September 16th 2021
Why LED light is the at-home skin treatment the experts rate
October 18th 2018 / 0 comment
Gentle and painless with zero downtime, light therapy was originally pioneered by NASA and is now used by derms to target everything from breakouts to collagen breakdown. Here are the LED devices that deserve a spot in your beauty toolbox
When we talk about skincare technology going space age, we mean it literally in the case of LED (light emitting diode) treatments. Developed by NASA in the 80s to speed up astronauts’ tissue healing and repair, LED light therapy has been used in clinical contexts for quite some time and is becoming increasingly accessible as an at-home skin treatment thanks to beauty tech breakthroughs in the form of all-over face masks, targeted pens, goggles and other quirky looking handheld devices.
When looking at what LED can do for skin, it could be more pertinent to question what it can’t. Different colours elicit various benefits and can be combined for extra skincare clout, and while it doesn’t produce results overnight, regular LED light therapy can boost collagen, reduce acne bacteria and even prevent pigmentation before it happens, although there are a few at-home LED caveats to be aware of. Here’s your lowdown on the treatment that dermatologist Dr Dennis Gross is dubbing “the next big ingredient in skincare.”
It’s very low risk
Just to get this one out of the way, unlike UV light or blue light (HEV) emitted from screens, LED light penetrates skin at a longer wavelength (roughly 5mm), stimulating cellular repair rather than damaging cells or obstructing their activity as higher frequency, shorter UV and HEV rays do. While dermatologists caution against using LED light treatments on broken or infected skin unless you’ve consulted a doctor or dermatologist beforehand, generally they’re safe and effective for everyone to use, whether you’ve got sensitive skin, rosacea, acne or even if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, although always consult your GP or a relevant medical specialist before embarking on treatment just in case.
It treats multiple skin issues with flying colours
And we don’t mean that figuratively. There’s a traffic light system depending on your particular skin goal:
Red: Red LED light is renowned for speeding up collagen synthesis and enhancing cell repair and was the original therapy utilised by NASA in medical care. Red light energy stimulates the mitochondria (the power generators) in cells so that they function optimally, boosting the production of collagen and elastin and in turn slowing the signs of premature ageing and environmental damage. Red light is also considered anti-inflammatory and it’s for this reason that many skincare experts and dermatologists follow up a more intensive or invasive skincare treatment with a red LED light treatment to calm redness, swelling and any potential adverse side effects. Cosmetic doctor Dr Tijion Esho even suggests that red LED light treatments could be beneficial from a health P.O.V:
“As well as leaving your skin glowing the light also supports the natural production of vitamin D.”
Given that government officials now advise that everyone in the UK should consider taking vitamin D supplements between the months of October-March due to widespread deficiencies, a little time under the LED light might serve to improve more than just your complexion.
Amber: Orange light is particularly hailed for its soothing effect on rosacea and redness as well as gently revving up collagen production.
Green: Probably the LED light you’ll see the least of (red and blue are the most common mass market options), green light is used to even out skintone. This particular wavelength targets melanocytes, slowing down the production of melanin so that not as much pigmentation reaches the top layers of our skin.
Blue: The big hitter for acne. Blue light has been scientifically proven to kill the P.acnes bacteria on the surface of the skin that’s most commonly responsible for breakouts.
Combining colours has been shown to be even more effective for optimising skin health across the board than LED light treatment in isolation, with a fusion of red and blue light producing the most successful outcomes in treating acne and inflammation in particular in a 2015 study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago.
It could be as vital as your skincare
Not that you should chuck out your hard-earned serums, but Dr Gross reckons that LED light’s powers of cellular repair could rival some of the most effective skincare ingredients you can buy, although treatments should complement your skincare routine rather than replace it:
“Receptors in our skin cells respond in the same way to LED light as any other active ingredient such at vitamin C or retinol - replenishing dermal and epidermal cells, essentially boosting action at a cellular level and creating positive changes in skin.”
