The discussion around red light therapy benefits for skin has been a robust and ongoing one. It’s touted as a miracle worker for everything from fine lines to laxity, and aestheticians and dermatologists routinely recommend it to their patients while saying it’s one of their favorites, as well.
While red light therapy is available in clinical and spa settings, there’s a growing trend of people eager to learn how to use red light therapy at home. The goal is for the treatment to become more integrated into their every day regimens so that they reap more of the rewards. (Yes—there are totally FDA-approved, at-home tools you can buy!)
With expert insight, we’re exploring what red light therapy is, how it works, what its benefits are, and whether the juice is worth the squeeze in terms of throwing down on at-home red light therapy devices.
What is Red Light Therapy?
Red light therapy is a non-invasive modality that uses light-emitting diodes (LED) of various wavelengths to target the deeper layers of skin. In fact, it has the second deepest penetration ability just after infrared light and just before blue light. It was first developed by NASA and, back in the ‘90s, was utilized by the military to help heal wounds.
“After extensive research, it’s now used in aesthetics to treat different skin conditions and concerns,” says Dr. Yannis Alexandrides, a board-certified plastic surgeon and the founder and director of 111Harley St. Clinic in London and 111Skin.
These conditions and concerns do include wound healing (including acne), but also signs of aging, including fine lines and wrinkles, and skin laxity.
What Are Red Light Therapy Benefits?
“The primary benefit of red-light therapy is its anti-aging properties and ability to help improve skin damage,” says Natalie Aguilar, a dermatological nurse and celebrity aesthetician. “When used consistently, red-light therapy helps to minimize fine lines and wrinkles, improve collagen production, and improve skin elasticity.”
Dr. Alexandrides adds that he uses red light therapy in his plastic surgery center to also help patients heal post-surgery or in combination with another treatment—such as microneedling or the Dermapen—to double down on anti-aging benefits.
How Does Red Light Therapy Work?
We mentioned above that these LED lights can penetrate into the skin more deeply, but we’re sure you’re wondering what, exactly, occurs during the treatment that triggers positive change in the skin’s appearance.
“The light works directly on mitochondria of the cells by absorbing the photons (light) and transforming into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a form of energy for the cells,”
says Dr. Alexandrides. “ATP is then used to power all metabolic processes, manufacture new DNA RNA, protein, and other products needed for skin repair.”
Basically, the red light delivers positive energy into your skin which helps supercharge skin healing and the production of stuff like collagen and elastin that make us look more youthful.
Is it Safe to Use Red Light Therapy?
We spend so much our time avoiding those other light source (ahem: the sunshine and blue light) that it’s perfectly normal to wonder whether red light therapy is safe. The answer is that yes, it is safe. Dr. Alexandrides says, “It does not contain UV radiation, so it is gentle and not harmful to the skin. It will not burn it.”
With the above in mind, do note that it’s important to be careful when buying at-home red light therapy devices. There may be counterfeit, or subpar, products that do not actually utilize genuine LED. Aguilar adds that if you should consult your primary physician if you’re pregnant, diabetic, or have sensitive skin before using a red light therapy device.
How to Use Red Light Therapy at Home
The moment you’ve been waiting for: learning how to use red light therapy at home! Step one is to purchase a high-quality red light therapy device from a reputable company. There are fakes out there and low-quality options, so try not to skimp here.
Our experts’ top recommendations include:
- LightStim Wrinkle+, a simple handheld device with a built-in timer
- Priori Unveiled Mask, a mask that emits red and near infra-red light
- Foreo UFO 2, a hybrid tool that combines a spectrum of light therapy (including red) along with cryotherapy, T-Sonic pulsations, and thermotherapy.
Ultimately, how you use the at-home device will depend on the product’s usage instructions. For example, the LightStim Wrinkle+ device can be used anywhere from five to 50 minutes per day (three minutes per area), while the recommendation for the Priori Unveiled Mask is 10 minutes daily. How often and long you use the Foreo UFO2 depends on the setting.
“I think of red light therapy as little workouts, doing daily or weekly red light therapy is very beneficial,” says Amber Rose Johnson, esthetician and founder of Los Angeles’ Facial Lounge.
She also recommends not skipping the in-office red light therapy since these treatments are generally much stronger. Consider your at-home therapy treatments as supplemental upkeep.
Are There Any Red Light Therapy Side Effects?
All LED therapies are non-invasive. Unlike some treatments, such as microneedling or laser treatments, there’s no downtime following a red light therapy treatment.
How Long Does It Take to See Results from LED Lights?
In terms of seeing visible results in your skin from LED therapy treatments, it depends on the light itself, how frequently you’re using it, and your body’s own personal response.
“Everyone is different, but for acne (blue light) people see results within a week. For anti-aging (red light) they are consistent within a few weeks,” says Johnson. “For at-home red light therapy, you [may] see results between two to four weeks, but typically it would take up to eight weeks to see significant results.”
Some people report seeing an immediate glow following their LED treatment.
Red light therapy has demonstrated consistent efficacy over many decades and is a useful tool to keep in your beauty arsenal. By penetrating into the deeper layers of the dermis and stimulating collagen and elastic production, it can combat signs of aging when part of your weekly regimen.