Disco lights are flashing, and your skin is healing.
Not exactly that, but yes – LED lights in colours red, blue, green and yellow used in often eerie android-like masks are touted to have a stunning range of skin benefits. Their fans even include celebrities such as the Kardashians, Chrissy Teigen, Victoria Beckham and Huda Kattan, amongst many others.
For me though, watching endless skincare routine videos for therapeutic purposes, it was always the mysterious skincare step – how exactly does light treat skin problems?
The main medications in skin treatment that light has been included in would be acne, some dermatitis, dull skin, psoriasis, rosacea, eczemas, signs of aging like wrinkles and damage and wound healing, and maybe other inflammatory skin conditions.
Dr Rutsnei Schmitz, M.D specialist dermatologist at Abu Dhabi-based Amarillys Clinic and Zieda Clinic, explains, “The main medications in skin treatment that light has been included in would be acne, some dermatitis, dull skin, psoriasis, rosacea, eczemas, signs of aging like wrinkles and damage and wound healing, and maybe other inflammatory skin conditions.”
So would using it at home give me these benefits? We speak to Jessica Lisnyj, DHA (Dubai Health Authority) licensed aesthetician, beauty and laser therapist at the Nova Clinic, Dubai, as well, to find out.
Light can penetrate deep into your skin
“The first thing you need to know is that light has different colours like a rainbow, and we call these different colours in practical terms – wavelengths,” says Dr Schmitz.
“Each wavelength is going to penetrate in a different skin depth and it’s going to have a particular effect – sometimes different wavelengths have the same effect or they have mixed effects.”
According to a 2017 study on the use of red light published in the international journal AIMS Biophysics, these effects include activation of a range of different pathways for protein synthesis through complex mechanisms.
As for LED lights specifically, Lisnyj, says, “LED stands for light-emitting diode, and these lights have been used since the 1960s - It was actually NASA that started using them for plant growth, and since then, LED lights had shown really great results in wound healing in human tissue. That’s when the beauty industry kind of started to take over them.”
Now, specific ranges of wavelengths are used for these main treatments in medicine, Dr Schmitz explains:
• Hair growth
• Anti-aging - he adds, “In anti-aging, there are some preliminary studies that show some effects in terms of wrinkle reduction.”
Your skincare rainbow
Red, blue, green, yellow…there are various coloured lights as options to brighten up your skincare closet. What’s the right one to choose?
“If we are picking the colours of LED – normally the ones that have more studies and investigations are blue light and red light,” says Dr Schmitz. Lisnyj adds that only these lights are used in clinical treatments.
Blue light also acts as an antibacterial, so it contributes by killing bacteria and also reducing inflammation. So, blue light is really really good for anyone with oily skin congested skin, spot pattern skin hormonal breakouts.
These treatments last around 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the device you are using, and results range from immediate to those than take up to 10 professional sessions over a six or eight week period. Lisnyj says, “The good thing with LED lights is that they're super safe. If you’re treating a breakout, usually, you can see small results straight away from that inflammation and that antibacterial property on the breakout. And then in the next day, two to three days, it should really kickstart that healing processes and you should be able to see results.”
However, according to the American Academy of Dermatologists, any visible light including blue and red is not effective against blackheads, whiteheads, acne cysts, or nodules.
Blue light kills acne-causing bacteria
Range: around 450- 495 nm
“We know that blue light reduces oiliness by reducing the functioning of the sebaceous glands and because of that they also kill the sort of bacteria that relate to acne – which are cutibacterium acne, former propineobacterium acne,” explains Dr Schmitz.
If you’re wondering if your skin might be experiencing all this goodness from watching Netflix late at night because of the blue light from your screens (I was) – unfortunately, that’s a no. The intensity of blue light or any LED light used in such therapy is concentrated, and only a certain range can have a positive impact on your skin.
Lisnyj says, “Blue light also acts as an antibacterial, so it contributes by killing bacteria and also reducing inflammation. So, blue light is really really good for anyone with oily skin congested skin, spot pattern skin hormonal breakouts.”
Red light fights red inflammation (and aging)
Range: around 620 – 750 nm
“The red wavelength has anti-inflammatory activity and targets the fibroblasts which are skin cells that are responsible for collagen production,” says Dr Schmitz. “Collagen is the cement of the skin. It also has some impact on wound healing because it stimulates the collagen remodelling as well.”
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology also found that LED therapy of 660 nm given in 11 sessions reversed two aspects of skin aging - and was a ‘safe and effective collagen enhancement strategy’.