Consistency is key
LED light therapy is a slow burner (burning is not a side-effect, FYI). When using an at-home device in particular (these are less powerful than professional LED lamps) you may need to commit to five sessions a week to see results, so patience is a virtue and discipline is essential to get the most out of your chosen LED gadget. Given the investment, you should be motivated enough to switch yours on regularly, but failing the skin-related incentives LED light therapy can be a relaxing way to wind down at the end of the day. Blend it with a 15 minute meditation session, watch Netflix through your LED mask eye slits or just sit on the sofa and do sweet nada for a while - the gently warming light is the most chilled, comfortable facial you’ve likely had in a while - there’s no pain, tingle or eye watering extractions to speak of.
If you require recent proof that your dedication to the light will pay off, LED treatments were Princess Eugenie’s bridal skincare prep of choice in the run-up to her wedding. She didn't do it at the palace mind you - she booked an LED treatment at The Light Salon at Hersheson's on Berners Street in Central London and I think we can all agree that she looked pretty damn fresh on the day (also kudos to her Bobbi Brown makeup artist Hannah Martin).
Seeing the light? Here are some at-home LED devices to suit every budget and skin requirement, many of which are portable, can be applied to bums and boobs too (because...body acne) and will turn your skincare regime that bit more Star Trek.
The spot lights
Got some volcanic blemishes on your radar? I certainly did when I got my hands on Neutrogena Light Therapy Targeted Acne Treatment, £29.99 (as you can fully appreciate here). The combination of red and blue light is a targeted take on the brand’s full face rave welder style Light Therapy Acne Mask, £59.99, with the idea being that you apply the pen onto ‘problem’ areas for two minutes to bring down inflammation and encourage zits to go on their merry way by evacuating your face all the faster. Given the fact that it’s quick and convenient I’m more inclined to use it regularly than the larger Daft Punk helmet version although I’m convinced both have resulted in acne bacteria backing off - not miraculously, but I’m experiencing far fewer angry breakouts and clearer skin overall.
New to the targeted blemish shrinking LED light show is Dr Dennis Gross Drx Spotlite, £58. This spot wand also uses both red and blue light to target acne bacteria and with regular use it claims to speed up the healing process to minimise scarring and redness left behind by ghosts of blemishes past. It’s pricier than Neutrogena's offering but arguably more powerful.
If you’ve got more to spend and want a full at-home tool kit at your disposal, the likes of Neo Elegance Skin Rejuvenator Device, £250, and Carita My Cle, £399, combine multicolour LED light therapy with circulation stimulating massage and ultrasound in the case of the former and lifting microcurrents in the case of the latter. Just be careful not to go too gung-ho on the extra features - both overzealous massage and microcurrent application can worsen inflammation, so make sure that you move them around the skin for maximum benefit.
The multi-energy Silk’n FaceTite, £119, also stimulates collagen production by utilizing various technologies simultaneously - red LED light, infrared heat energy and bipolar radiofrequency energy to encourage skin to rejuvenate itself.
Foreo U.F.O, £249, is also a flying off the shelves faster than the speed of um, light, thanks to the fact that it combines red, blue and green light with circulation stimulating sonic technology, thermotherapy to encourage skincare absorptions (you ‘strap in’ a supplied sheet mask into the device) and a cryotherapy feature to cool skin and minimise the appearance of pores. Victoria Beckham’s a fan (it was used backstage at her AW18 show) and facialist Nichola Joss rates it as it delivers visibly rejuvenating effects for even the most sensitive skin.
The sellout specs
Dr Gross is at it again. His Spectralite Eyecare Pro LED, £168, sold out in two days when it launched last winter and mainlines on red and amber LED light to stimulate collagen production in the delicate, fine line prone eye area. Looks weird, but it reportedly shows results in two weeks in terms of firmness and surface smoothness. We’re slightly skeptical there but each session lasts just three minutes so more a more prolonged treatment plan won’t eat into your time too much.
The LED attachment
Nuface Trinity Wrinkle Reducer, £135, is very spendy for what’s essentially an add-on to the original Nuface Trinity Device, £300, but if money’s no object you’ll benefit from 10-25 minute sessions of red, amber and infrared light whenever and wherever you fancy.