LEDs, a danger for the skin?

Light therapy is a bit of skincare magic: push a button and enjoy less acne, inflammation and younger-looking skin. In light of the controversy, here's everything you need to know about LED light therapy and its benefits for your skin.

The science behind light therapy

"Photorejuvenation is a skin care treatment that uses light in different wavelengths - most commonly red and blue - for skin treatments," explains Ava Shamban, a board-certified dermatologist. This is not the same as UV light - which causes tanning and skin cancer. "Essentially, different wavelengths and colors send a message in the layers of the skin to trigger a different reaction," Shamban says. "Used alone or in combination with other treatments, light therapy can target everything from acne to aging to skin texture issues."

Red light is used to treat the signs of aging, brown spots or sagging. It works by promoting collagen production, explains Shamban, which is the basis of skin firmness and characteristic of youthful skin. (Infrared light is similar to red light, except that these wavelengths penetrate even deeper into the skin).

As you age, your collagen stores naturally break down and decrease, but there are many treatments like red light therapy that stimulate your skin cells to produce more. Research has also shown that red light therapy helps speed up wound healing. When it comes to the appearance of your complexion, the theory is that it helps repair damaged cells. Red light therapy is "also an excellent anti-inflammatory," adds Shamban, which ironically means it can help reduce skin redness.

Blue light therapy is most commonly used to treat acne. "It can be used to improve skin texture and tone as well as reduce sebaceous hyperplasia, also known as enlarged sebaceous glands, which contribute to acne breakouts, whiteheads and blackheads," Shamban explains. "It can also help clear up acne and acne scars."

Light therapy treatment

The appeal of light therapy treatments comes from the fact that they are non-invasive and painless (Unlike some laser treatments, photorejuvenation does not use heat energy, so there is no risk of uncomfortable heat on your skin). It also requires no effort on your part - even with an at-home treatment, all you have to do is put on the mask, sit back and relax. In general, light therapy treatments fall into two categories: in-office and at-home. The former involves lounging under what looks like a face-sized tanning bed (without the dangerous UV rays) and the latter you've probably seen on Instagram.

For both, Shamban recommends using them in tandem with other treatments (like a facial) for the best results.
"We always recommend complementary treatments or products that can be used at home to maintain the effectiveness of in-office treatments," she says.
In both cases, consistency is key "when working on regeneration, anti-aging, hyperpigmentation, acne or various other skin conditions," she adds. "In general, if it's a one-size-fits-all approach, it's not effective."

So, is it dangerous?

Is light therapy as harmless as it sounds?
The truth is that light therapy can in rare cases cause eye discomfort. If you've ever had a photorejuvenation treatment or used an at-home mask, it's easy to see why: these lights are incredibly bright and you're exposed to them for a period of time (usually about 20 minutes in one session).

"The eyes need to be protected," says Shamban. As far as glasses go, "the best type of eye protection you can get are these glasses that cover the orbital area and block the light rays from the eyes," she says. (Shamban also advises patients to keep their eyes closed during treatment, even while wearing glasses).

At-home masks tend to be less intense than in-office treatments. "Following the manufacturer's instructions and guidelines for any at-home skin tool or device is paramount to its success and safety," says Shamban. While the manufacturer advises using the treatment once a day for 20 minutes, doing even two or three sessions a day could be dangerous.
Ultimately, the risk of eye damage is unlikely, Shamban says. "There would have to be significant overload or cumulative exposures to high and bright intensity, which is rare," she says.

In general, these treatments are simple, safe and controlled to achieve their skin goals, without residual negative effects on the eyes.