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How Red Light Therapy Works and 6 Benefits to Know, According to Dermatologists

Updated: May 7

Red light therapy is the latest buzzy skincare treatment users on social media tout for its anti-aging properties. And with celebrities like Kate Hudson, Victoria Beckham, and Chrissy Teigen posting pictures donning glowing, light-emitting face masks or waving red wands over their faces, red light therapy benefits must be worth the hype—right? But what is red light therapy, exactly, and how does it work?


According to Jodi LoGerfo, D.N.P., A.P.R.N., F.N.P.-B.C., D.C.N.P. of the Orentreich Medical Group in New York City, red light therapy (RLT) involves using light-light emitting diode (LED) devices that “produce varying wavelengths of light that treat a variety of skin issues, including acne, psoriasis, fine lines, and wrinkles.” Also known as low-level laser light therapy (LLLT), low-power laser therapy (LPLT), or photobiomodulation (PBM), this non-invasive treatment has become an increasingly popular option for its touted skin health benefits.


Meet the experts: Diane Madfes, M.D., F.A.A.D., a board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine; anti-aging and regenerative medicine doctor Neil Paulvin, D.O.; Anthony Youn, M.D., plastic surgeon and author of Younger for Life Feel Great and Look Your Best with the New Science of Autojuvenation


If you’re wondering if you should incorporate red light therapy into your skincare routine, here’s what dermatologists say you should know—including the low-down on its touted benefits, safety, and risks, and whether at-home treatments are truly worth the money.


What is red light therapy?

Red light therapy usually takes the form of a face mask, light panel, or wand equipped with LED lights, which you place near your skin to let your cells “absorb” the light. “Red light therapy is theorized to work on the mitochondria of our cells—the engine,” explains LoGerfo. “This gives the cells of the body more energy, allowing other cells to function with maximum productivity. For the skin, this includes skin restoration and repair which can help increase new cell growth and intensify the restoration process.”


Red light therapy benefits

Red light therapy benefits may include the following, according to experts:


  • Reduce the appearance of wrinkles. It benefits elastin and collagen in the skin causing the skin to feel smoother, more toned, and also appear less wrinkled, says Anthony Youn, M.D., plastic surgeon and author of Younger for Life Feel Great and Look Your Best with the New Science of Autojuvenation.

  • Increase circulation

  • Decrease inflammation

  • Address acne. LoGerfo says red light therapy may help treat acne, says LoGerfo. “They also can decrease redness and help acne marks to fade faster,” says Diane Madfes, M.D., F.A.A.D., a board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine

  • Help with hyperpigmentation and psoriasis. LoGerfo says

  • May help with hair loss. LoGerfo says that red light therapy may increase hair growth and density.


LED light therapy isn’t just limited to red light, either; various wavelengths can have varying effects on your body, explains Dr. Madfes. “Blue light is anti-microbial, red light decreases inflammation and induces collagen remodeling.


Red light therapy side effects and safety

Red light therapy is considered to be completely safe—as long as you make sure to wear eye protection goggles. “Damage to the eyes can occur from long-term blue or red-light exposure,” warns LoGerfo.


Side effects from red light therapy are minimal—and if there are any, they’re usually mild—but there are certain conditions in which it might be best to avoid the treatment.


Specifically, anti-aging and regenerative medicine doctor Neil Paulvin, D.O. doesn’t recommend it if you have seizures or eye disorders. “Flicker (changes of frequency of light) at a high rate can lead to headaches, dizziness, and possible seizures at worst,” he notes.


Similarly, Dr. Madfes doesn’t recommend red light therapy for anyone with photosensitizing medical conditions, such as lupus, or anyone taking a photo-sensitizing drug (including tetracycline, doxycycline, hydrochlorothiazide, naproxen).


You should also avoid it if you have any open wounds or lesions on your skin.


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