Skincare fads come and go, but I try to avoid them. I do a ton of research to make sure that I only spend money on skin ingredients and treatments that have been shown to be effective.
One of the treatments I’ve been researching is red and blue light therapy. I’ve been hearing about the many benefits it supposedly has for the skin.
Well, after reading tons of studies, articles, and product reviews, I purchased two different LED (light emitting diode) light therapy devices.
So what convinced me that LED light therapy was the real deal? In this article, I’ll cover all the details of why red and blue light therapy are effective for both anti-aging and acne.
Red light LED therapy is most effective at wavelengths of 630 and 660 nanometers. It increases collagen production, reduces fine lines and wrinkles, and is anti-inflammatory. Blue light LED therapy is most effective at killing acne bacteria and has been proven to be most effective at a wavelength of 415 nanometers.
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Red Light Therapy Benefits for Skin
Studies show red light therapy treatments not only reduce fine lines and wrinkles but also boost the production of collagen in the skin. In my opinion, increasing collagen production is the most important thing we can do to fight the signs of skin aging. Think of collagen as the scaffolding that is holding up our skin. As we age we produce less and less collagen, and skin starts to sag and wrinkle.
There are precious few skin treatments or ingredients that actually have clinical trials showing they increase collagen production in the skin, and red light therapy is one of them.
The most common wavelengths for red light LED therapy are 630 nanometers and 660 nanometers. Multiple studies have shown both of these wavelengths to be effective. If you decide to try red light therapy, either with an in-office treatment or a home device, I would make sure it has one of those two wavelengths.
This study is just one of several showing that red light therapy is effective at boosting collagen production. One important thing to note in this study is that participants were randomly separated into groups so that light therapy could be compared against a control group.
The study results noted the following:
The treated subjects experienced significantly improved skin complexion and skin feeling, profilometrically assessed skin roughness, and ultrasonographically measured collagen density. The blinded clinical evaluation of photographs confirmed significant improvement in the intervention groups compared with the control.
Not only did photographs show significant improvement but the collagen density was actually measured with ultrasound and shown to have improved! Excuse my excitement but this is a big deal for skincare nerds like me!
After reading those great results, I do feel the need to be realistic about the improvements we can expect to see in our skin. Red LED light therapy is not something that is going to give you overnight or dramatic results.
It will take at least 12 weeks before you see a difference in your skin, and when you do it’s not going to be the huge results that you could expect to see with a deep chemical peel or laser treatment. On the other hand, you also aren’t going to get the very significant side effects or price tag of a peel or laser treatment.
There are trade-offs to every decision we make about our skin. In the case of LED light therapy, we have a very gentle treatment that is cost-effective and easy to use. The trade-off is that it gives subtle results. I think of it as more of a preventative treatment than anything. By increasing my skin’s collagen production I am preventing wrinkles and sagging skin from occurring.
Blue Light Therapy Benefits for Skin
Blue light LED therapy has been shown to be effective at reducing acne. Most blue light used in skincare devices is at 415 or 420 nm. The two primary ways that blue light therapy works are by killing p. acnes bacteria and by reducing activity in the sebaceous glands of our skin, so they produce less oil.
In this 8 week study, participants used a blue light of 414nm on their face for 6 minutes a day for 8 weeks. The device was for at home use, not an in-office treatment. Acne papules and comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) were all significantly reduced with no side effects.
Here’s a quote from the conclusion of the study:
The study showed that daily self treatment using the device for mild-to-moderate inflammatory acne reduced the number of acne lesions significantly. Moreover, the study demonstrated a significant improvement of the subjects’ skin conditions.
Similar to red light therapy, blue light therapy is safe and has very few side effects.
While blue light is an effective treatment on its own, I find it’s very easy to combine with other acne treatments. I think this gives the best results. I suffer from hormonal acne, and I combine blue light therapy with salicylic acid to significantly reduce my monthly breakouts.
