Do LED red light therapies really work?

Both red and blue LED therapies are promoted as skin treatments with red being used for wrinkles and flaws and blue, for acne. There are a lot of claims out there about the positive effects of light-emitting diode (LED) skin devices, however, modern science is still trying to catch up with those claims.

Dr. Elizabeth Buzney, assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School says “I think it’s a really exciting emerging area,” but the evidence isn’t quite there yet. “Only recently have we started to talk about the effects of visible light on the skin — not necessarily LED light, but visible light in general.”

In the 1990s, red light therapy (RLT) was used by scientists to help grow plants in space. Now, red light therapy has become a controversial therapeutic technique to treat a variety of skin issues using red low-level wavelengths.

Does red light therapy really work?

Some studies show red light therapy really works. Low-level laser light therapy, which is another name for the RLT process, works by using red light which is natural and able to penetrate deep into the skin. There, cells are able to absorb and use it to produce more cell energy (adenosine triphosphate).

Does red light therapy reduce wrinkles?

A 2014 study showed that in dermatology, low-level laser light therapy was beneficial on wrinkles, acne scars, hypertrophic scars and the healing of burns. The study also showed that the light therapy was beneficial for UV damage, pigmentary disorders and inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis.

Another medical study published by Photomedicine and Laser Surgery showed that low light therapies at a spectral range from 600 to 1300 nm was useful for promoting wound healing, tissue repair and skin rejuvenation.

The study also goes on to say that photon emitters such as lasers or LEDs have proven to be effective light sources for non-thermal LED light (photobiomodulation or PBM), thereby demonstrating that it is not the technical type of light source, but the treatment parameters such as wavelength, irradiance, and fluence that are likely to be accountable for the effects.

Are there side effects to red light therapy?

Dr. Buzney says that for the most part, LED light therapies appear to be relatively safe, at least in the short term adding that the FDA has approved some products for home use. She says LED skin devices don’t have a lot of power, so they’re unlikely to burn your skin, however, it is important to shield your eyes from the light while using them.

Assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Marissa Heller stresses that if you are looking to treat a medical condition using LED light therapy, always confirm the diagnosis first with a doctor, adding that there is still a lot that’s not known about the effects of these devices. “The long-term safety of these light therapies remains uncertain.”