Light Therapy For Skin
At-home LED light therapy devices look futuristic — which you might know if you’ve seen someone on Instagram wearing a mask that makes them look a little like a robot.
Looks aside, these LED masks and tools have many benefits for the skin, like helping to promote skin elasticity and production of collagen, reducing acne and redness, and more.
Read on to learn more about LED light therapy and which devices are actually worth the investment.
What is LED light therapy?
LED stands for “light-emitting diode.” LED devices for skin either cover the face entirely, like a mask, or are handheld. These devices work by allowing lights of different wavelengths to penetrate the skin.
Research suggests LED light therapy may help improve the look of redness, dark spots, acne, and wrinkles.
In a 2018 study, people saw results from red light therapy in as little as 3 weeks when using the device for 20-minute treatments 3 times per week. A 2017 study also showed potential for LED light to reduce abdominal fat deposits.
Unlike UVA or UVB light from the sun, LED lights don’t burn the skin. But it’s still a good idea to wear protective eyewear when using LED devices.
Many LED light therapy devices contain various color lights, though some only use red or blue light.
Below, we’re breaking down the difference between blue light and red light, so you can decide what’s right for you.
If you’re concerned about wrinkles and general aging of the skin, red light devices are your best bet, because “they target fibroblasts, which are involved in the production of collagen,” says Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, a dermatologist and the author of “Beyond Soap.”
She adds that an increase in collagen may reduce visible signs of skin aging, and that recently, it’s shown to help restore hair follicles in those experiencing male and female pattern androgenetic alopecia.
For those who are hoping to reduce acne or make pores appear smaller, Skotnicki recommends blue light therapy. This is because the light may help shrink your oil glands, which in turn can reduce the oil production in your skin.
Research also suggests that it may kill P. acnes, the bacteria responsible for some types of acne.
How we chose
There are tons of LED light therapy options available, and it can be daunting to decide which one is best for you.
We narrowed it down to a list of 10 options, selecting tools that are FDA-cleared and have great reviews from reputable websites at a range of prices.
Like most beauty products, LED light therapy tools come in a range of price points, from under $100 to over $500.
We kept the picks on this list on the lower-to-mid end of the spectrum to make them as accessible as possible. That being said, there are some splurge options.
- $ = under $150
- $$ = $150–$250
- $$$ = over $250
The best 10 at-home LED light therapy tools
The DeMarkQ POP tool helps to treat acne in the notoriously oily T-zone (the forehead, nose, and cheeks).
The device mixes red and blue LED lights, both of which are medical grade. The company says it can help brighten the skin and promote collagen production.
The company also offers a smaller, handheld LED device meant for spot treatment, available for $59.
This hands-free device targets the skin around the eyes, helping to reduce crow’s feet, wrinkles, and frown lines.
The company says it only needs to be used for 3 minutes per day, especially when used consistently.
In a 10-week clinical study done by Dr. Dennis Gross, 97 percent of subjects saw visible improvements in fine lines, wrinkles and skin tone. One reviewer said there was a noticeable difference after 4 weeks of daily use.
Designed to help stimulate collagen and improve skin’s firmness, this LED device plugs in (so you don’t have to replace batteries) and emits multiple colors of light.
Reviewers note that, unlike a mask, the wand can be used on the hands, neck, or any other areas of the body showing wrinkles.
The kit also includes the LightStim PhotoSerum, a light-activated anti-aging face serum with photosomes, which help accelerate the repair process of DNA damage from UV rays.
According to LightStim, it takes about 8 weeks of using the device before you start to see improvements. Once you achieve the desired results, it’s a good idea to continue using the device 2–3 times per week.
This medical-grade light therapy device is small and light enough to take on the go.
The brand says it uses multi-wave light (meaning lights of different colors) to stimulate collagen and elastin production for even, firmer skin.
Each treatment is 3 minutes long. The device is battery-powered, so you can use it anywhere.
Handheld and easy to use wherever you are, The Go 2.0 delivers red and near-infrared wavelengths. It comes with protective eyewear, an optional docking station for easy charging (though there’s still a charger included), and an alarm clock function, so you can wake up with the light.
In addition to anti-aging skin benefits, this product is thought to have a host of other health benefits, including improved blood flow, reduced inflammation, and potentially even better sleep.
The company recommends 10-minute treatments while holding the device 6–12 inches away from the face.
This travel-size tool makes it easy to get LED therapy, even if you’re not at home. It uses blue light to help reduce acne-causing bacteria and redness.
Reviewers note this is a good product for keeping moderate breakouts at bay.
To use, touch the tool to your face and move it around in sweeping circular motions for 3 minutes. You’ll hear a noise, then the tool will shut off indicating that it’s time to move to the next treatment area.
A good option if you’re short on time, this LED tool can be used in as little as 30 seconds. It uses blue light and a technology known as T-Sonic Pulsations, trademarked by FOREO, which allows for faster absorption of products.