According to a 2014 study by Brazil-based researchers published in the journal Acta Histochemica, infrared LED irradiation positively modulates certain parts of the extracellular skin matrix.
There may be benefits for hair too! Dr Schmitz adds that studies show that red light may help to restore hair for those with androgenetic alopecia or male and female patterned hair loss. He says, “Normally, this wavelength, it goes a little bit deeper, it’s 650 nanometers, and you can activate the vasodilation (when veins enlarge) and enhancing the blood circulation around the hair follicles. More nutrients, more oxygen, more vitamins, more basic elements are going to be there, and provide a better environment for the hair to grow.”
Jessica Lisnyj, DHA (Dubai Health Authority) licensed aesthetician, beauty and laser therapist at the Nova Clinic, Dubai, “If you've got any redness in the breakouts again the red light will help a lot so I would say a combination is great, unless your main concern is just oiliness and blackheads then the blue lights are more than enough.”
Yellow or amber light may be anti-inflammatory, and anti-wrinkle
Range: around 570 – 590 nm
According a 2018 study published in the British Medical Journal, amber LED lights may reduce development of wrinkles by stimulating collagen production.
Green light can be calming
Range: around 495 – 570 nm
“Green light is calming. So it's again anti-inflammatory,” says Lisnyj. “There is certain information out there that says it helps to reduce hyperpigmentation damage, but there aren’t really any real studies to back this up.”
However, she adds that both yellow and green light are typically not used alone in professional treatments, and is instead more of an add-on.
Lisnyj sums it up, “In combination with other treatments, you can get a better result because LED light therapy is not kind of a cure for anything because it is just lights on our skin, but it is helping and so it's great to add on to other treatments.”
A typical LED light therapy routine
If you’re considering venturing into this brightly-lit skincare world, two options await – professional treatments or at-home devices.
“During a professional treatment, your skin therapist might apply them while you’re lying down under an LED mask, or they might hold them on the skin for up to 10-15 minutes is depending on how strong the light therapy is and what we’re treating,” says Lisnyj. It can take up to 10 sessions. Both Lisnyj and Dr Schmitz add that clinical treatments show faster and better results as the professional-grade devices emit higher intensities of the light.
If you’re planning to DIY it, you can buy an LED mask, light wands for spot treatment or pick from the variety of other options available. Lisnyj says, “On the whole home devices are usually less effective than professional treatments."
How to use LED light therapy
1. There are some risks and side effects.
Dr Schmitz says, “It’s important to know that any long-term exposure to light, even if we’re not talking about UV range here – is that they can induce pigmentation. That’s a very big concern. Any of these lights can cause excessive pigmentation at a certain level, especially red light and amber. Some people might have pigmentation, rashes, redness and tenderness in the skin.”
2. Follow the instructions of your device manual
“Normally the time of exposure needed, and intensity of light – depends on the device. There’s no standardization,” says Dr Schmitz.
3. Consult your dermatologist or doctor, if you are using certain medications
“If you are on certain medications, such as topical acne medications – those can also cause sensitivity to sunlight, and to light. So people with skin conditions should speak to either their doctor, their dermatologist or aesthetician before using LED light therapy,” says Lisnyj.
According to Cleveland clinic, even those who have a history of certain conditions such as skin cancer and inherited eye diseases should avoid LED light therapy.
4. Apply it on clean skin, or after your skincare routine
“You can apply them with masks, serums or just on clean, dry skin. They’re super safe as well, and there’s no recovery time,” says Lisnyj.
Do not apply over your SPF, or makeup as they form barriers that can stop the light from penetrating your skin, she adds.
5. Protect your eyes
Depending on the device, you should also be protecting your eyes from these bright lights. “When we use the professional masks, we can either use goggles, or we can just apply tissue over the eyes – or at home, just closing your eyes,” says Lisnyj.
6. With long-term problems, consistent application
“On the whole you will suffer with eczema, dry skin inflammation quite like regularly, you do have to keep using the lights to see a result,” says Lisnyj.
Should you add it to your daily routine?
“I would say if you're someone that suffers with excess oily skin, or if you're someone that does suffer with breakouts, inflammation on the skin, rosacea – using the blue lights, or the red lights at home, especially frequently is really going to help reduce your skin issues,” says Lisny adds.
Dr Schmitz says, “As a doctor, it’s normally preferable to see the patients before I make a conclusion.. but I think it is a valid technique, it is invasive - I think it’s a treatment that you can consider to have at home. The levels of safety are fair and they can be used for the benefits I have mentioned. “