Acne, inflammation, skin aging: LED therapy is claimed to reduce and heal all these unpleasant symptoms every one of us experiences. But does it actually work and how?
In this blog post, we will present you various scientific findings concerning LED therapy and link the studies behind them.
TL;DR for the lazy: Red light is proven to enhance wound healing and collagen production, while reducing skin aging, inflammation and wrinkles.
Blue light has an antimicrobial effect being able to kill P. acnes – the main bacterium to cause acne – and various other bacteria. Therefore, it is helpful to treat acne and other superficial infections.
How LED therapy began
Did you know that the health benefits of LED therapy were initially discovered by NASA?
They found out that their lights which were originally used to enhance plant growth on space missions significantly decreased pain caused by inflammation.
Many people are skeptical about all these effects. This is understandable because in the end, it is just ordinary light not some medication with years of development and research. So does research back up NASA's findings?
In short - yes! Let us dive deep into what studies discovered.
What studies say about LED therapy
Interestingly, different wavelengths have completely different effects on our skin. Most research was done on blue and red light. While blue light penetrates the skin only superficially, red light can penetrate deeper due to its longer wavelength. Now we will look closer at the effects that these colors exert.
A study with 136 volunteers divided the subjects into groups with different red light wavelengths and one control group. The researchers found that the collagen density in the skin highly improved after just 30 days of red light therapy. We all know that collagen is the most important structural protein in connective tissues, including the skin. Aging causes collagen starting to break down. This process starts already at the age of around 20 at a rate of approximately 1%/year. It is the reason why the skin loses its firmness and structure and starts to form fine wrinkles.
However, via a process called biomodulation, red light stimulates fibroblasts, the main cells in connective tissues responsible for collagen production and wound healing.
In their research paper, they showed ultrasonography pictures illustrating the drastic increase in collagen density. Due to copyright reasons, we cannot show the image here but we link it here
The subjects had a clearly visible reduction of fine lines and wrinkles. You can check out some pictures of the amazing results right here.
Blue light reduces acne through three pathways.
Firstly, blue light is antimicrobial because it causes a chemical reaction on the
skin, whereby porphyrins in the skin are oxidated to free radicals which kill Cutibacterium acnes – the main bacteria to cause acne – and wound pathogens such as S. aureus and P. aeruginosa. Therefore, it is helpful to treat acne and other superficial infections. It is a safe alternative or addition to conventional acne treatments such as tretinoin or antibiotics.
Secondly, blue light also slows down oil gland proliferation
Finally, inflammation is reduced when applying blue light therapy to the skin.
Combining red light and blue light is even more effective to treat acne as red light appears to decrease the oil production of sebaceous glands.
Are there any risks linked to LED therapy?
LED technology is nothing new or scary. In fact, we all know that every modern lamp is filled with those small semiconductor light-emitting diodes. They are everywhere, even in the screen of our daily companions - our smartphones and computers.
2: Image credit: CNX OpenStax, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Unless you skipped physics class, this graphic should look familiar. It shows the different electromagnetic waves and their wavelength. You might know that everything with a shorter wavelength than visible violet light - and thus higher energy - is detrimental to our human bodies. While UV light can cause sunburns, gamma rays could kill you easily. However, everything with the wavelength of visible light or higher is completely harmless in moderate doses.
LED therapy only uses visible light and sometimes infrared, so you can be assured that the treatment is absolutely safe.
However, the eyes should certainly be closed during the procedure because they can be damaged when exposed to intense light. This risk is probably more than obvious - you wouldn't glare directly into the sun, right?
There are some important contraindications, though. You should avoid LED therapy if you have any type of photosensitivity disease. It is also recommendable to be cautious with LED therapy in case you suffer from hyperpigmentation because blue light can deteriorate this condition as it stimulates the production of melanin in melanocytes. Hyperpigmentation is more common in people with darker skin tones. It appears that microalgae extracts and niacinamide (Vitamin B3) applied topically mitigate this effect. If you have an issue with hyperpigmentation you can still use red light or other colors than blue because it seems that only blue light increases melanin production.
The 2 types of LED therapy
Professional LED therapy
Here’s a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of professional led therapy:
+ Professional LED therapy with top-notch devices will result in the greatest benefits.
+ Good practitioners know what they’re doing and will ideally check if and which treatment is suitable for your skin
- Since LED therapy is relatively new in dermatology, the availability of practitioners is quite limited depending on your hometown
- Treatments are very expensive ranging between 20-90$ per session, not even considering the fact that countless treatments are necessary to see results. So if you want to see visible effects, you have to be ready to spend several hundred dollars.
Some of you might know that one can also do LED therapy at home with LED masks. You can simply plug them in and change the colors with buttons.
LED masks (at home)
+ very intuitive and easy to use
+ much cheaper compared to professional treatments
+ you can use it as many times and as long as you need
+ convenient, you can just lie in your bed/sofa, etc.
- user error possible when the user is not educated well
In conclusion, everyone should decide for themselves whether to visit a professional or use your own home device. However, if using it correctly, the latter is certainly an adequately effective and safe alternative with low cost. There is also a vast number of different models on the market so you can definitely find one that suits your needs best.
We ourselves, MedGleam, offer a cheap LED mask with 7 different colors. Many people complain about the heavy weight of conventional LED masks, which causes discomfort. So we created a light-weight model that sits ergonomically on your nose which is nearly unprecedented in the market. The mask is also transparent in case you briefly have to open your eyes to check the time/your phone etc. Like this, you don’t have to make an effort to take the mask off just to put it on again a few seconds later. If you’re interested, feel free to check it out.
 Whelan H.T. et al. : Effect of NASA light-emitting diode irradiation on wound healing - PubMed (nih.gov)
 Regazzetti C, et al. Melanocytes Sense Blue Light and Regulate Pigmentation through Opsin-3.