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What is Red Light Therapy and How Does It Work?
In recent years, red light therapy has exploded in popularity as a health care option for treating physical ailments and conditions, including facial skincare.
Red light therapy, also known as low-level laser light therapy, stimulates cell function via low-energy light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The skin is exposed to appropriate red light wavelengths from a device such as a face shield or mask, wand, or light panel. The typical range of wavelengths used is 610-700 nanometers. The LED light bulb shines the light with high irradiance to give it enough power to enter deep enough into the skin’s surface. Since most red light therapy devices are used almost touching the face, it’s also worth checking that they have very low EMFs.
Red light wavelengths penetrate the skin to a depth of about eight to 10 millimeters and are absorbed by skin cells. A part of the cell called the mitochondria (the “power-generator” of the cell) soaks up the red light and creates cellular energy. This increased energy within the cells stimulates the production of fibroblasts (responsible for collagen production in the skin), improves elastin production, promotes healing, and boosts the skin’s elasticity. Immune response within the skin is elevated.
Red light reduces inflammation, provides better oxygen flow to cells, kills bacteria, and enhances skin hydration and overall cell function. It can reduce and eliminate numerous skin conditions and diseases, as well as improve the overall appearance and health of facial skin.
Is Red Light Therapy Good for Your Face? Is it Safe?
Yes and yes.
The amplified collagen and elastin production, circulation, and enhanced cell function work together to give your face a healthy, radiant glow.
Red light therapy is FDA-approved and 100 percent natural. It is chemical- and drug-free and produces no adverse side effects. Red light contains no UV radiation and will not damage the skin. This treatment is safe for all ages and skin types.
Red light therapy is easily self-administered in the comfort of your own home.
What Does Red Light Therapy Do for Your Face?
Red light therapy has a powerful healing capacity, improves general facial skin health, acts as an anti-aging remedy, and treats numerous skin conditions and diseases. Red light therapy also helps to develop an even skin tone and a smoother skin texture, no matter what the problem.
Conditions that create undesirable skin tone and texture issues and benefit from red light therapy include:
Wrinkles and Fine Lines
Wrinkle development also results from exposure to UV rays, pollution, poor air quality, smoking, dry climates, dehydration, squinting or other facial habits, and hereditary factors.
Red light stimulates the production of fibroblasts and increases the production of collagen and elastin, thereby increasing hydration and cellular energy. The result is wrinkle prevention, reduction, and a smoother skin tone and texture. The skin becomes firmer and vibrant, with a more youthful appearance.
Eyes are especially prone to wrinkles. Eye wrinkles, under-eye circles or hollows, bags, and “crow’s feet” can all be alleviated via red light therapy. Eyelid crepes and droopiness are diminished.
Even deep wrinkles on the face and neck can be reduced with red light therapy, and shallow wrinkles and fine lines will virtually disappear.
Red light therapy is a more effective wrinkle remedy than any skin cream because it deeply penetrates the skin whereas lotions function primarily on the skin’s surface. The benefits are greater because of the biochemical process by which red light stimulates energy within skin cells. Creams and lotions do not have this capability.
Sun damage comes in a variety of forms:
- Sunburn — the common reaction to prolonged UV ray exposure, causing the skin to burn, become red, and eventually itch and peel
- Wrinkles — too much UV exposure causes collagen and elastin in the skin to break down, reducing firmness and creating wrinkles
- Sun Spots (Age Spots) — sun exposure causes the skin to produce melanin and become “tan” (which is actually skin damage!), but if melanin is heavily concentrated in small areas it causes lasting spots after the suntan fades
- Melasma — larger patches of darker brown or gray skin, also caused by the overproduction of melanin
- Actinic Keratosis (AK) — the most serious form of sun damage, AK causes crusty or scaly patches on the skin and frequently becomes cancerous
The elevated collagen and elastin production activated by red light therapy creates an increased immune response, eliminating dead skin cells and repairing damaged ones. Wrinkles are minimized to restore the skin to a firmer, smoother condition. Discolorations are reduced, giving skin a more even tone.
Treatments such as creams, medications, and chemical peels, while somewhat effective in reversing sun damage, can cause mild to severe skin irritation in many people. There are no such adverse side effects to red light therapy. Instead, the body’s natural cellular processes are utilized to create healing and repair tissue damage.
All types of sun damage can benefit from red light therapy.
Most scars begin as purple, dark red, red, or pink in color and fade with time. Red light therapy can reduce the appearance of virtually all types of scars.
- Keloid Scars — initially dark red or purple and thicker than the surrounding skin, often bumpy and caused by a wound to the skin
- Contracture Scars (Burn Scars) — generally caused by an injury such as a burn
- Atrophic Scars — indentations in the skin commonly caused by acne or chickenpox
- Hypertrophic Scars — raised rather than indented, hypertrophic scars often appear as thick, raised clusters
- Stretch Marks — caused by a rapid shrinking or expanding of the skin and breaking of connective tissue, stretch marks are common with pregnancy, rapid weight gain, and bodybuilding. Red light therapy is known to reduce stretch marks.
- Acne Scars — can be atrophic, hypertrophic, or keloid but are always caused by dead skin cells, oil, and bacterial growth under the skin
The severity of scarring will have an impact on how much red light therapy can do to reduce the appearance, but all scars will respond to treatment to some extent.
Acne is caused by bacteria and the clogging of hair follicles under the skin and is often related to hormonal fluctuations. In addition to treating acne scars, red light therapy can reduce acne, as well as prevent new breakouts.
Red light therapy kills bacteria, reduces inflammation, and improves oxygen flow to the skin cells. The decreased inflammation reduces the size of existing acne pimples, and lower bacteria levels prevent new pimples from forming.
All forms of acne can be reduced or eliminated via red light therapy. Common types of facial acne that will benefit from treatment are:
- Hormonal Acne — the most common, generalized variation of acne (also known as Acne Vulgaris)
- Cystic Acne — most common in people with oily skin, cystic acne is the most serious form, with large pus-filled cysts forming beneath the skin
- Fungal Acne — caused by a fungus rather than bacteria, fungal acne has a more rash-like appearance and is usually itchy
Melasma is a condition in which dark brown or gray patches appear on the face. It can be caused by:
- Excessive sun exposure
- Hormonal changes due to pregnancy, birth control, or other hormone-affecting medications
- Reaction to oral skin medications or topical skincare products
Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)
Eczema is a medical skin condition caused by an allergic reaction to contact with an external substance, or other health conditions like hay fever or dry skin. Symptoms include:
- Dry or cracked skin
- Severe itching
- Thickened or discolored skin where a rash appears
- Blisters or painful lesions
The capability of red light therapy to boost immunity, reduce recovery time, and promote faster healing provides swift relief for eczema sufferers.
Skin quality is improved via greater levels of hydration, collagen, and elastin. Increased cellular energy reduces the severity of eczema symptoms, providing pain and itch relief.
Facial Cellulitis is a common facial bacterial infection, typically caused by staphylococcus or streptococcus. Bacteria enter the face through a break in the skin; a cut, scratch, wound, or pimple. Areas of the face and neck affected by facial cellulitis will be hot to the touch, red, and swollen.
Facial cellulitis requires medical treatment via antibiotics, but red light therapy can also be useful in relieving symptoms and restoring skin to a healthier appearance.
While it cannot cure psoriasis completely, red light therapy can dramatically reduce the symptoms of Psoriasis. It is one of the most effective psoriasis treatments to date. Increasing the efficiency of skin cells replaces Vitamin D, increases healing potential, and improves the skin’s elasticity and hydration.
Through red light therapy, psoriasis relief can be achieved to some degree for anyone who suffers from the disease.
Eye problems and an enlarged nose can also result from rosacea. Over time, the skin can thicken and the nose might appear bigger or swollen. Eye irritation and eyelid swelling are also common.
There is no cure for rosacea, but red light therapy can drastically reduce its appearance. Healing nutrients and oxygen are delivered to the affected area, blood flow and circulation are improved, and hydration is increased. The results are a reduction in swelling, dryness, itching, and redness, and a vastly improved overall skin quality.
Cold Sores (Fever Blisters, Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 or 2)
Cold sores are inflamed blisters in or near the mouth and lips, related to a strain of the herpes virus. They cause a painful, burning sensation, and are unsightly.
This condition is lifelong. It is, however, possible to reduce healing time and the time between outbreaks. Because of its skin-regenerating and anti-inflammatory properties, red light therapy is effective against cold sores.
Topical antiviral remedies do not penetrate the skin to the cellular level, limiting their efficacy. Red light therapy can attack the virus by affecting skin cells directly.
