SkinSchool: Everything you need to know about at-home light therapy
Previously confined to the four walls of a facialist’s salon, light therapy is now making its way into the mainstream, with several brands offering at-home devices promising transformative results. But are these masks and tools efficacious, and, more importantly, safe in untrained hands?
Research has proven that LED treatments can effectively treat a multitude of skin concerns, but the results are cumulative, meaning you won’t see long-term benefits from that single salon trip you treat yourself to once a year. If regular appointments aren’t an option, an at-home device could be the answer.
“At-home LED devices are an excellent way to bring a normally in-office treatment to the comfort of your home," says Dr. Maryam Zamani, oculoplastic surgeon and founder of MZ Skin. “These at-home devices will not be as strong as the LED used in a clinic setting, but they do have similar benefits. Whereas professional treatments can last 10-20 minutes, at-home treatments are typically slightly longer."
What is light therapy?
“Light therapy, or LED treatments have been around for over 30 years and were originally developed for astronauts to help with tissue healing and repair,” explains Dr. Zamani.
According to dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross, the benefits of LED light therapy are manifold. They include treating acne, regulating natural oil production, stimulating collagen and elastin and minimising redness and wrinkles. Certain wavelengths have even been shown to reduce dark spots and uneven skin tone.
As the spectrum of light used does not include UV, there's no risk of damage – and you won't get a tan.
How does light therapy work?
“LED therapy uses light in the visible spectrum – including blue, yellow, amber and red – as well as light beyond the visible spectrum to penetrate different depths of skin. As the light wavelength increases, so does the depth of penetration,” explains Dr. Gross. This light is absorbed by receptors in the skin, just like topical skincare, and each colour of light stimulates a different response in the skin. LED is suitable for use on all skin types and tones.
Dr. Zamani adds that one of the primary benefits of LED therapy is the absence of downtime and discomfort – in fact, skin often looks positively glowing as soon as you slip out from behind the mask. What’s more, the healing properties of LED also make it ideal for use after in-office procedures, such as peels, lasers and microneedling.
How to perform a LED treatment at home
Today, there's a small but growing list of options when it comes to at-home light therapy devices. For a complete facial treatment, a mask is the most obvious investment, but the emergence of targeted 'wands' and smaller (more portable) treatment lights is especially interesting for treating areas of acne-prone skin.
As LED treatments deliver cumulative results, commitment is key. As Debbie Thomas, laser aesthetician and celebrity facialist says, "just owning a device won’t give you any results."
While instructions will vary depending on the device you choose, LED treatments are usually light on labour. "The good thing about LED masks is they are pretty simple to use and generally only need around 10 minutes of dedicated time," explains Thomas. While a mask offers more 'slip on and relax' appeal, "wand devices are designed to be held over your skin for 20-30 mins, so it's normally a toss-up between an aching arm or boredom that leads a dedicated skin warrior to fall out of love with their new skin gadget."
What colour LED do I need?
Red: The majority of at-home LED masks offer a red light setting. At the lighter end of the spectrum, red light works to soothe inflammation and redness, while deeper shades penetrate the skin further to prompt cellular repair and circulation, resulting in a plumper, more vibrant complexion.
Blue: This antibacterial light is used to kill the bacteria that leads to breakouts, making it ideal for treating acne-prone skin. Blue light also helps purify the skin and regulate oil glands.
Amber: Less common in at-home devices, this shade works to revitalise the skin, reducing any swelling and increasing radiance.
Infrared: Invisible to the naked eye, this light penetrates deeper than any other colour in the spectrum. It combats the signs of ageing by replenishing dermal and epidermal cells, stimulates the natural production of collagen and elastin, and speeds up the recovery process.
Are LED face masks safe?
Like many beauty innovations, at-home LED masks have been subject to controversy, sparked by concerns over their potential impact on eye health. However, a 2018 study found "no adverse events associated with the use of these devices and little to no downtime for the patient." While most experts agree that a correctly used LED mask is a safe and efficacious tool, it’s vital to invest in one that has been FDA-approved.
"At-home LED devices are a fraction of the strength of devices that are used in professional settings,” says Dr. Gross. “The testing for at-home devices is actually more rigorous than professional ones because the device is being cleared to use without the presence of a professional – there's a higher-level burden of proof to show efficacy and safety because a consumer is in charge of their treatment. For this reason, we focus on specifics like safe optical output and recommended treatment times.” The best at-home LED masks will also be developed with in-build safety mechanisms: look for auto shut-offs, heat regulators and timers.
According to Thomas, the most important consideration to make is that, when wearing a mask that covers your entire face, your eyes should be kept closed – so no slumping in-front of the TV. "The lights are not strictly dangerous, but as they can be very bright you could get irritation. I would say using them for a few minutes daily would be fine as long as you do not have a pre-existing medical condition that sensitises you to light."
Indeed, Dr. Zamani recommends avoiding light therapy if you suffer from seizures or epilepsy. She also does not recommend LED for anyone with migraines, eye conditions, or taking certain types of antibiotics. Of course, a professional should be your first port of call if you are at all unsure.