Do LED Light Therapy Masks Work?

The device looks robotic – like the helmet worn by a Stormtrooper in Star Wars – and promises to give you a smoother, clearer complexion. Known as LED light masks, these are devices that are illuminated by LED lights and worn over your face.

People who have been vaccinated are starting to remove their face coverings in public, so some are turning to a different type of mask at home to achieve better skin.

Celebs are touting LED face masks on social media and people are looking to get a bit of glow after the stresses of the pandemic. Through “light therapy”, the devices promise to treat acne and reduce fine lines.

Find out how and if these masks work, how much you’ll spend, and what dermatologists recommend for the best results before you spend a dime.

What are LED Light Therapy Masks?

Noninvasive anti-ageing skin treatments include LED therapy masks. To promote softer, smoother skin, light-emitting diodes emit blue and red wavelengths.

In dermatology practices and spas, these LED light machines were staples for years. Professionals were able to use them effectively despite their cumbersome and expensive design. Those celebrities that look as if they are ageing backwards probably have LED facials in their routine.

Today, you can purchase LED face masks for use at home as part of your skincare routine. DRx SpectraLite FaceWare Pro masks are among these masks. This mask channels the power of LED light into an easy-to-use, safe mask that can be used at home.

With the DRx SpectraLite BodyWare Pro, you can apply the power of LED skincare to your whole body, including your head and toes.

What does an LED mask do to your skin?

NASA developed light-emitting diodes for its plant growth experiments in space.

LED light therapy uses much less energy than a laser to treat the skin, and studies show that it can “greatly improve the natural wound healing process” and treat “a range of medical and aesthetic conditions” in dermatology.

Dr. Pooja Sodha, director of the GW Medical Faculty Associates Center for Laser and Cosmetic Dermatology in Washington, D.C., said that the FDA has approved LED therapy for recurrent facial herpes simplex, or cold sores, and herpes zoster (shingles).

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, home masks are not as powerful as those prescribed by dermatologists. However, Sodha said, their convenience, privacy and affordability often make them an attractive choice.

The face can be irradiated with blue light for acne treatment; with red light for anti-ageing purposes; or both.

According to Dr Mona Gohara, a board-certified dermatologist from Connecticut, blue light targets the bacteria that causes acne.

In the case of red light, “heat energy is delivered to the skin to produce changes. This time around, collagen production increases.

What are the benefits of LED masks?

There are many uses for LED masks for the skin, including firming the skin, reducing wrinkles, preventing breakouts, and controlling oil production.

Hyperpigmentation is typically treated with a green light that targets melanocytes, quells free radicals, and breaks up melanin clusters. Moreover, it prevents excess melanin from travelling to the surface of the skin, explains Dr Maiman. 

Alternatively, red light stimulates the production of collagen and elastin by cells called fibroblasts, making it suitable for anti-ageing treatments. Thin, wrinkled skin can be improved with this treatment.

Last but not least, blue light is typically used to treat acne. According to Dr Maiman, blue light produces oxygen radicals that kill the acne-causing bacteria C. acnes. As a result, they produce less of the oil that plugs pores and triggers acne.” It has also been shown to reduce activity in the sebaceous glands.

The science behind LED light therapy masks

A leading dermatologist at Georgetown University Medical Center and clinical professor of dermatology, Tina Alster, says LED light therapy is rooted in science. The devices in stores aren’t all effective, Alster said, and none are as potent as medical-grade LEDs or lasers. 

When used consistently over time, she said, at-home light products provide only a “minimal” benefit, something buyers often fail to do. Since people don’t see immediate results, they tend to become lazy about using them. Rather than using them continuously, they only use them as needed.

Light was first discovered to have therapeutic value in the late 1960s when Hungarian surgeon Endre Mester discovered that low-power lights could heal wounds and possibly stimulate hair growth

Researchers at NASA, who were looking for ways to grow food for astronauts during space shuttle missions, were responsible for the development of a new generation of light-emitting diodes in the late 1990s. The spinoff technologies were applied to medical uses on Earth, resulting in a device that helps heal mouth sores from chemotherapy and another that activates drugs to treat tumours.