Blue light therapy and UV rays are not effective in treating cold sores. The impact of blue wavelengths is antibacterial, which doesn’t affect a virus. UV rays cause skin damage and while beneficial for Vitamin D, they actually cause skin damage and will not help with (and may even exacerbate) cold sores.
Red light is the optimal light therapy for any viral skin issues.
Facial Cellulite, Facial Fat
Cellulite is frequently associated with weight gain, but can also be caused by hereditary factors, pregnancy, or the loss of skin elasticity due to aging. Cellulite or excess fat can be present in the face and neck as well as other areas of the body.
Red light therapy is proven to be an effective aid to slimming both the body and the face. Red wavelengths stimulate the nucleus of the mitochondria within the cells, causing the release of fatty acids.
Red light cannot make a person lose weight without conjunctive efforts, but it can accelerate the reduction of cellulite as weight loss occurs, both in the body and the face.
Visible Facial Veins and Broken Capillaries
Visible facial spider veins, varicose veins, and broken capillaries are the result of dilated blood vessels. They can also be caused by rosacea.
Varicose veins on the face look different from varicose veins on other body parts such as legs. They present as tiny red or blue veins, usually around the eyes or nose, but are not raised or bulbous.
The anti-inflammatory qualities of red light can reduce the appearance of facial veins.
Moles, blisters, wounds, and any other type of facial skin issue can be eased and assisted through red light therapy. The possibilities are virtually endless.
How Often Should You Use Red Light Therapy on Your Face?
There is no cookie-cutter approach or standard dosage. Treatment depends upon the severity of symptoms and the particular conditions. Each individual’s needs are unique.
A standard course of treatment might begin at 10-20 minutes, three to five times per week. The frequency and duration might be increased for a more severe or pronounced condition. Sessions can range anywhere from five to 30 minutes, one to five times per week up to 12 weeks, reducing the number of sessions gradually as deemed appropriate.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and consultation with a doctor or other health expert is recommended.
Does Red Light Therapy Cause Facial Hair?
Can Red Light Therapy Cause Wrinkles or Make Wrinkles Worse?
No, quite the opposite. Red light therapy reduces wrinkles and fine lines.
Many people worry that red light therapy might harm the skin because they are aware of the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. Sunlight consists of a spectrum of different light wavelengths, some of which contain harmful UV radiation. Red wavelengths are only red, containing no other wavelengths in the spectrum.
UV rays are invisible to the human eye but can be felt by the skin in the form of heat (sunlight). Red light wavelengths are shorter, fully visible to the human eye, and do not produce heat. UV radiation presents a health risk and can cause skin damage, but red light wavelengths contain no UV rays and have been known to help improve eye-sight.
Red light therapy will not cause skin damage or disease. Red light wavelengths will help to reduce wrinkles, not cause them or make them worse.
What are the Best Red Light Therapy Devices for Your Face?
Red or Blue Light for Masks?
Masks are face-shaped shields placed directly on the face to administer healing LEDs to the skin.
The potentially damaging effects of blue light on the skin are still largely unproven and unknown. Red light, on the other hand, is known to be safe and free of side effects. At the present time, red light masks are the safest option and they’re also safe for your eyes.
Free-standing and treating the skin from a slightly greater distance than a wand or a mask, panels radiate red LEDs uniformly to facial skin. They are often designed to sit on a table in front of you to radiate red light evenly onto your face. Panels are more effective in treating less localized skin conditions.
All of these devices are readily available for purchase and use at home.
Have Scientific Studies Proven That Red Light Therapy Benefits Your Face?
Relevant documented clinical studies include:
- nih.gov - RLT in Reduction of Fine Lines, Wrinkles (opens in a new tab)
- nih.gov - LLLT & Skin: Stimulating, Healing, Restoring (opens in a new tab)
- researchgate.net - The Effect of 670-nm on Herpes Simplex Type 1 (opens in a new tab)
- inbmedical.com - Studies that Show Anti-Aging Benefits of ILT (opens in a new tab)
- nih.gov - Light-based treatments of acne and acne scarring (opens in a new tab)
Response to facial red light therapy will depend upon the individual. Age, the severity of skin condition, and length of treatment are all variables. This treatment will, however, benefit everyone to some degree, no matter what the initial presentation.
Whether used as a primary treatment or as a supplement to medications, creams, or other facial remedies, red light therapy is an exciting and powerful breakthrough in the world of facial skincare.