LED light therapy devices, including masks, have the potential to give you smoother, clearer skin. Read this before trying the skin-care trend.
They look robotic — like a Stormtrooper’s headgear from Star Wars, if you will — and promise to give you clearer, smoother-looking skin. Called LED light masks, they are what they sound like: devices illuminated by LED lights that you wear over your face.
Here’s what you need to know before you invest in the celebrity-beloved beauty trend, including how and if the masks work, what you’ll pay, and the best products according to board-certified dermatologists.
Are LED Masks Safe to Use?
LED masks have an “excellent” safety profile, according to a review published in February 2018 in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology.
And though you may have heard more people talking about them lately, they’re nothing new. “These devices have been around for decades and are generally used by dermatologists or aestheticians in an office setting to treat inflammation after facials, minimize breakouts, and give skin an overall boost,” says Sheel Desai Solomon, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina. Today you can purchase these devices and use them at home. (Most of the full masks cost in the $100 to $500 range. More on this later.)
Social media is a possible reason you may have seen recent coverage of these otherworldly devices in beauty publications. The supermodel and author Chrissy Teigen hilariously posted a pic of herself on Instagram in October 2018 wearing what looks like a red LED mask (and drinking wine out of a straw). The actor Kate Hudson shared a similar photo a few years back.
The convenience of improving your skin while sipping vino or lying in bed may be a huge selling point — it makes skin care look easy. “If people believe [the masks] work as effectively as an in-office treatment, they save time commuting to the doctor, waiting to see a dermatologist, and money for office visits,” Dr. Solomon says.
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What Does an LED Mask Do to Your Skin?
Each mask employs a different spectrum of light wavelengths that penetrate the skin to trigger changes at the molecular level, says Michele Farber, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City.
For instance, red light is designed to increase circulation and stimulate collagen, making it useful for those who are looking to reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles, she explains. A loss of collagen, which tends to happen in aging and sun-damaged skin, can contribute to fine lines and wrinkles, past research in the American Journal of Pathology found.
On the other hand, blue light targets bacteria that cause acne, which can help stop the cycle of breakouts, notes research in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology from June 2017. Those are the two most common and popular colors used, but other masks on the market use additional light, such as yellow (to reduce redness) and green (to lessen pigmentation).
Do LED Masks Actually Work?
The research behind LED masks is centered on the lights used, and if you’re going by those findings, LED masks can be beneficial to your skin.
For instance, in a study with 52 women participants published in the March 2017 issue of Dermatologic Surgery, researchers found that red LED light treatment improved measures of eye-area wrinkles. Another study, in the August 2018 Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, gave the use of LED devices for skin rejuvenation (improving elasticity, hydration, wrinkles) a grade of “C.” Seeing an improvement in certain measures, like wrinkles, can take some time, and they argue that more long-term research is needed.
When it comes to acne, a review of research in the March–April 2017 issue of Clinics in Dermatology noted that both red and blue light therapy for acne reduced blemishes by 46 to 76 percent after 4 to 12 weeks of treatment. In a review of 37 clinical trials published in the May 2021 Archives of Dermatological Research, the authors looked at home-based devices and their efficacy on a variety of dermatological conditions, ultimately recommending LED treatment for acne. That said, other research on blue light, such as a review in the Annals of Family Medicine in November–December 2019, are far less promising when it comes to blue light’s ability to clear skin.
Research shows that blue light penetrates hair follicles and pores. “Bacteria can be very susceptible to the blue light spectrum. It stops their metabolism and kills them,” says Solomon. This is advantageous for preventing future breakouts. “Unlike topical treatments that work to ease inflammation and bacteria on the surface of the skin, light treatment eliminates the acne-causing bacteria in the skin before it begins to feed on the oil glands, causing redness and inflammation,” she adds. Because red light reduces inflammation, it also may be used in combination with blue light to address acne.
But it’s helpful to keep your expectations in check. “Not all at-home devices deliver the same strength that a clinical device can. What can be accomplished at home will not always have the same effect as what can be achieved at a dermatologist’s office, where treatment is calibrated and regulated,” says Solomon.
Another consideration is that you have a good skin-care regimen set in place to act in conjunction with light therapy. “This isn’t a good monotherapy. Light devices can help as long as they’re used with topicals or in-office treatments,” says Dr. Farber.