The introduction of LED devices into consumer goods, such as facial light therapy products, was facilitated by their cheaper and easier production. 

According to the Toronto dermatologist Daniel Sauder, “there’s very little data on the units you can buy at CVS or Sephora,” even though many small studies have shown that blue-light machines can treat acne and red-light machines can help with wound healing and joint pain.

Dr. Thomas Rohrer, a Boston-area dermatologist and president of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery, said lab results have been more impressive than the clinical outcomes from at-home facial rejuvenation devices. Rohrer said that collagen production may be studied in a petri dish or microscopically. “However, an increase in collagen may not translate into visible results for a patient.”

Most scientists agree that LED light changes how skin cells function by absorbing different components, but scientists do not fully understand how it happens, said Jared Jagdeo, a dermatologist at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and director of the Center for Photomedicine. 

Based on which lights are used and how powerful they are, light can stimulate (for example, to promote collagen production) or inhibit cells (for example, to inhibit scarring).

According to Jagdeo, the most effective devices hit a sweet spot when it comes to engineering. It is important that the lights are not too weak or too strong, and that they are delivered at the right dose and rate. Jagdeo said that if the power and dose are not right for what you want, it will not work.

Microchips inside LEDs convert electrical energy into lights of various wavelengths, essentially generating an artificial version of the wavelengths that make up sunlight. Dennis Gross, a dermatologist in New York who created the $435 DRx SpectraLite FaceWare Pro mask, explained that each of the visible wavelengths is associated with a color band of the rainbow, and some colors penetrate deeper into the skin than others. 

Often, blue light is used to treat acne because it kills bacteria on the epidermis, the external layer of the skin. It reduces inflammation by going deeper into the skin than blue light, which has a shorter wavelength.

Ellen Marmur, a New York dermatologist who created the $795 MMSphere, a halo-shaped panel with five colors and nine settings, cautioned that these visible lights should not be confused with UVA and UVB rays that can damage the skin. They are not lasers (although some at-home LED devices have been mistakenly described as lasers). 

Marmur said lasers emit a specific wavelength of light that destroys specific targets, such as green ink on a tattoo or melanin on a birthmark. Many patients require more than one session and some recovery time for the most aggressive lasers, which are used to resurface the skin and cost roughly $2,000 per session.

On the other hand, LED devices are painless and do not irritate the skin, Marmur said. People should always use opaque goggles when working with devices close to their faces to shield their eyes. 

Do LED Light Therapy masks actually work?

According to the research behind LED masks, the light used affects the skin, and if that’s the case, LED masks may be beneficial.

Researchers found that red LED light treatment improved measures of eye-area wrinkles in a study of 52 women published in the March 2017 issue of Dermatologic Surgery. Another study, published in the August 2018 Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, scored LED devices as “C” for skin rejuvenation (improving elasticity, hydration, wrinkles). Some results can take time to show, and more long-term studies are needed.

Researchers found that both red and blue light therapy for acne reduced blemishes by 46 to 76 percent after 4 to 12 weeks of treatment, according to a review in the March–April 2017 issue of Clinics in Dermatology. 

A review of 37 clinical trials involving home-based devices was published in the May 2021 Archives of Dermatological Research. The authors concluded that LEDs are effective at treating acne, based on their review of 37 trials. 

Additionally, other studies have shown a lesser ability of blue light to clear skin, according to a study published in the Annals of Family Medicine in November–December 2019.

It has been shown that blue light penetrates the hair follicles. “Blue light can have a strong effect on bacteria. It kills them by stopping their metabolism,” says Solomon. That way, future breakouts can be prevented. 

She says that, in contrast to topical treatments that reduce inflammation and bacteria on the skin’s surface, light treatment eliminates acne-causing bacteria before they can feed on the oil glands and cause inflammation and redness. Acne can also be treated using red light in combination with blue light because red light reduces inflammation.

However, you should keep your expectations in check. “Not all at-home devices provide the same level of strength as an on-site device. It is not always feasible to achieve the same results at home as at a dermatologist’s office, where treatment is calibrated and regulated,” Solomon warns.

As a complementary measure to light therapy, you should use a good skin-care regimen. Using light therapy alone won’t be effective. According to Dr Farber, light devices can help as long as they’re used in conjunction with topicals or in-office treatments.