The best way that I have found to use blue light on acne is to use it the moment you start to feel a breakout coming on. In my experience, this often prevents it from erupting into a full-blown breakout.
One thing to keep in mind is if you have severe acne, blue light alone may not be enough to control it and get completely clear skin. The studies I have found showed it was effective for moderate acne.
How Light Therapy Works
LED light therapy devices are made to emit light at very specific wavelengths. The wavelengths are measured in nanometers (nm) and the length determines the color. For example, a 630nm light wave is red while a 415nm light wave is blue. Different wavelengths penetrate the skin to different depths, and that’s what causes them to have a variety of results.
As you can see in the illustration above from this study, red light (600-690 nm range) penetrates the skin significantly deeper than blue light (390-470 nm range). This allows the red light to affect the skin’s deeper structures while the blue light works on the acne-causing problems on the skin’s surface.
The light has an effect on the mitochondria of skin cells, actually stimulating their energy production. One thing to note about LED light is that it does not contain any UV rays, like UVA and UVB, that can damage and age our skin.
There are other wavelengths of light that have also been effective. This study goes into detail on wavelengths that I haven’t discussed here, such as green light and near-infrared light.
Types of Red and Blue Light Therapy Devices
You can find LED light therapy for your skin in face masks, handheld bulbs, and light panels that range from the size of a paperback book to full body length.
Because red light has the most research behind it, it’s the most popular LED light therapy color. Due to its popularity, you can find the most options for different devices for your skin. If you are looking for blue light to fight acne, your choices are usually a face mask or a small handheld device.
Red and Blue LED Light Face Masks
Red and blue LED face masks have become very popular in recent years. You can find lots of them on Amazon or at other retailers ranging from about $50 all the way up to $1,500.
Some of these masks are only one color (usually red) but others are able to be switched to up to 7 colors. Is there really a need to buy a mask that has up to seven colors? I don’t think so since not all of them have research showing they work.
While there is some evidence that other colors can be effective, my goals for light therapy are anti-aging and fighting hormonal breakouts. Red and blue light are the two colors that have the most research behind them and have been shown to be effective for my goals.
In the future, I would like to try green LED light since it is supposed to be helpful with hyperpigmentation. So you never know, I may end up with a 7 color mask after all!
If you do buy an LED light mask, make sure it specifies the wavelengths that it emits for each color. You could be throwing your money away if you buy a mask that doesn’t use the correct wavelengths and I’ve seen several on Amazon that don’t have them listed.
Red and Blue LED Light Panels
LED light therapy panels are often less expensive than a face mask and offer a higher number of lights that are of a brighter intensity. Because of this, I chose to purchase a red light panel over a face mask. (I bought this one from Hooga).
Since a panel provides more light of a deeper intensity, you usually need to use it for less time than a mask. I stand or sit in front of my panel for about 5 minutes most days of the week.
The other benefit to a panel is that it covers more area. I am very careful to take care of the skin on my neck and chest, not just my face. My panel is 18 inches tall, so it’s large enough to cover my chest, neck, and face all at once. In 5 minutes I am completely done. Between family and work, I just don’t have time for a long skincare routine.
You can get a high-quality 9 inch panel for less than $100, and often less when they are on sale. Because mine is 18 inches, I paid about $300 for it. That’s not cheap, but since skincare is a priority for me, I don’t mind investing in a skincare ingredient or device if the research is there showing it works and I’m paying for a high-quality product.
Note: If you are looking for primarily blue light, you won’t find many panels available. I’d recommend a mask if you want to cover your entire face. I use a small handheld device (this one) since I usually only breakout on my chin.
Red and blue LED handheld devices
Red and blue LED handheld devices are great for travel since they are small and portable.
The drawback is they only cover a small amount of your skin at once. So if you are using red light for anti-aging and need to cover your whole face (plus I recommend your neck too) you may be stuck using a handheld device for up to an hour a day just to cover all that surface area.