Reviewers say they began to see improvements in the skin (including more even texture and reduced breakouts) in about 3 weeks.
This super affordable option uses red light, yellow light (which a study shows can help with wound healing and lymphatic flow), and blue light to stimulate collagen, increase cell turnover, and fight acne causing bacteria.
It’s wireless, too, which means you can walk around hands-free while using it. And you can pick whatever color light you need, or you can cycle through all three (each color turns off after 20 minutes).
Reviewers note this mask is lightweight and comfortable, but it does need to be worn for 30–60 minutes and should be charged before every use.
This smart mask is powered by an app to help you customize the experience (including choosing the temperature, pulsation intensity, and wavelengths).
It uses LED light, Thermo-Therapy, and Cryo-Therapy to refine skin and reduce the appearance of pores.
This one is specifically designed to be used with the brand’s UFO sheet masks that address various skin concerns, like redness, acne, and uneven texture.
Designed for the lips, this affordable light therapy mask works in just 3 minutes per day.
The company says it helps improve the tone, texture, and plumpness of your lips while reducing fine lines and discoloration.
This product is safe for all skin types and works by stimulating the production of collagen in the lips.
LED light therapy tools use infrared light wavelengths to address certain skin issues, like acne, wrinkles, fine lines, and uneven texture.
The best LED light therapy devices have great reviews from real users, and they’re FDA-cleared from reputable sellers.
- LED, or light emitting diode therapy, is a skincare treatment that uses varying wavelengths of light, including red and blue.
- NASA originally developed it for plant growth experiments on shuttle missions and later found it to have promise for wound treatment. LED light therapy is now used by some aestheticians to help regenerate the skin from aging. It’s also used for acne.
- Your healthcare provider uses red or blue light frequencies based on the skincare concern. Red is primarily used for anti-aging, while blue is used for acne treatment.
- Unlike other types of light therapy, LEDs do not contain ultraviolet rays. Therefore, they’re safe for regular use.
- LED light therapy doesn’t cause burns compared to other anti-aging treatments such as chemical peels, dermabrasion, and laser therapy. It may be safe for all skin colors and types.
- You shouldn’t use LED light therapy if you take Accutane for acne or if you’re experiencing skin rashes.
- Side effects are rare, but may include increased inflammation, redness, and rashes.
- Office procedures take 20 minutes at a time. You’ll need to go back once a week for up to 10 weeks, then only once every few months.
- At-home LED devices can be used at your convenience without having to go to any appointments. The downside is that the results may not be as dramatic.
- A single LED light therapy session ranges from about $25 to $85, depending on your area of the country and whether you’re combining it with other treatments.
- Home LED kits can cost from $25 to $250 or more.
- When used as directed, LED light therapy can improve your skin over time. You’ll need maintenance treatments to maintain your results.
- Home devices use lower frequencies and haven’t been proven as effective.
What is LED light therapy?
Light emitting diode (LED) light therapy is growing in popularity in both aesthetician offices and at home. Using varying LED wavelengths, this skincare technique purportedly helps:
- treat acne
- reduce inflammation
- promote anti-aging effects
You may be a candidate for LED light therapy if you have these types of skincare concerns and haven’t gotten the results you want from over-the-counter (OTC) skin products. LED therapy is also safe for all skin colors, and it doesn’t cause any burning.
However, there are a few potential drawbacks. Here are several:
- LED therapy can be expensive.
- The results aren’t guaranteed.
- It’s also not safe if you take certain medications or have an active skin disorder.
Talk to your dermatologist about your skincare concerns and whether LED light therapy is a good option for you.
How much does it cost?
Insurance doesn’t cover LED light therapy. You will need to ask about the full costs up front so you can budget wisely.
According to self-reported costs on RealSelf.com, the cost of a single session can range from about $25 to $85, depending on your area of the country and whether you’re combining it with another treatment.
Remember, many aestheticians recommend up to 10 sessions, so factor that total cost into your budget as you consider different practitioners and their price per visit.
Home devices cost anywhere from $25 to $250 or more. This may be a cheaper option overall because you get to keep the LED device and use it for future treatments. However, the results aren’t as dramatic.
In either case, LED light therapy is noninvasive. You don’t have to lose any money from taking time off work.
How it works
LED light therapy has an established history of skin uses. The U.S. Navy SEALs began using it in the 1990s to help heal wounds quickly and to help regenerate damaged muscle tissues.
Since then, the treatment has been researched for different situations in aesthetics. It’s mainly noted for increasing collagen and tissues. All of which can smooth out your skin and reduce the appearance of damage from:
- age spots
There are different frequencies, or wavelengths, used with LED light treatment. These include red and blue light frequencies, which don’t contain ultraviolet rays and are readily absorbed into the skin.
