LED Light Therapy: Good Enough For NASA, Great For Your Skin

LED treatments—whether full-body beds at the salon or powerful handheld devices for at-home treatments—are the unsung heroes of non-invasive skincare. Boasting reviews from Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet, swears by LED light treatment to reduce wrinkles and build collagen long-term.

WHAT ARE LED LIGHTS?

LED (Light-Emitting Diode) lights were essentially used only for bedside alarm clocks and camera battery alert lights when they were first mass-produced in the 60s, because a combination of low energy and the fact that they could only emit red, green, or yellow light restricted their usability.

Later on NASA notices an increase in plant growth under a certain wavelength of light. They think: if plants, why not skin? NASA began experimenting with LEDs to speed the healing of wounds, because in zero-gravity situations wounds don’t quite heal as fast as they would otherwise. Test results were positive, and research developed into skin cancer treatment and cosmetic arenas. In other words: if it’s good enough for NASA, it’s good enough for us.

HOW DO LEDS WORK?

LED lights used in skincare are infrared, amber, red, and blue. Amber purportedly builds new collagen and elastin, red reduces inflammation and promotes circulation, blue destroys acne-causing bacteria, and infrared accelerates skin recovery. The lights are often combined to create an all-in-one experience, but they can also be used exclusively to target certain concerns.

LEDs send these light waves deep into the skin, and in the same way plants use chlorophyll to convert sunlight into plant tissue, LEDs can trigger natural intracellular reactions. Meaning your skin responds to the wavelengths—particularly red, in this case—by building, strengthening, and maximizing cellular structure. Red light is also believed to target oil glands to reduce cytokines, which cause inflammation and play a role in chronic acne.

In the case of blue light, specific wavelengths stimulate production of oxygen radicals that kill P. Acnes bacteria, all without damaging skin.

This is the main attraction for LED treatments: the light doesn’t heat the skin, like a tanning bed, so there is no thermal damage. There’s also no burning, like lasers, and no removal of skin, like acid peels, to stimulate re-growth—without external damage of any kind, the light does its work on your skin completely painlessly.

According to Joanna Vargas, “LED light therapy is simply the best thing that has ever happened in the beauty industry. It builds collagen in quantifiable percentages and corrects surface damage like sun damage, wrinkles, and large pores. These were all issues that could only previously be corrected with a laser or chemical peel. But now I can give my clients a series of LED light therapy facials without any side effects and see significant results.”

USING LEDS AT HOME VS. AT YOUR AESTHETICIAN’S OFFICE

The flipside to this non-damaging wonder treatment is that long-term dedication to LED light therapy is required for substantial collagen building plus acne and inflammation reduction. A recommended in-office regimen will change based on your needs and what your dermatologist or aesthetician uses, light-wise, but in general a two-week period of nearly daily exposure is necessary, with bi-monthly follow-up visits. The short treatments can be scheduled during your lunch break (15 minutes can be enough), but the cost will rack up: per treatment, expect to spend $150-$300 or more per session.

If you can’t always make it to the facialist, or if you’d like to maintain treatments between visits, investing in an at-home LED device is a smart move. But what’s the best way to make this decision, and how can you tell these devices apart? We’ll give you a quick run-down.

HOW-TO, ACCORDING TO MICHELLE PHAN 

Michelle Phan is an easily glamorous YouTube entrepreneur made famous by her beautiful skin and makeup skills—she told Charlotte’s Book how she incorporates LED treatment in her skincare arsenal: “When I first started using it, I used it every night for two weeks straight and noticed improvement right away. After two weeks, I reduced the frequency to three times a week and after two months, once a week. My skin has better clarity and it feels firmer (due to increased collagen production).”

Of course, like every skincare product, whether serum or cream or device, dedication is key. Being consistent with your at-home treatments can sometimes be difficult when you don’t have to be somewhere. Devote a 20 minute time slot 1-2 times a week.

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