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Red Light Therapy May Not Be a Skincare Cure-All—But It's Pretty Close

Red light therapy can improve skin texture, reduce fine lines, and much more.

“It looks cool—and I've seen it all over social media—but does red light therapy actuall work?” you are probably asking yourself if you clicked this link. And the answer is yes, yes it does—with a caveat. But before we get into the details about a red light that claims to cure all (and kind of can), let's talk about what it is and why it's working for skin all over our body.

What Is Red Light Therapy?

“Red light therapy is a treatment that exposes skin to low levels of red or near-infrared light (most devices utilize 630 to 700 nm wavelength of light),” says board-certified dermatologist Blair Murphy-Rose, MD. “Red light has been shown to reduce inflammation in the skin and to stimulate fibroblasts to produce collagen, which can reduce and prevent wrinkles and can improve skin texture.”

“Unlike UV light which is associated with skin cancer and premature and accelerated aging, LED light is the visible spectrum of light which can have benefits in the skin,” says New York-based dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD. “The longer the wavelength (i.e. red light), the deeper the penetration into the skin. Red LED lights induce changes in the skin through a process known as photo-biomodulation, which doesn’t require injury or trauma.”

The healing benefits of the treatment were first noted in the late 1980s, the hypothesis furthered, somewhat accidentally, by NASA. (NASA scientists who worked under the red and blue LEDs used to mimic photosynthesis for potato growth noted that wound healing, namely that of cuts and scrapes on their hands, seemed to be occurring more quickly.)

Now, red light therapy is a commonplace treatment in medi spas and living rooms alike. “LED (“light emitting diode”) therapy is used in-office with other complementary treatments like microneedling, chemical peels, or laser treatments,” says Bowe. “It’s a noninvasive treatment that shouldn’t involve any heat.”

What Are the Benefits of Red Light Therapy?

As noted by Murphy-Rose, regular use of red light therapy reduces inflammation and ramp up both collagen production and collagen density, leading to improved skin texture and reduced wrinkles over time. The treatment has also been used to treat pattern hair loss and alopecia and to reduce body fat.

“Red light therapy is thought to promote collagen synthesis in the dermal layer of the skin and help to dial down inflammation in the skin,” says Bowe. “The light interacts with the skin to stimulate regeneration, healing, and repair of skin cells and supports our healthy collagen production and skin elasticity.” These benefits can be applied to scarring, fine lines, and acne, too, though the latter is commonly treated with blue light.

“In clinic, benefits range across skin rejuvenation (collagen production, fine lines and wrinkles, pigmentation) right through to healing (using near-infrared light),” says Laurence Newman, Founder and CEO of CurrentBody. The dialing down of inflammation has more benefits than simply reducing redness: When used on certain areas of the body, phototherapy (aka light therapy) may help to reduce pain and soreness and even heal deeper tissues.

How Often Should You Use Red Light Therapy?

Frequency and duration of red light exposure are dependent on the “what” and “where” of your red light therapy device. “In-office red light devices are significantly more powerful than the devices you can get at home, and the at-home devices that are FDA-cleared are safer and more effective than the ones that are not FDA-cleared,” says Bowe. “When we are referring to at-home devices, I recommend patients stick with regular use (daily or 3-4x/week) for at least 6 weeks to give the device a chance to work.” Bowe goes on to note that skin-firming results can require up to three months of a regular red light routine.

While benefits like improved signs of photoaging and collagen boosting may take a few months, red light can calm inflammation in a single 10-minute session—the dermatologist-recommended span of exposure.

“Whilst clinic LED treatments are both effective and popular, at-home devices are a much more cost-effective and convenient way of using LED,” says Newman. “You can use it more consistently at home, resulting in better long-term effects on the skin.” That said, red light is an additional complexion aid—not an excuse to skip out on skincare. “Optimal at-home results will be achieved while combining light therapy treatments with a well-designed skincare routine,” says Murphy-Rose.

Are There Any Risks With Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy is generally considered a safe and effective method for all skin types, but there are a few common sense caveats. Step one: close your eyes.

“If you’re keeping your eyes open, the light can cause damage,” says Bowe. Next, your red light device, nor your skin, should never be hot, or even warm. “If the wavelengths of light are creating heat, that can trigger pigment producing cells in your skin to pump out more melanin, so you want to be especially cautious that it isn’t emitting heat if you are prone to hyperpigmentation.”

Murphy-Rose adds that it’s best to chat with your medical provider prior to using red light if you have any conditions that make you more photosensitive or take medications that increase your photosensitivity. And before you buy that pricey device, make sure it’s been properly vetted. “I would always recommend doing your research before investing in an LED device,” says Newman. “Not all LEDs are made the same, it’s very important to check that your device operates at the correct wavelengths to offer the results you are looking for and has been tested for safety.”

Still, the non-invasive treatment is largely side effect-free. Whether you opt to treat skin conditions in-spa or try light treatment at home, the positive effects of red light therapy are worth your time and dollar direction.

The original article can be found on Vogue US.

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