What Can Red Light Therapy (Actually) Do for Skin?
Red light therapy has made its way to the skin-care-obsessed masses: While it was once a treatment only at the doctor’s office, the number of devices you can now use at home has grown at a viral pace. Just search “red light therapy” on Facebook or Instagram for evidence. Red light therapy is one form of multiple light-emitting diode (LED) therapies—but of all of them, red light penetrates the deepest into the skin. The attraction to this kind of skin treatment has grown because it’s noninvasive (meaning no downtime and minimal side effects), it works on almost all skin types and tones, and it’s said to help with a host of skin issues, from acne and inflammation to signs of aging, including fine lines and wrinkles.
Celebs and influences alike have touted the treatment’s skin-enhancing effects with posts of themselves in their homes casually wearing glowing masks, or waving red-light wands over their faces. But as technology and skin care continues to merge, it’s often hard to tell what’s real from what’s hype.
The good news is that, depending on what you’re using it for, experts say the evidence behind the benefits of red light therapy ranges from solid to solidly promising. To help clarify exactly what these devices can (and cannot) do—and whether at-home red light therapy devices are worth your money—we asked a few leading dermatologists some of our most pressing questions on the subject. Read on to see how they broke down red light therapy for us.
What is red light therapy and what is it used for?
As you may have seen in your dermatologist’s office or in online ads for home devices, red light therapy usually takes the form of a face mask, light panel, or wand built with tiny LED bulbs that emit low-level wavelengths of red or near-infrared light. These devices are then “applied”—panels and some masks are kept a short distance from your face; other masks and wands are applied directly—to the skin for brief periods of time (typically around 15–30 minutes) to help treat various skin conditions. These skin concerns can range from the medical—including actinic keratosis (a common skin growth that can lead to cancer), and acne —to the cosmetic, namely fine lines and wrinkles.
So how does all of this happen just from pointing red light at your face? Red light waves stimulate the mitochondria, which is the energy center within each cell. We believe that sets off a cascade of changes within the cell that allow for the different benefits that we’re able to see, such as the regulation of collagen production and the reduction of inflammation, pigmentation, and redness in the skin.
Because of its anti-inflammatory effects, doctors may also use red light therapy to help treat acne, often in conjunction with blue light, which doesn’t penetrate as deeply as red light but has been shown to kill the bacteria on the surface that causes acne. Both blue and red light have been reported to be helpful in acne—the choice really depends on physician expertise, preference, and the kind of devices being used. For light-based therapies, a lot of parameters are a little more flexible than prescribing a drug, which has a definite dosage and duration.
So does red light therapy really work?
When it’s used for its indicated medical treatments, red light therapy absolutely can. When used with a photosensitizer, the therapeutic effects of red light—whether it’s the anti-inflammatory effects for acne or the destructive and anti-oxidative-stress effect on pre-cancerous cells—have been proven.
Experts say you will likely see some skin-enhancing effects with best red light therapy, but as with most skin rejuvenation treatments, most visible results will be temporary. This is not going to stop the clock,but that’s why regular use is recommended, either in an office, spa, or at home. In other words, if you’re looking to achieve smoother skin and see a reduction in fine lines, you’ll need to keep up your sessions so that each one builds onto and supports the other; then over time—usually in a matter of weeks or months—you should start to see noticeable changes, according to the doctors we talked to.
But what side effects of red light laser therapy should I expect?
Yes, all of our experts agree: Red light therapy is generally safe. The great thing about best red light therapy is that it’s noninvasive and, when used properly, does not damage the skin. Side effects are minimal and downtime, which is sometimes necessary with common skin laser treatments, is nonexistent.
Also unlike some lasers, people of all skin tones and types can undergo this kind of treatment. Once you start trending up towards much longer treatment times, though, then the risk for those issues increases.
The bottom line is that, when done correctly, red light laser therapy is something that’s safe and very manageable for the average adult.
So red light therapy at home is safe and effective too?
Yes.In-home devices are as safe to use as in-office ones. Remember though, the red light therapy devices used in a medical office will be bigger and emit more energy than those you can use at home, so at-home ones will be milder, which means you may not see the kind of results you might get from an office visit.
These less powerful home red light therapy devices can be safely used more frequently, without any redness.
How often can you use red light therapy?
For actinic keratosis treatment, we ideally aim for a single session, but the more severe cases will need more than one. A patient should expect to be under the light for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the light source.
For acne, we really don’t have great data, but multiple sessions are definitely needed. It’s reasonable to prepare for a series of 3 to 4 sessions.
If you’re going to do your best red light therapy at home by using a face mask, for example, he says you could probably use that three to five times per week, or whatever the manufacturer recommends. It’s usually on an every-other-day regimen for about 5 to 15 minutes per session.
You can also do a combo of in-office and best red light therapy at home to get the most noticeable results, he says.
As noted above, since any changes you might experience will be temporary, keeping up a regular schedule of treatments is key to maintaining the desired results.
One note of caution: Don’t get overzealous and think the more you use red light therapy, the better results you’ll get. Remember that great safety profile we mentioned above?
That will go out the window if you don’t follow the directions with your device. Overuse of your device could result in undesirable adverse events such as redness lasting longer than one day, blistering, burns, decrease in collagen, increase in wrinkles, tanning or darkening of skin that may take several months or longer to resolve, and other side effects or complications.
Hair Loss: Grow Healthier, Thicker Hair
There is actually over a decade worth of research using red light—oftentimes LED, sometimes lasers—to promote hair growth.
Indeed, a 2020 review examining the safety and efficacy of low-level light therapy looked at ten randomized controlled trials and found that red light therapy devices using wavelengths that included red light appeared to be effective for treating pattern hair loss in both men and women.
Red light therapy weight loss
Losing weight can be tough. Results are slow, and it can often be discouraging seeing the same number on the scale week after week.
Maybe you’ve tried one of those popular “fat loss” supplements or “guaranteed” weight loss exercise programs and got disappointing results. Or maybe you saw some initial results, but the pounds quickly came back.
Whatever the case may be, best red light therapy weight loss made a great addition.
Clinical studies have shown that RLT can reduce fat and cellulite. While the “how” isn’t exactly known yet, the leading theory is that RLT produces small holes in fat cells, which causes lipids (the molecules inside your fat cells) to leak out.