Is Red Light Therapy the key to reversing aging?
Having worked in beauty since I was 18 years old (44 now), I am no stranger to brands over-promising miracle results from all types of creams and tools. That's, in fact, one of the reasons why I left the industry (well, kind of) and founded The Beauty Doctrine where I offer unbiased opinions on beauty products. I also curate the best products, not for their promises, but efficacy and compatibility with sensitive skin. My primary goal isn't to represent any given brand, but rather guide the consumer to the best beauty choices possible.
Having been on this journey for over a year now, I've gotten to test and experiment with hundreds of products. And there is only one that stood out that I am convinced is well deserving of the expression 'miracle product'. I say that for good reason; my own personal experience. The productI'm referring to is more like a category: LED Red Light Therapy devices.
I posted a video on Tiktok that went viral overnight showing the before and after results that I got, in a short 8 weeks, from using LED Therapy. I didn't set out, from the start to document my use of LED therapy, but after noticing a notable improvement, I reviewed older videos and saw the progression in my skin. Here are photos from recent months:
Viral video: Watch it here on Instagram.
As expected, I got a ton of pushback by many skeptics, so I sat in my office for weeks reading countless studies, trying to understand the how and the why. I had to figure out what exactly got me such unbelievable results, literally.
This article, I hope, is the comprehensive answer to those questions. I tried to summarize what science found, linking some studies as well as devices that have been cleared by the FDA.
If you have comments or questions, please feel free to share in the comment section, below. I'll be checking :)
So here we go...
What's LED Light Therapy?
Red Light Therapy (RTL) is a modality that's been increasing in popularity in the last few decades. It's known by various names; Low Power Laser Therapy (LPLT), Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), Cold Laser Therapy, Soft Laser Therapy, Photobiomodulation (PBM), Biostimulation and Photonicstimulation.
LED Phototherapy emits light into the skin at specific wavelengths, triggering chemical reactions, energizing the mitochondria and increasing its function, consequently speeding up its repair mechanisms. This results in various benefits, slowing down the overall aging process of our cells.
When was Red Light Therapy discovered?
Red light therapy first came into practice in the medical field, in 1903, when Danish physicist Niels Ryberg Finsen was awarded the Nobel Prize for his invention of light therapy for skin tuberculosis.
In the 90's, RTL was used by NASA to grow plants in space. It was found that the LED's (light-emitting diodes) promoted growth and photosynthesis in plant cells. But coincidentally the scientist's skin lesions began to heal faster as.
Embarking on further studies, NASA tested red light therapy on astronauts and discovered its ability to improve cellular function and combat the negative effects of living in space. According to a NASA-led abstract from 2002, “LEDs stimulate the basic energy processes in the mitochondria (energy compartments) of each cell,” and experimentation with an LED device was found to be effective in the prevention of bone and muscle atrophy.
NASA’s findings led scientist to further study Red Light for potential application in medicine. They believed that RTL's could potentially increase energy inside human cells. and started looking at the application of red low-level wavelengths of light to help treat issues such as wound healing for diabetics and to ease chemo effects on cancer patients.
Hundreds of studies have been conducted and lead to promising conclusions that supported the initial theories that LTR can be helpful in treating many medical as well as cosmetic conditions, including psoriasis, rosacea, wrinkles, discoloration and stretch marks. Scientist are now looking at the potential in treating depression and other mental health issues.
How does Red Light Therapy work?
It's believed that red light produces a biochemical effect in cells which strengthens the mitochondria. The mitochondria are the part where cell’s energy is created.
Increasing the function of the mitochondria, the cell can make more energy, enabling cells to rejuvenate themselves, and repair damage.
Red Light Therapy isn't to be confused with Lasers or IPL (Intense Pulsed Light). While the latter causes controlled damage to the epidermis to stimulate skin regeneration, RLT doesn't cause any damage to the skin surface. It goes deeper into the dermis (about 5 millimeters) to stimulate cells' energy, hence improving their function.
What's Red LED Therapy used for?
While additional clinical research is needed to prove the extent to which RTL is effective, there's a growing body of evidence pointing to positive results when treating the following:
- Speeding up wound healing and tissue repair.
- Stimulate hair growth for those suffering from androgenic alopecia
- Reduce Psoriasis lesions
- Sunburn reduction
- Increasing skin radiance and glow
- boosting collagen production and reducing wrinkles
- Helping with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Prevent recurring cold sores and speed up their healing
- Improve joint health and reduce inflammation
- Reduce scarring
- Treat hyper-pigmentation
- Help ease some chemo therapy side effects
- Post laser recovery
There are other conditions where RTL is still in experimental stages, needing further evidence:
- Weight loss
- body detoxification
- Immune boosting
Is Red Light Therapy safe?
Red light therapy is non-toxic, non-invasive, and an affordable alternative to prescription drugs and harsh topical treatments. Dozens of studies have found it to be safe with negligible side effects.
LED differs from other types of light therapy treatments in that it doesn't contain ultraviolet (UV) rays, so there is no risk of cancer-causing damage to skin tissue.
What are Red Light Therapy side effects?
Based on current research, RLT is considered safe for most to use, especially for cosmetic purposes. A few incidents were reported involving burns when users fell asleep during the treatment or due to broken wires. So it is important to follow the directions of use and select a device that's FDA cleared.
It is also important to note that Light Therapy treatment isn't yet FDA approved for use for various medical conditions. So while I enjoy using my LED devices for various cosmetic reasons, I don't recommend self-diagnosing or self-treating when medical issues are present or suspected. If you are on certain medications, it is extremely important to check with your doctor prior to committing to any treatment, including Red Light Therapy.
What's Infrared Light (IL) and how is it used?
Infrared Light is different from LED Red Light in that it uses heat & penetrates the skin between 5 & 10mm (deeper than red light). This makes it effective in treating cellulite scars and wounds.
Are combination treatments of LED and Infrared Light effective?
Studies have shown impressive results when the two technologies are combined. One prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded, and split-face clinical study on LED & infrared phototherapy showed significant reductions of wrinkles (maximum: 36%) and increases of skin elasticity (maximum: 19%) compared to baseline. The study used wavelengths combination of 830 and 633nm. The therapy was well-tolerated by all patients showing no adverse effects. The scientists concluded that 830 and 633nm LED phototherapy is an effective approach for skin rejuvenation.
A similar study's electron microscopic analysis showed evidence of post-LED treatment of thicker collagen fibers.
A study using Omnilux hand-held device with combination of lED & Infrared light showed 74% of the subjects reported a visible improvement in fine lines and wrinkles at 8 weeks post-treatment.
Who should avoid using LED Red Light Therapy?
- Women that are pregnant or breast-feeding.
- Children 12 years or younger.
- Those taking medications such as lithium, melatonin, phenothiazine antipsychotics, and certain antibiotics.
- Those with diseases involving the retina of the eye.
- Do not use if you have albinism
- Do not use if you suffer from photosensitive eczema
- Do not use if you have lupus erythematosus
- Additional list of precautions related to medications & light sensitivity.
What are some LED Light Therapy best practices and counter indications?
- Use on clean skin after removing all make up, sunscreen and oils
- Use as close to the skin as possible to prevent light scattering
- Follow the recommended time per device manual
- Use in the AM to help with UV protection
- Follow with skincare and sun protection
- Do not use on broken skin
- Use goggles to protect your eyes
- Do not use when tired or falling asleep (burns have been reported when users fell asleep with the device on)
- Do not use longer than recommended.
- Do not use LED light following the application of any ingredients that may cause photosensitivity. Examples:
- St John's wort
- Coal tar
- Antibacterial soaps
- Petroleum products
- Brightening agents
Is Light Therapy safe for thyroid conditions?
This is the question I get asked the most. Based on this study, LED or Infrared light are both deemed safe to use for people with hypothyroidism. In fact, some improvement was noted. A similar study concluded that LLLT promoted the improvement of thyroid function in patients that had Chronic Autoimmune Thyroditis.
Another study showed that near infrared light increases the production of T4 improving thyroid function and aiding the body in healing itself from the type of mitochondrial dysfunction caused by EMF's.
How to choose an LED Light Therapy Device?
First and foremost, your device needs to be:
- Medical grade
- Use optimal wavelengths:
- Red: 630 - 660nm
- Blue: 415 - 465nm
Image from LEDtechnologies.com
Other variables to consider:
- Areas of the body
If considering treating the face only, a mask would be the best option. The first device I purchased was a mask that offered multiple light settings. I mostly used blue (for sensitivity and dermatitis bumps), and red light for firmness and collagen production. The Mask was not a viable option when I started noticing rapid aging in the neck area and some hair loss (in was inflexible and stiff). So I ordered a hand-held device which has been my go-to for neck and hair line.
As I continued to learn more about the wonderful benefits of LED therapy, I decided to get the panel which is about the size of 2 attached iPads. This covers a larger area than the portable and gives me great flexibility of use anywhere on my body. I got the one with multiple settings: Red (for aging), Blue (for acne & inflammation), and the combination (including Infrared for all of the above, plus pain).
Image from LEDtechnologies.com
- Desired outcome
If your only concern is collagen production and firmness, then opt for a device that only offers red & infrared light (no blue light). Whereas, if the your main concern is acne, then the best option would be a blue light hand held device. And of, course a device that offers both if you have multiple concerns.
- Convenience and portability
Price is a big factor, impacting purchase decisions. So I have included it in my breakdown, below. Often, the price reflects the cost and size of the materials, not the technology alone. Again, all listed devices have been FDA cleared for safety and efficacy.
What are some FDA cleared devices?
Getting medical device clearance by the FDA is a time consuming, expensive, and rigorous process. When medical device manufacturers pursue FDA-clearance, they are demonstrating accountability and commitment to providing safe and effective products.
FDA-clearance means that the device has been confirmed efficacious and safe when used as directed. To grant FDA clearance, each component of the device must pass inspection - including each of its sources, suppliers, and manufacturers.