How often should you use an at-home LED face mask?

Each LED face mask has a different recommended usage, so it depends on the guidelines of the manufacturer.

With this hands-free option, you can enjoy a relaxing evening at home or while running errands. In any case, if you are looking to upgrade your at-home skin-care routine, incorporate this worthy skin-care gadget by adding LED lights.

For both acne and anti-ageing skin changes, at least four to six weeks, although probably longer. It may take a long time for someone with more established wrinkles to see a difference if they respond at all to the LED mask.

What are the risks of using LED masks?

The idea of intentionally treating your face with light might appear counterintuitive after years of being taught UV light is harmful.  Do not worry, LED lights are safe and will not harm you in any way. 

According to a review published in February 2018 in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, LED masks to have an “excellent” safety profile. As LEDs are a non-invasive procedure that does not require the application of topical products that can irritate the skin, Dr Maiman agrees that the procedure is usually very safe. 

Nevertheless, Dr Kim cautions that there is a possibility of eye damage, especially if you have a history of seizures or migraines triggered by bright lights, so always shield the eyes or wear eye protection when using LED devices. 

Some antipsychotics and some antibiotics may make some people more sensitive to LED light. Lithium or certain antipsychotics may also cause this reaction.

If overused, dermatologist Marina Peredo notes that you may experience redness and tenderness. Check the specific guidelines for the product you are using; LED masks typically require short exposure times (10 to 20 minutes) and should only be used several times a week. Redness or signs of sensitivity should be reported immediately to a dermatologist.

Who shouldn’t use the LED masks?

Skin cancer sufferers and people with systemic lupus erythematosus, as well as people with diabetes or congenital retinal disorders, should avoid this treatment, according to Sodha. A photosensitive medication list also includes people taking lithium, certain antipsychotics, and certain antibiotics.

Avram cautioned people with skin of colour to be careful about using these devices because they can sometimes change the colouration.

What are the best LED light therapy masks?

Solomon recommends that you use an LED product at home on a clean face every day. Various price points are available for these devices. (Makeup reduces light penetration.) Use black opaque goggles to protect your eyes.

LED technology is used in the following five devices.

1. Dennis Gross Skincare DRx SpectraLite FaceWare Pro LED Light Therapy Device

This DRx Spectralite LED mask is created by Dennis Gross, MD, a dermatologist in New York City, costs more than $400, making it the most expensive in the category. However, it’s FDA-approved and uses a combination of red and blue LED lights (you can use red or blue light separately or together). The best part is that it takes only 3 minutes a day to wear.

2. Dennis Gross Skincare SpectraLite EyeCare Pro

Here’s another FDA-cleared device from Dr Gross using 72 LEDs. People who are mainly concerned with wrinkles and fine lines around the eyes should use this. Due to the fact that it is not a full-face treatment, the cost is more reasonable.

3. Pulsaderm Acne Clearing Mask

Red and blue lights are used in this FDA-cleared light mask to treat acne. 

Acne Clearing Mask by Pulsaderm, $59. Pulsaderm.com

4. Spa Sciences Claro Acne Treatment Light Therapy System

This FDA-cleared handheld device targets acne at a relatively affordable price. In addition to a timer for safety, the camera includes eyewear for protection and a built-in timer.

5. LightStim for Wrinkles

This is another FDA-cleared device that can be used two to three times a week. According to the makers, its lights can smooth fine lines and wrinkles and boost skin elasticity. Due to its hand-held nature, treating your entire face will take longer than with a mask. 

6. Boost Advanced LED Light Therapy Face Mask

The mask of this device is made of silicone so that it can conform to the shape of your face, making it more comfortable. In addition to red light, the FDA-cleared mask emits near-infrared light, which boosts circulation and reduces inflammation.

Final Verdict on Using LED Light Therapy Masks

However, LED light masks and devices should not replace your regular skin-care routine. They are most effective at stimulating collagen production and killing bacteria that cause acne. They are less effective than in-office procedures at your dermatologist’s office as at-home devices. 

To stay safe while treating your skin, wear eye protection and follow directions before using.

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