Nowadays, it seems like skin care enthusiasts are willing to try nearly anything to achieve that perfect glow. From gua shua massages to wrinkle patches, there are a myriad of intriguing, and sometimes strange, solutions on the market to address every skin concern.
In addition to tried-and-true serums and moisturizers, one of the latest innovative treatments is red light therapy. Available in a variety of devices like portable wands, lamps, masks and more, red light therapy is a go-to amongst dermatologists and a A-list clients like Chrissy Teigen and Kate Hudson.
“Red light therapy is a noninvasive treatment that uses low-level red light to improve the health and appearance of the skin,” explains Tyler Fish, co-founder of Sun Home Sauna. “Also known as photobiomodulation, it penetrates the skin at a cellular level [and] stimulates the production of collagen and elastin, which are essential proteins for healthy skin.”
Benefits of red light therapy
LED (light-emitting diode) therapy uses varying wavelengths that correlate to a specific color, each of which has different benefits. In addition to red, there are also blue, yellow, green and near-infrared light therapy. The main difference between these colors is the way in which each penetrates the skin — blue affects the outermost layer and helps to treat acne-causing bacteria, while near-infrared penetrates the deepest of all. While there are benefits to each, red and blue light therapy are most commonly used to address concerns like acne, wrinkles and scarring.
When exposed to low-level wavelengths, like with red light, the skin undergoes a regenerative process as the cells are stimulated and able to rejuvenate and stimulate new growth. The treatment is also used throughout the body for various reasons — often to treat wounds as well as promote hair growth amongst those who have alopecia.
“By improving cellular function, red light therapy has been shown to increase the production of collagen [and] help with skin tone and texture as well as fine lines and wrinkles,” explains Dr. Tiffany J. Libby, board-certified dermatologist and director of Mohs micrographic and dermatologic surgery at Brown University. “Studies also show improvement in acne by calming redness and inflammation.”
Red light therapy is easy to incorporate into your skin care routine. “Cleanse skin prior to red light therapy so that no makeup or sunscreen is on the face,” Libby says. “Apply your serums and moisturizers following.” With treatment times ranging from three to 15 minutes, it offers a quick moment of relaxation and rejuvenation.
Although red light therapy is safe and noninvasive, it is vital that the level of light used is not too harsh. Most at-home devices have instructions dictating the frequency and amount of light to use, but one should always consult a dermatologist if necessary. It is also important to avoid any harsh treatments directly after red light therapy and to continue with daily SPF usage, as the treatment may leave the skin sensitive to UV radiation.
While red light therapy has been around for decades, it is still an emerging treatment — and the efficacy of at-home devices can vary. Though it has proven benefits and is entirely safe to use on the skin in moderation, like many treatments, it is important to monitor your skin’s reaction and adjust your routine accordingly.
“If the red light is at too high of a level, it damages skin cells. If at too low of a level, it does nothing,” explains Dr. Brandith Irwin, board-certified dermatologist and founder of skintour.com and Concierge Dermatology & Laser in Seattle, Washington. “Low-level home devices appear to be safe, except for possible aggravation of pigment problems. If your skin is not showing any signs of stress, in my opinion, continue for two months and then stop if you’re seeing no positive changes.”
Omnilux’s red light mask is a popular choice due to its customizable composition (featuring 132 LEDs) as well as its ability to address fine lines, acne and more.
“This mask has a comfortable, flexible fit with clinical studies that demonstrate its red and near-infrared light-based device helps promote healthier and more youthful-appearing skin,” Libby explains.
SolaWave’s portable and handheld wands are a favorite amongst celebrities like Lil Nas X, Sydney Sweeney and Nicole Kidman. The brand’s latest device improves on its original 4-in-1 device that utilizes traditional red light therapy with a Galvanic current, therapeutic warmth and massage feature — soothing the skin and promoting the absorption of skin care products. Its small configuration allows the user to easily target certain areas like the chin, forehead and more.
While Therabody is known for its massage devices, its TheraFace Pro is truly the best of both worlds. The device combines LED therapy with several massage settings for the ultimate red light experience, in addition to other interchangeable heads.
It also has three different light settings: red, blue and red+ infrared, which each target certain skin concerns like acne, wrinkles and more. We tested the TheraFace Pro and loved the combinable therapies, where you can enjoy the skin benefits of LED treatment with a muscle-easing massage.
With different devices targeted to certain areas — like the neck, decolletage and eyes — CurrentBody’s range of products is ideal for those looking for a targeted approach to red light therapy. The brand’s eye perfector uses anti-aging LEDs to treat fine lines, crow's-feet and wrinkles, while the hands-free configuration makes it perfect for those on the go.
Experts say that Dr. Dennis Gross’ FaceWare Pro mask is worth the price tag, and editors agree. The device features 100 red and 62 blue lights that work simultaneously to address wrinkles, boost collagen production and reduce inflammation.
The device automatically shuts off after an allotted three minutes and features an adjustable silicone strap for a customized fit. The brand, like most dermatologists, recommends using the device on clean skin and following with your skin care routine.
While masks are great for all-over treatment, wands are perfect for those who want more control. This 4-in-1 wand features traditional LEDs (in red, blue and green light) as well as bio-wave, ionic channeling and massage modes.
The wand’s customizable technology allows the user to tailor the device to their skin care regimen. While red light helps to stimulate collagen production and reduce the appearance of fine lines, green light cleanses the skin and blue helps to calm redness and inflammation.
One of the more cost-friendly mask options on the market, this product from Skin Gym has blue, orange and red LEDs to specifically address acne, redness and dull skin. The wireless mask fully recharges in about two hours and features a 15-minute timer.
This mask’s user-friendly, compatible app (that allows users to track and schedule treatments) as well as its customizable settings — anti-breakout, anti-aging and more — create a one-of-a-kind red light experience.
“The Qure mask is one that I have been using at home and is currently sold out online,” Libby says. “This mask has two settings and combines five clinical-grade wavelengths of light, including infrared, red and blue lights, to help stimulate collagen and elastin production— promoting skin healing and preventing acne.”
While LightStim has a variety of LED devices, its wand that addresses wrinkles and fine lines is one of its bestsellers. The brand’s patented MultiWave technology emits several red light wavelengths (such as amber, dark red and infrared), making it a great choice for those looking for anti-aging benefits.
With LEDs ranging from 660 to 850 nanometers (the ideal wavelength for red light therapy), this at-home light from Sun Home Saunas is the perfect addition to your wellness routine. The digital control panel features a built-in timer and an adjustable stand.
“Generally, most people will begin to see noticeable improvements in their skin after eight to 12 weeks of consistent use,” says Fish. “Red light therapy is a safe and noninvasive treatment option, but it is not a quick fix and requires patience to see the desired improvements in skin health and appearance.”
Those looking for a smaller device packed with all of the healing benefits of red light therapy should check out the compact Foreo UFO 2. Its warming, cooling and sonic pulsations open pores while also locking in moisture and regenerating the skin’s surface.