Here are the best FDA cleared devices broken down by concern:
Click on each device image to learn more or to purchase.
Understanding the function of each LED Light color?
While there is still some controversy on wether yellow and green lights have any impact on the skin, there are hundreds of studies that concluded that blue, amber, red and infrared lights have documented results in treating various conditions.
Each LED light penetrates the skin at a different level, treating various layers and concerns. Here is the quick guide on the recommended wavelegths and corresponding primary functions:
- Blue 415nm: Eliminating acne-causing bacteria, reduce pigmentation & improve skin texture.
- Amber 605nm: Brightening and treating hyperpigmentation.
- Red 630nm: Boost collagen and elastin networks, DNA & RNA repair, and inflammation, and increase cellular activity.
- Deep red 660nm: Boost collagen and elastin networks, DNA & RNA repair, and inflammation, and increase cellular activity.
- Infrared 880nm: Pain management, collagen production and inflammation.
Can I use a serum or a moisturizer before Light Therapy treatment?
There is so much conflicting information on the internet regarding this topic, including LED light manufacturers. So I resorted to the conditions under which some successful studies were conducted, as well as opinion of dermatologists that were interviewed on this topic. I am also applying my expertise with ingredients, having been a skincare expert for over two decades.
What everyone agrees on is that sunscreen and minerals of any sort are a definite 'no' before treatment as they would reflect the light back. Another product that comes up often is the application of a masque. There is even an LED brand that promotes their mask to be used prior to the LED treatment. The general consensus is that this is a bad idea. Ideally, you'd want as little barriers as possible between the light and your skin.
All that being said, the best practice is to conduct the treatment on clean skin with no skincare, even a serum.This will allow the light to get absorbed by the skin as intended, as well as minimize the risk of potential skin discoloration that could result from an interaction with the infrared and certain oils.
What skincare should I use after LED Red Light Therapy Treatment?
If using Red Light Therapy, it's highly likely that you're seeking firmer and a more youthful skin. For that, you'd need a serum that combines powerful Peptides, Vitamin A, Antioxidants and Hyaluronic Acid. My recommendations in this category are Graydon Fullmoon Serum or Earth Harbor Celestine. Both are clean and natural options, that are also suitable for sensitive skin types.
Lastly, I suggest using Blü Fern Blubiome, a great moisturizer that's not only advanced in it's anti-aging properties, but is also clean, natural, fragrance free, and best of all; restores the skin's microbiome, supporting the epidermis. This can easily be incorporated into your AM or PM routine. It's also suitable for all skin types.
Additional notes about some featured brands:
While each brand sought FDA clearance for what it wanted to use for their marketing, I find the breakdown of the lights and their respective wavelengths indicative of the devices' function, as long as we understand the science and benefits of each light that's used.
Image from ledtechnologies.com
I find ReVive Clinical Hand Held device one the better options out there for many reasons. First to note, is accessibility. $99 is merely the price of one LED sessions at a dermatologist or esthetician's office. I've enjoyed the portability, allowing the device to be used anywhere on the face, neck or body.
Lastly, I appreciate the variation in lights that are included in this specific model. It combines, blue, amber, red, deep red and infrared. This leads me to believe that it targets not only multiple skin layers, but concerns; ranging from acne to pigmentation and wrinkle reduction.
Image from omniluxled.com
Omnilux is an FDA-cleared mask that offers great flexibility using medical grade silicone and optimal doses of red and near-infrared lights. They offer great options for the face, neck and décolletage. The latter is often neglected when it comes to skincare & tools. So, I'm happy to see a brand offering this option.
Let's not forget that the same mechanism that happens in our skin cells, with LED Light Therapy, applies to the scalp as well. LED has been rising in popularity at hair growth clinics, over the last decade. That's in fact where I first got introduced to this technology. IRestore is the leading device in this realm, although I believe that there's great versatility in using panels, hand-held or even the flexible silicone face mask to target areas on the scalp.
A study using 655 nm red light and 780 nm infrared light once a day for 10 minutes, found a notable increase in hair density, after 14 weeks of treatment. LED Red Light Therapy was shown to effective in treating Androgenic Alopecia.
Image from drdennisgross.com
This is an FDA-cleared, lightweight, and very well-designed hands-free mask that fits nicely against the skin. It comes with an adjustable silicone strap that fits comfortably around the head, and has three settings; red, blue & a combination of the two. I love that it only needs 3 minutes for the treatment.
Is it worth the $435 price tag? I'd say maybe! If you can afford it, it might be a good long term investment that pays for itself after the 3rd or fourth treatment!
I will continue testing various devices and updating this blog as I do all others. So check back, and share your thoughts and comments!
Not sure what skincare to get? Book a consultation with Nadia here.
Be well. Be safe. Be beautiful!
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
A prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded, and split-face clinical study on LED phototherapy for skin rejuvenation: clinical, profilometric, histologic, ultrastructural, and biochemical evaluations and comparison of three different treatment settings