LED Light Therapy for Skin: A Complete Guide

LED (light-emitting diode) therapy is a type of treatment that uses lights of different wavelengths to treat a variety of skin conditions, such as acne, scar tissue, and the effects of aging. Most commonly, red and blue lights are used for these treatments. Light therapy can be performed in a healthcare provider's office or at home. Multiple treatments are required to get results.

This article discusses types of LED light therapy, how it works, and how it is performed, as well as risks, safety, and potential side effects of this treatment.

woman receiving light therapy

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What Is LED Light Therapy?

LED light therapy is a treatment that involves placing light-emitting diodes onto the skin to treat a variety of medical conditions and cosmetic issues. This treatment is painless and noninvasive, and comes in many different forms, including handheld wands for spot treating areas of the skin, light panels, lamps, and masks.

How LED Light Therapy Works

Light therapy works by impacting the function of cells in your skin. As your cells absorb wavelengths of light, they produce energy more efficiently, in structures called mitochondria. Specific wavelengths of light impact the cells in different ways, including:

  • Red light therapy: Red light is commonly used to decrease inflammation and promote healing by increasing blood flow. In addition to improving your skin, red light can also help reduce pain in your muscles. Red light treatments often contain "near infrared" wavelengths as well, and they are used to treat age spots, fine lines, and wrinkles.
  • Blue light therapy: Blue light decreases inflammation. It can also kill bacteria and other microbes under the skin, and reduce activity in the glands that produce oil on your skin. Blue light is often combined with violet wavelengths and is commonly used to treat acne.
  • Amber light therapy: Also called yellow light, amber light therapy targets the most superficial layer of your skin. These wavelengths reduce inflammation, skin sensitivity, and redness.
  • Green light therapy: Green light targets both the superficial and deeper layers of the skin. These wavelengths stimulate healing and improve skin firmness. They also help decrease the production of melanin—the natural pigment that gives skin its color. Melanin can cause dark spots on your skin.
  • Topical photosensitive drugs: In some cases, topical medications are applied to the skin prior to light therapy. This helps the cells better absorb the wavelengths during treatment.

Procedure for LED Light Therapy

Light therapy can be performed at home or in a clinician's office. The biggest benefit to in-office light therapy is access to a professional who can advise you about the best treatments for your skin.

There are also many pros of using an at-home device for LED light therapy. For example, it's much cheaper in the long run. The best results come from using light therapy on a regular basis—sometimes multiple times in one day, depending on the skin condition you are treating.

LED light therapy comes in many forms for home use. Devices include LED masks, lamps, and light wands for spot treating. Some home units combine light therapy with ultrasonic treatment—high-frequency vibration using sound waves to help your skin absorb the light.

LED light therapy can also be found as a component of multiuse devices. For example, mesotherapy electroporation devices improve the skin's ability to absorb light using electrical current.

Preparing for Light Therapy

Before a light therapy treatment, clean your skin with a mild cleanser and pat dry. Your skin should be free of any makeup. During the week leading up to your treatment, avoid any grooming techniques that can irritate your skin, such as waxing or shaving. If your eyes will be exposed to the light during treatment, you'll need to wear goggles for protection.

After an LED Light Session

Light therapy sessions are often complete within 15 to 30 minutes but could take longer if you're treating a larger area of your body. There isn't any required "recovery time" after LED light treatment. Most people can resume their normal skin-care routine immediately afterward.

Uses and Benefits of LED Light Therapy

LED light therapy is used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including:

  • Acne (hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells)
  • Psoriasis (skin disease causing itchy, red, scaly patches of skin)
  • Eczema (atopic dermatitis, causing itchy, red skin)
  • Vitiligo (colorless patches of skin from a loss of pigment cells)
  • Rosacea (flushing and noticeable blood vessels on the face)
  • Cold sores (blisters that form from exposure to herpes simplex virus)
  • Healing wounds
  • Reduce scarring
  • Actinic keratosis (rough, scaly skin caused by damage from ultraviolet rays)

LED light therapy can treat certain types of cancer, as well. However, this type of treatment is currently only available in a medical professional's office. Light therapy is also used for aesthetic purposes, such as reducing fine lines and wrinkles and making skin softer and smoother.

Results Can Vary

While research has shown that LED light therapy can be effective for treating skin conditions and improving a person's overall appearance, it does not work for everyone. For some conditions, such as cold sores, you might notice results within a few treatments. However, most conditions require several weeks of consistent treatments to begin to show improvements.

Risks, Safety, and Side Effects

In general, LED light therapy is a safe, low-risk treatment. This type of therapy uses wavelengths that are on the visible light spectrum—not the ultraviolet rays that frequently cause skin damage and burns.

However, there are still potential negative side effects to treatment, including redness, burning, or skin irritation. Light therapy can also cause headaches, fatigue, irritability, hyperactivity, or difficulty sleeping.

Certain medications, such as oral contraceptives, antibiotics, antidepressants, and antihistamines, can make your skin more sensitive to light. If you take medication, talk to your healthcare provider to be sure light therapy is safe for you.

How to Get LED Light Therapy

LED light therapy devices can be purchased at retail stores or online. These devices range in cost from less than $30 to several hundred dollars. Devices that provide additional treatments, such as sound waves or electrical currents, are more expensive.

LED light therapy is also performed in spas or other facilities that provide skincare services. These services are more expensive than home units as you have to pay for individual treatments, but you'll have the benefit of being seen by a trained professional, such as an aesthetician.

Dermatologists (medical doctors who specialize in skin conditions) also perform LED light therapy as part of treatment for specific skin conditions.

Summary

LED light therapy uses a variety of wavelengths to treat skin conditions, such as wrinkles, fine lines, acne, scarring, and skin discoloration. LED light therapy devices can be purchased and used at home or you can have this treatment performed in a spa or medical facility by a trained professional.

There are minimal risks with LED light therapy, but skin irritation can occur—especially if you take medications that make your skin more sensitive to light. While many people report that LED light therapy has fixed their skin woes, it doesn't work for everyone.

A Word From Verywell

LED light therapy can potentially make a big difference in the way your skin looks, but it can also be an expensive investment for a treatment that might not work for you. Consult a skin-care professional for recommendations before you make a decision to pursue treatment. If you notice a new spot on your skin, or notice changes to any of your existing spots, see a healthcare provider to rule out skin cancer before you begin LED light therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does LED light therapy actually work?

    LED light therapy can be effective for improving the overall look of your skin. Unfortunately, it doesn't work for everyone.

  • Which LED light is best for healing?

    Red light is commonly used to decrease inflammation and increase circulation to promote healing.

  • How long does it take for LED light therapy to work?

    Several weeks of consistent LED light therapy are typically required to see results.

  • What does LED light do for the face?

    LED light therapy can decrease fine lines and wrinkles in the face. It can also be effective for treating skin blemishes.

  • Does LED light help broken capillaries?

    LED light therapy can help decrease redness caused by broken capillaries.

  • Does red light help sagging skin?

    While red light therapy can't get rid of sagging skin, it can increase collagen production, making your skin look more firm.

  • Does red light get rid of spider veins?

    Red light can increase blood flow to the skin to help shrink spider veins.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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