all, a red and near-infrared light treatment gives you the most amazing facial you could have. It stimulates cellular energy production, collagen-producing fibroblasts, and lymph and blood flow. At the same time, it reduces skin-damaging inflammation and oxidative stress. You can say goodbye to saggy skin and enjoy a better complexion, fewer fine lines and wrinkles, and a more even skin tone.
Red light therapy is part of a holistic approach to skin health. Best of all, you get these benefits without harsh chemical peels, invasive and expensive cosmetic surgery, laser ablation, or potentially allergenic substances.
Red light therapy is the clear choice for both facial rejuvenation and overall well-being. Give your body a boost with red light. Combined with a healthy lifestyle, you’ll notice a world of difference in the feel and appearance of your skin after just a few weeks of enjoying daily LED light therapies.Check out the PlatinumLED blog to learn about the many applications where red light therapy really “shines.”