Red, or infrared, light is used for treating the epidermis, which is the outer layer of skin. When the light is applied to your skin, the epidermis absorbs it and then stimulates collagen proteins.
In theory, more collagen means that your skin will look smoother and fuller, which can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Red LED light is also thought to reduce inflammation while improving circulation, which can give you a healthier glow.
Blue LED light therapy, on the other hand, targets the sebaceous glands, which are also called oil glands. They’re located beneath your hair follicles.
Sebaceous glands are necessary for lubricating your skin and hair so that it doesn’t dry out. However, these glands can become overactive, leading to oily skin and acne.
The theory is that blue LED light therapy can target these oil glands and make them less active. In turn, you may see fewer acne breakouts. Blue light can also kill acne-causing bacteria beneath the skin, which can help treat severe acne pimples, including cysts and nodules.
Oftentimes, blue LED light is used in conjunction with red LED light to:
- help treat acne
- decrease scarring
- promote anti-inflammatory effects
One 2018 animal study found that blue LED improved healing of third-degree skin burns.
Procedure for LED light therapy
According to EstheticianEDU, each LED light therapy treatment lasts about 20 minutes. You’ll likely need up to 10 treatments total, depending on the results you’re looking to achieve.
Some providers have you lie down directly under the lights, while others use LED light-infused wands directly over your skin. The choice often depends on the office, as well as the treatment area.
If you can’t make it to a healthcare provider’s office, you can still try LED light therapy at home. At-home devices come in the form of masks or wands that you apply to your face for several minutes at a time. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
While LED light therapy can technically be used on any part of the body, its most popular use is for the face. Skin damage tends to occur to your face because it’s exposed to the elements more than other body parts.
LED therapy can also be used on the neck and chest, which are other areas that tend to show signs of aging.
Risks and side effects
Overall, the American Academy of Dermatology deems this procedure safe. Since LEDs don’t contain UV rays, this is considered a safer form of light therapy that won’t cause long-term damage to your skin. The procedure is also noninvasive and has few risks.
Your provider may recommend LED light therapy if you have darker or sensitive skin. Unlike more invasive procedures such as laser therapy, LEDs don’t burn your skin. They also don’t cause any pain.
However, there may still be risks associated with LED light therapy.
If you currently use Accutane for acne, be advised that this powerful drug derived from vitamin A increases your skin’s sensitivity to light and may cause scarring in some instances.
Do not use LED light therapy if you’re using anything on your skin that makes you sensitive to sunlight.
You also might consider avoiding this treatment if you currently have an active rash. Talk with your doctor if you have psoriasis. Red light therapy could help but only if you use it in conjunction with your regularly prescribed treatments.
Side effects from LED light therapy are rare and were not noted during clinical trials. Call your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms post-treatment:
- increased inflammation
What to expect after therapy
LED light therapy is noninvasive, so no recovery time is required. You should be able to continue with your everyday activities once your treatment is over.
In-office LED light therapy requires up to 10 sessions or more, each spaced out about a week apart. You may start to see minor results after your first session. Results will be more dramatic and noticeable once you’ve finished all of your treatments.
Even after you’ve achieved the recommended number of sessions, your results aren’t permanent.
As your skin cells turn over, you may lose some collagen and start to see signs of aging again. You may also start to see acne breakouts. This is why it’s recommended that you go back for maintenance treatments every few months or as recommended by your provider.
Home LED light therapy treatments aren’t as dramatic because the light frequencies aren’t as high. You should follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
If you’re curious about the gradual results achieved via LED light therapy, check out the following before and after pictures.
Preparing for LED light therapy
Each in-office LED light therapy session takes about 20 minutes at a time. You’ll need to wear protective goggles so that the light doesn’t cause any damage to your eyes.
Whether you’re using LED lights at home or seeing a provider for treatment, you should not wear any makeup during your session.
How to find a provider
Professional LED light therapy will get you the most dramatic results. It may also be used in conjunction with other skin therapies, such as microdermabrasion.
A licensed aesthetician or a dermatologist performs LED light therapy. Since LED light therapy is relatively new for skincare use, the availability of practitioners who use this treatment can vary based on where you live.References:
Colored light sources lighting the way for new office- and home-based skin devices. (2011).
de Alencar Fernandes NJ, et al. (2018). Effect of blue LED on the healing process of third-degree skin burns: clinical and histological evaluation. DOI:
NASA light technology successfully reduces cancer patients’ painful side effects from radiation and chemotherapy. (2011).
Opel DR, et al. (2015). Light-emitting diodes: A brief review and clinical experience.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. (2019).
Wunsch A, et al. (2014). A controlled trial to determine the efficacy of red and near-infrared light treatment in patient satisfaction, reduction of fine lines, wrinkles, skin roughness, and intradermal collagen density increase. DOI: