Ask a Dermatologist: Do Those At-Home LED Light Devices Even Work?

Updated 06/10/19

 Stocksy

If you had found your way into Byrdie HQ a few days ago, you would have found me working at my desk, as per usual, save for my insanely bright red, glowing skin. No, it wasn’t due to rosacea or irritation (at least not this time). it was all thanks to a SkinClinical Reverse Anti‑Aging LED Light Therapy Device ($275).

Although the term “LED light therapy” might sound a little sci-fi, you’ve likely seen these devices somewhere before. Many cosmetics brands have launched portable, handheld versions of the in-office LED treatments you'd normally only have when seeing your esthetician. These are safe for at-home use, making them accessible at retails like Sephora and CVS. The devices promise to target everything from sagging and wrinkling skin to acne and inflammation. Celebs are, of course, taking advantage of the technology, too. Just look to Jessica Alba and Kourtney Kardashian, both of whom have incorporated light therapy into their facial routines, posting selfies while lying under futuristic, robotic light devices.

So there I was, face shining as bright and red as an exit sign in hopes of flawless skin. But would I get it?

What Are Led Light Devices Anyway?

Let’s start with this fun fact: Just like moisture and toxins, our skin absorbs light. This is why extended exposure to sunlight results in a burn—our skin is absorbing damaging ultraviolet rays. UV rays inhibit cellular activity and damage DNA, leading to early signs of aging, and even skin cancer in extreme cases. (Let’s break here to acknowledge, yet again, the necessity for sunscreen, people! Depending on the ingredients, sunscreen either deflects or absorbs UV rays, so your skin stays protected from damage).

LED stands for “light-emitting diode,” and the light that comes from these devices is completely different from UV. Take it from Sonia Batra, MD, “LED light therapies are longer wavelengths that do not involve ultraviolet light.” This means that your skin won’t be damaged by this type of light exposure. In fact, your skin benefits from it. “We can use certain wavelengths of light selectively to … target blood vessels or pigment,” Batra says.

Meet the Expert

  • Sonia Batra, MD, is a Mohs fellowship-trained, board-certified dermatologist and graduate of Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford University. She is also a co-host on CBS's The Doctors TV Show.
  • Harry Glassman, MD, is a world-renowned plastic surgeon who has been practicing in Beverly Hills for the past 35 years. He is also the founder of SkinClinical.

How Do They Work?

Say you want to improve your sagging or wrinkling skin. This is where red light comes into play. Red light is of a certain wavelength that penetrates the deeper layers of the dermis, affecting the cells responsible for the loss of collagen and elastin. That is to say, it’s getting right to the source. My SkinClinical device uses an incredibly powerful red LED light to reverse signs of aging. Harry Glassman, MD, explains, “Red light triggers specific cells in the dermis, fibroblasts, to increase their metabolic activity, and consequently, this leads to an increase in collagen and elastin production.” Collagen and elastin production results in more plump, smooth, youthful-looking skin.

Aging isn’t the only skin concern these devices target. According to Batra, “Blue light is absorbed by the oil glands and excites a molecule called porphyrin. When excited, these compounds kill the bacteria that contribute to acne.” Take Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Mask, which promises to clear acne over 30 daily treatment sessions.

[Ed. note, this product has been recalled by Neutrogena].

Are They Seriously Effective?

So, the ultimate question: Do these devices work? Dermatologists are pretty confident in their technology and effectiveness—but the technology has to be there in the first place. The device has to be powerful enough to yield results, which is why Glassman saw it necessary to create his own. “Many home use devices that are available are underpowered or ineffective,” he says.

Glassman recommends using his device as a supplement to the professional services he provides in his medspa, which are even more powerful (but also more expensive and invasive). Batra agrees that at-home LED light therapy can be helpful in this context to treat aging, sun damage, and acne—but not necessarily more helpful than other products. “I consider the most critical components to be sunscreen, retinoids, and anti-bacterial agents,” she says.

I’m only in the early stages of my LED routine, but I’m confident that by using it alongside my sunscreen and other anti-aging products, I’ll see a real difference. Plus, it’s just fun to use. Which counts for something.

SkinClinical Reverse Anti-Aging Light Therapy $275
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