LED Light Therapy: Everything You Need To Know

by Lucy Glen

• 05 June 2024

From results to risks, an expert reveals if this beauty tech really works.

 

Of all the new skincare tech available to us today, red light therapy is arguably the most effective—and yet the most misunderstood.

Historically only used behind the doors of high-end skincare specialists, this powerhouse treatment (in all device formats) can now be used in the comfort of your own home. But, with technology changing and—let’s be honest—the sometimes confusing terminology, it can be hard to know what’s right for you.

Here, we asked Hafsa Issa-Salwe, an experienced aesthetician and facialist specialising in red light LED (light-emitting diode) therapy, to answer your most-asked questions when it comes to the basics of LED therapy. From its origins to the best way to use it—she discusses its efficacy, plus explains the benefits of each LED light colour.


What is LED therapy?

LED was initially developed by NASA, with the sole purpose of growing plants in space. LED technology has since ‘orbited’ from space stations to our earthly homes, emitting specific wavelengths that penetrate the skin’s layers and get absorbed by certain skin cells (as plants do when they absorb light to grow).

Let’s say you wanted to minimize the signs of aging; red and near-infrared are the wavelengths you need to encourage collagen and elastin production in the fibroblast cells to see a reduction in your fine lines and wrinkles. 

Research reveals that LED therapy stimulates cellular repair and minimizes inflammation—even destroying acne-causing bacteria and reducing oiliness. 


What does LED therapy do?

When we think of beauty technologies used in-clinic, LED therapy is the first to come to mind. LED therapy is super effective at tackling a number of skin concerns, acne, dullness and redness for example. If you have inflammatory or autoimmune issues such as rosacea, eczema or psoriasis, then LED therapy can help reduce symptoms. The light from LEDs can access various layers of the skin depending on the wavelength, making it a safe and versatile beauty solution. 

 

How does LED light therapy work?

LED therapy works by using specific wavelengths to trigger reactions, or (in science speak) photo-biochemical reactions within your cells. There are differences in the reactions that LED lights produce within the skin, and this depends on the wavelength (i.e. the color) that’s being used.  

 

 

What are the benefits of each LED light colour?

Light exists on a spectrum and LED light is no different. Each LED wavelength shows up as a different color (except for near-infrared which is clear) and they all have special, unique benefits. 


  • Blue (415nm) only reaches 1mm into the epidermis to produce ozone and eliminate the p.acnes bacteria, reduce oil production and minimize shine, blackheads and clogged pores.

  • Green (532nm) reaches up to 2.5mm into the epidermis to decrease the melanocyte cells responsible for dark spots, hyperpigmentation and age spots.

  • Yellow (590nm) reaches up to 2mm into the dermis to decrease inflammation, oxidative stress and UVB (burning) and UVA (photoaging) sun damage.

  • Amber (605nm) reaches up to 3mm into the dermis to reduce photoaging from UVA damage.

  • Red (633nm) reaches the dermis to increase the natural cellular energy (ATP) to kickstart cell regeneration, collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid for cell hydration.

  • Red (640nm) reaches the dermis to improve cell oxygenation and keep hair follicles in the growth (anagen) phase for higher hair density.

  • Deep red (660nm) reaches the dermis to improve blood circulation and cell oxygenation, we see significant improvements in inflammation, irritation and redness.

  • Near-infrared (830nm) reaches into the dermis to accelerate cell repair and soothe redness, irritation and build strength for fragile skin conditions.

  • Deep near-infrared (1072nm) reaches the hypodermis (below the dermis) to more effectively stimulate cell repair, wound healing (including those spots you’ve picked at) and pain relief. 

  • The most commonly used colour is red, particularly at a wavelength of 633nm because of its ability to boost collagen.

     

    What do LED light devices do for your skin?

    The best home use LED devices have a combination of wavelengths to tackle the same skin concern on different levels. This LED Face Mask for example, uses red (633nm) and near-infrared (830nm) light to really focus on anti-aging; focusing on fine lines, wrinkles, skin elasticity, cell repair and cell hydration. 

    These wavelengths can be paired nicely with blue (415nm) light to minimize the redness, inflammation and irritation associated with eczema, dermatitis, rosacea and psoriasis.

    For anyone dealing with breakouts rather than flare-ups or the visible signs of aging, red (633nm) and blue (415nm) light make a great combination for tackling mild to moderate acne. You’ll find this highly effective duo in this best-selling Anti-Blemish LED Face Mask.

    A lesser-known (but still attention-worthy) colour is amber, particularly at a wavelength of 605nm. It’s fantastic for addressing aging concerns. Along with skin-soothing properties, amber also speeds up cell rejuvenation, collagen and elastin production. As our under eyes are one of the first places to show fine lines, the LED Eye Perfector is perfect for smoothing out fine lines before they become crow’s feet, brow 11’s or brow furrows. It has the full anti-aging arsenal of amber, red, deep red and near-infrared.

    Benefits like these are why I recommend my clients regularly use LED therapy at home. Not only to maintain in-clinic treatments, but to also enhance the results.


    Does LED therapy actually work?

    In one word: Yes. In my line of work, I’ve seen incredible transformations from LED therapy, but not all LED devices are created equal. Some fail to deliver the exact wavelengths needed for stimulating cellular responses.

    When looking for a good home-use LED device, the amount of light emitted from the bulbs really does matter. No matter how specific the wavelength, if the light intensity isn’t strong enough then you just won’t get results.


    How often should I use LED therapy at home?

    Consistency is key with LED therapy.

    When I’m treating clients with problematic skin conditions (such as inflammatory acne) I advise daily use until their breakouts clear. Then they can use LED therapy at home a couple of times per week to keep their skin clear. Most recommend around three to five times per week. If you only have time for less, then as long as you’re consistent, you’ll still get the long term results.


    Is LED light safe?

    Absolutely. LED is incredibly safe to use on almost all skin types and ages. And if there are any LED therapy dangers, they’d usually only happen if you have a photosensitivity disorder. It’s worth noting here that if you’re taking medication that increases your photosensitivity, you might experience some LED therapy side effects, such as burning or redness.

    A lot of my clients ask me whether they can use LED therapy after Botox or fillers. My advice is always to wait for about two to four weeks before using LED just to prevent any risk of migration or other complications. And if you’re coming out of surgery (whether for cosmetic purposes like a rhinoplasty, or a medical op) LED can be your recovery partner to handle the bruising and swelling.

    After a chemical peel however, because your skin is so incredibly delicate, it’s best to avoid LED for at least twenty-four hours.


    How long does it take to see results?

    All good things come to those who wait and who are consistent. The speed at which you’ll see results all depends on how often you use LED and how severe your skin concern is. Moderate acne, wrinkles and skin texture will always take longer to tackle than mild acne and fine lines—but you should start to see improvements in a matter of weeks. 

    And if you’re impatient to see results, it’s worth combining your at home LED sessions with in-clinic appointments and a solid skincare routine. LED light and retinol go hand-in-hand (just not on the same day), along with antioxidants—these are all incredible at addressing the signs of aging. For my acne-prone clients, I recommend regular blue, red and near-infrared light treatments with an anti-inflammatory focused skincare regimen. They’ll often see results in just a couple of weeks. 

    When you add LED therapy into your skincare regime, you’re bound to see transformative results. There are only a few technologies on the market that do this, and that’s what makes LED stand out as one of the best ways to get great skin.



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