LED masks may offer different benefits depending on the color of light used.
They look robotic — like a Stormtrooper from Star Wars, if you will — and promise to give you clearer, smoother-looking skin. Called LED light masks, they are what they sound like: devices illuminated by LED lights that you wear over your face.
Here’s what you need to know before investing in the celebrity-beloved beauty trend, including how and if the masks work, what you’ll pay, and the best products according to board-certified dermatologists.
Are LED Masks Safe to Use?
LED masks have an “excellent” safety profile, according to a review published in February 2018 in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology.
And though you may have heard more people talking about them lately, they’re nothing new. “These devices have been around for decades and are generally used by dermatologists or aestheticians in an in-office setting to treat inflammation after facials, minimize breakouts, and give skin an overall boost,” says Sheel Desai Solomon, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Today, you can purchase these devices and use them at home. (Most of the full masks cost in the $100 to $500 range. More on this later.)
Social media is a possible reason you may have seen recent coverage of these otherworldly devices in beauty publications. Supermodel and author Chrissy Teigen hilariously posted a pic of herself on Instagram last year wearing what looks like a red LED mask (and drinking wine out of a straw). Actress Kate Hudson shared a similar photo a few years back.
The convenience of improving your skin while sipping vino or lying in bed may be a huge selling point — it makes skin care look easy. “If people believe they work as effectively as an in-office treatment, they save time commuting to the doctor, waiting to see a dermatologist, and money for office visits,” Dr. Solomon says.
What Does an LED Mask Do to Your Skin?
Each mask employs a different spectrum of light wavelengths that penetrate skin to trigger changes within skin at the molecular level, says Michele Farber, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City.
Each spectrum of light produces a different color to target various skin concerns.
For instance, red light is designed to increase circulation and stimulate collagen, making it useful for those who are looking to reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles, she explains. A loss of collagen, which tends to happen in aging and sun-damaged skin, can contribute to fine lines and wrinkles, past research in The American Journal of Pathology shows.
On the other hand, blue light targets bacteria that cause acne, which can help stop the cycle of breakouts, notes research in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in June 2017. Those are the two most common and popular colors used, but other masks on the market use additional lights, such as yellow (to reduce redness) and green (to lessen pigmentation).
Do LED Masks Actually Work?
The research behind LED masks is centered on the lights used, and if you’re going on those findings, LED masks can be beneficial to your skin.
For instance, in a March 2017 study in Dermatologic Surgery of more than 50 women, researchers found that red LED light treatment improved measures of eye-area wrinkles.
When it comes to acne, a March/April 2017 issue of Clinics in Dermatology that reviewed available research noted that red and/or blue light therapy for acne reduced blemishes by 46 to 76 percent after 4 to 12 weeks of treatment. That said, other research on blue light, like a review in the Annals of Family Medicine in November/December 2019, are far less promising when it comes to blue light’s ability to clear skin.
Research shows that blue light penetrates skin’s hair follicles and pores. “Bacteria can be very susceptible to the blue light spectrum. It stops their metabolism and kills them,” says Solomon. This is advantageous for preventing future breakouts. “Unlike topical treatments that work to ease inflammation and bacteria on the surface of the skin, light treatment eliminates the acne-causing bacteria in the skin before it begins to feed on the oil glands, causing redness and inflammation,” she adds. Because red light reduces inflammation, it also may be used in combination with blue light to address acne.
But it’s helpful to keep your expectations in check. “Not all at-home devices deliver the same strength that a clinical device can. What can be accomplished at home will not always have the same effect as what can be achieved at a dermatologist’s office, where treatment is calibrated and regulated,” says Solomon.
Another consideration is that you have a good skin-care regimen set in place to act in conjunction with light therapy. “This isn’t a good monotherapy. Light devices can help as long as they’re used with topicals or in-office treatments,” says Dr. Farber
A Final Word on Using LED Light Therapy Products
LED light masks and devices are best used to help stimulate collagen production and kill the bacteria that cause acne breakouts, though they don’t replace your regular skin-care routine. As at-home devices, they may be less effective than in-office procedures at your dermatologist’s office. Take proper precautions before using them, including wearing eye protection and following directions, in order to stay safe while treating your skin.