Does LED Light Therapy Really Improve Skin? I Put It To The Test

The following article  about LED Treatments was written by Alina Gonzalez on January 27, 2015 for byrdie.com.

When I first heard about the use of LED light therapy as a treatment for rejuvinating skin, I was intrigued. It seemed like an effective way to get glowy and younger-looking skin without needles—plus, celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas famously created an LED light bed that’s Vogue-approved and sought-after by A-listers, so it had to be good.

Blue light penetrates skin 2-3 mm and treats or prevents acne and kills bacteria. Red Light penetrates the skin to a depth of about 8- 10 mm. Once absorbed, the light energy is converted to cellular energy, stimulating the body’s natural processes on a cellular level and kicking off a whole series of metabolic events to include increased circulation and the formation of new capillaries, increased lymph system activity, increased production of collagen and fibroblasts, increased release of ATP, or raw cellular energy, increased phagocytosis, or cellular clean up, tissue stimulation, and reducing inflammation. Near Infrared Light penetrates deeply into tissues releasing nitric oxide which increases blood flow to the nerves and other tissues lasting for several hours after application.

But my interest was really piqued when I learned that LED light had the power to help banish blemishes and breakouts (my problem skin is basically the bane of my existence). Since I’d do anything for a clearer complexion, I put LED light therapy to the test, and (spoiler alert) loved the results.

LightStim Blue / Red / Infra Red LED treatment machine.

First off, let’s talk about what LED stands for: light emitting diode. Without getting too technical, an LED is a light source that emits infrared light (and thereby, heat) when activated, exactly like the machine pictured below. LED light therapy is most often administered via single light units or formations of panels that are directed at the skin from a few inches away. The benefits come from exposure to the light; there is no machine-to-skin contact when the panels are involved. It can also be administered through a handheld wand that you would expose skin to in the same way. Most spas use the panels, because they cover more surface area, while the hand-held devices are a more practical option for at-home use.

LED lights come in different spectrums, including red, white, and blue infrared.

The particular LED treatment I got was part of a facial at the Kate Somerville clinic in West Hollywood. Called the LightStim Combo Facial, it’s intended to combat breakouts and clear up skin with the use of an LED Combo Light, so named because it employs a combination of red, white, and blue infrared lights to help destroy acne-causing bacteria.

My facialist, Cristina Simon, explained to me that red is the most universal LED light, and that it stimulates collagen and accelerates healing. “It’s good for a little bit of everything, from texture and tone, to acne and aging,” she said. The white light goes the deepest into the skin (it penetrates a few millimeters deeper than the others), and tightens and tones while reducing inflammation. “It’s really great for inflamed acne,” explained Simon. And lastly, the blue light kills bacteria.

You can see, then, why this combination of all three lights is powerful for acne-prone skin. It isn’t just “good” for people with inflamed skin (a.k.a. me), it was designed for them.

LightStim LED panels

The basic gist is: You continue lying on the bed, the LED Combo Light machine is rolled over, and the panels are positioned over your face. You are given eye protection before the lights are turned on. Most people pick either the stickers or the goggles, depending on their preference of what feels most comfortable. My facialist gave me both the eye stickers and the eye goggles to put on top of them, because she saw how “flinchy” I was under the light used for extractions.

My facialist told me exactly what would happen: I would be under the light for about 20 minutes, and that the first minute or so is intense, but then you kind of just get used to it and relax into it. “Most people fall asleep,” she said. “There’s not much else to do.”

Truth be told, I didn’t think lying under a panel of LED lights in a room with soothing spa music and an equally soothing facialist would take any getting used to, but if you’re the slightest bit claustrophobic (and I’m more than just a touch), there’s an adjustment period. The panels are placed a few inches away from your face, and the light is intense. If you try to lift your head just by accident, you’ll smack right into the panels (it doesn’t hurt, it’s just a little startling), and the light is so bright it took me about five minutes to truly feel relaxed and calm.

Once I hit that zen place though, where I was no longer feeling anxious about being closed in on by a panel of enveloping brightness, it was smooth sailing—and I would do it 100 times over for the results.

Temperature-wise, I never felt too hot while the light was being applied—the brightness is far more noticeable than any heat. I didn’t feel flushed until after the facial,…

Temperature-wise, I never felt too hot while the light was being applied—the brightness is far more noticeable than any heat. I didn’t feel flushed until after the facial, but that overheated feeling subsided within a few hours. In terms of immediate results, coworkers who didn’t know I’d gotten a facial said my skin looked great when I returned to work (always a good sign).

It was about three days after the facial that I really saw how clear and glowing my skin looked. Even better? It’s been the same every day since (now going on seven days post facial). I keep waking up and visibly detecting a glow I’ve never seen before. Furthermore, inflamed cysts (those tender, painful ones) that had been forming under the skin on my chin when I went into the facial, subsided soon after.

My facialist informed me that results could be anything from glowing skin to clearing up (check and check), but to keep in mind that some people do “purge,” so skin might get worse before it gets better. Thankfully, that did not happen for me.

Results from LED light therapy are cumulative, so you’re supposed to get better benefits from doing a treatment a week for eight to ten weeks. While my still ongoing results might be minor relative to what they can be with more treatments, the clarity and glow I got from this one facial have been significant enough for me to highly recommend LED light therapy.

According to the Lasers in Surgery and Medicine Journal from February 2007,  Blue and red light combination LED phototherapy is an effective, safe and non-painful treatment for mild to moderately severe acne vulgaris, particularly for papulopustular acne lesions.