I do recommend a handheld device for blue light if you only tend to breakout on one area of your face. For me, that would be my chin and I usually only get one breakout a month. It’s easy to use a handheld device just on my chin, for the few days a month I need. (I use this one).
What To Look For In A Blue or Red LED Light Device
When looking for an LED light device the most important thing is going to be making sure the bulbs are emitting the correct wavelength of light so that is effective for your skin. If a product does not have the wavelengths listed, do not buy it.
You also want to check the strength of the light, which is usually called irradiance. For face maks, many manufacturers do not provide this information. However, for panels, it’s very common and I wouldn’t buy one where the manufacturer didn’t provide it.
Most manufacturers will tell you how strong the light is at a certain distance for example 6, 12, or 18 inches away from the device. You can use this information to determine how far away to stand from the panel and for how long. There are online calculators that will help you calculate this, and your panel will most likely come with instructions.
The lights being at the correct wavelength and the strength of the light are the two most important factors to look for when buying a device. Other things to note are any warranty offered as well as the return policy.
If you are buying a panel you also need to decide on the size, If you just want to cover your face a small panel of 9 or 12 inches may be sufficient.
Many manufacturers sell much larger panels that are meant to cover either the entire body or half of the body at once. These panels normally include both near-infrared light as well as red light. Near-infrared light penetrates deeper into the body (including into connective tissue and muscle tissue) and is used for a variety of health concerns, including, joint pain, wound healing, and pain relief.
My panel contains both red and near-infrared wavelengths. Either one can be switched off but I normally use both since the near-infrared may also have some benefits.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use both red and blue light on my skin?
You can use both red and blue LED lights on your skin to achieve the benefits of both. I usually use red light every day and blue light only the few days of the month I am breaking out. On the days I use both, I use blue in the morning and evening and red only in the evening. Since LED lights generally do not cause irritation, in fact, they can soothe irritation, it’s fine to use them close together.
How often should I use red light therapy for my skin?
For the best results use red light LED therapy a minimum of 3 to 4 days a week. Because this is a treatment that is going to produce slow and steady results using it consistently is very important. If you only use your device once or twice a week you are unlikely to see any visible results (although you may still be benefiting your skin at a cellular level). I use my red light device 5 or 6 days a week.
I haven’t found any studies that used red light therapy more than once a day, so that’s what I stick to.
How often should I use blue light therapy for my skin?
Because blue light therapy is primarily used to kill acne bacteria, your usage will vary depending on your acne. If you are a person with consistent acne you may want to use it every day. For someone like me, with hormonal breakouts, I use it only those days I need it. Many studies with blue light used it twice a day, so that’s what I do, using it morning and evening right after I cleanse my face.
Who should use red and blue light therapy?
Both red and blue LED light therapy are very gentle on skin, so all skin types can use them. I have sensitive skin that is very easily irritated, and I’ve had absolutely no problems. There is no recovery time, in fact, there is no redness or signs of any irritation on the treated area. It’s also very easy to use, even the first time. It doesn’t take too much coordination just to stand in front of a light!
If you are looking for something new in the treatment of acne, or to fight the signs of skin aging, then blue or red light treatment may be a good choice for you.
Who should not use red and blue light therapy?
The person who may be unhappy with LED light therapy, at least from an anti-aging perspective, is someone who wants fast or dramatic results.
If you are looking for fast results for wrinkles, uneven skin tone, and other sun damage and you have the budget for it, look into microdermabrasion, chemical peels, or laser treatments.
I’ve written an article here comparing microdermabrasion and chemical peels that you may find helpful. This article compares microdermabrasion with a hydrafacial, which is more gentle and less expensive.
Final Thoughts On Red And Blue Light Therapy Benefits For Skin
I hope you found this article helpful and full of information to help you choose the best LED light therapy device for you.
Buying a skin care device can be expensive and I want to make sure that my readers don’t In throw away their money on the latest fads and trends that may not be effective.
In the case of red and blue light treatment, I do think the science is there showing that it really is beneficial for our skin.
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