Are There Any Risks to Using LED Masks?
In general, LED masks are safe. There are exceptions to this rule, though. Be sure to follow these tips before trying one.
Do Your Research
Be sure that the mask you choose is safe. One of the more popular LED masks, made by Neutrogena, is currently under recall, as there are concerns of a “theoretical risk of eye injury” from the lights for some folks who have eye conditions or take certain medication. Wearing eye protection when using the device is good advice for anyone, says Farber.
Solomon advises making sure that the LED light therapy device you buy is labeled as FDA-cleared.
The Effects of Blue Light Are Murky
Some experts are also wary of blue light exposure. A study published in July 2017 in Free Radical Biology & Medicine suggests that blue light can cause free radical damage, which breaks down skin’s structures and leads to aging, and yet other colors of light, such as red and green, did not.
“There are questions about whether or not people should be using blue light or if it can be damaging to skin. I think that’s something we need more information on,” says Farber. The exact role these devices that emit blue light for acne may play in that process is yet to be seen. Still, with that in mind, you may choose to hold off on the blue light treatment for now.
Talk to Your Dermatologist — Especially if You Have a Skin Condition
There is some research, such as a study published in June 2015 in the journal Dermatology, that shows certain UV-free blue light devices can be used as a treatment for mild psoriasis. Similarly, a study published in September 2016 in the same journal found that blue LED light helped lessen eczema lesions. And the aforementioned review in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology notes they’re safe for people with skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis.
The best course is to visit your dermatologist first — bring in your face mask, and talk about the best way to use it for your skin’s goals (timing, dose), which will help reduce the risk of side effects, says Solomon.
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What Are the Best LED Face Masks and Light Therapy Devices?
If you’re using an LED product at home, Solomon recommends using it daily on a clean face. (Makeup will impair light penetration.) These devices are available at varying price points. Wear black opaque goggles for eye protection.
Here are five devices that feature LED technology.
1. Dennis Gross Skincare DRx SpectraLite FaceWare Pro LED Light Therapy Device
At more than $400, this device created by Dennis Gross, MD, a dermatologist in New York City, is certainly the splurge of the category. But it’s cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and uses a combination of red and blue LED lights (you can use it for red or blue light alone, or together). Best of all, it takes just three minutes of daily wear.
Skincare DRx SpectraLite FaceWare Pro LED Light Therapy Device, $435, Nordstrom.com
2. Dennis Gross Skincare SpectraLite EyeCare Pro
Here’s another FDA-cleared device from Dr. Gross, which uses 72 LED lights. It’s best for someone who’s mainly concerned with eye-area fine lines and wrinkles. Because it isn’t a full-face treatment, it has a more reasonable price tag.
SpectraLite EyeCare Pro LED Device, $169, Sephora.com
3. Pulsaderm Acne Clearing Mask
This FDA-cleared light mask caters specifically to acne problems, which it treats with both red and blue lights.
Pulsaderm Acne Clearing Mask, $59, Pulsaderm.com
4. Spa Sciences Claro Acne Treatment Light Therapy System
Available for a relatively affordable price, this handheld, FDA-cleared device targets acne. Safety features include a built-in timer (so you won’t leave it on too long) and eyewear for protection.
Spa Sciences Claro Acne Treatment Light Therapy System, $39, Target.com
5. LightStim for Wrinkles
Another FDA-cleared device, this is designed to be used two or three times per week. The makers say its lights can treat fine lines and wrinkles, and boost elasticity in sagging skin. It’s handheld — not a mask — so it will take longer to treat your entire face.
LightStim for Wrinkles, $249, Sephora.com
6. Boost Advanced LED Light Therapy Face Mask
The mask of this device itself is made of silicone, so it can conform to your face shape, enhancing comfort. The FDA-cleared mask offers red light for collagen production and near-infrared light to boost circulation and tamp down inflammation.
Boost Advanced LED Light Therapy Face Mask, $495, Nordstrom.com
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A Final Word on Using LED Light Therapy Products
LED light masks and devices are best used to help stimulate collagen production and kill the bacteria that cause acne breakouts, though they don’t replace your regular skin-care routine. As at-home devices, they may be less effective than in-office procedures at your dermatologist’s office. Take proper precautions before using them, including wearing eye protection and following directions, in order to stay safe while treating your skin.