LED Light Therapy: Too Good to Be True?

Before I went to school for aesthetics, the only way I ever thought of light emitting diode (LED) technology had to do with flat-screen TVs (because LCD is sooo five years ago…) and the light bulbs and holiday lights that were supposed to be more energy efficient than the traditional ones.



I never would have thought that these lights would actually have well-researched benefits to the skin and the body’s overall health, nor would I have ever imagined the FDA would have actually approved certain LED therapy treatments. I mean who would have ever thought that shining a certain colored light on one’s face or body for a certain period of time every day could effectively treat:

  • Acne
  • Rosacea
  • Psoriasis
  • Fine lines and wrinkles
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Depression and other mental health issues
  • Muscle and joint pain and stiffness associated with arthritis
  • TMJ
  • Fibromyalgia
  • and more

Really? I would think that sitting in front of my LED TV and computer monitor for as many hours as I do would have me aging backwards by now if that were really true. I’m kidding, of course.

What is LED?



In terms of the LED used for light bulbs, TVs, monitors, etc, the LED light uses diodes instead of having a filament to provide light. OK so what’s a diode? “A diode hosts electrons moving inside of semiconductor material, which thus generates light. The light created within these diodes is a cool light, as opposed to the heated light in an incandescent bulbs filament.” Gee thanks for clearing that up.


When we refer to the LED light used for therapeutic purposes on the skin or to improve certain symptoms or conditions in the body, we are actually referring to infrared LED. Now I will be the first to admit that I fell asleep in this part of science class. I think that most of us know that only a tiny part of the electromagnetic spectrum is light that is visible to the naked eye. The rest of the spectrum, including microwaves, radio waves, infrared rays, UV rays, x-rays, and gamma rays is invisible to the naked eye. 

Many of these invisible waves of radiation can be very harmful to us if we are overexposed to them; an example would be UV rays causing skin cancers. However, some of them, such as infrared rays and far infrared rays (like those used in Wull Stone Therapy) are very beneficial. Infrared LED therapy combines visible light (typically red or blue light which each have different therapeutic properties) with the healing infrared rays to deliver these treatments which, after many regular treatments, have been shown to improve the conditions and symptoms listed above.

What kind of LED light is right my skin?



Like lasers, there is a different LED light to treat different skin conditions. For example, blue light is has antibacterial properties and has been FDA approved to treat acne. The light kills the p. acnes bacteria as it absorbs it. Red LED light is anti-inflammatory, repairs damaged cells, and is also said to regulate sebum production so it is often used in conjunction with blue light to treat oily skin, as well as inflammatory skin infections and conditions.


Red LED light also has been shown to rejuvenate the appearance of the skin after regular use over time, because when it penetrates into the dermis, it stimulates the production of collagen and elastin: the proteins responsible for keeping our skin plump, firm, and intact. It also helps repair cells that were damaged by the sun and other extrinsic factors, and reduce inflammation caused by free radical damage.


Rosacea and other skin conditions can also be treated with LED light therapy, by a trained professional who will administer and adjust the lights appropriately as to not irritate already inflamed and sensitive skin.

Yellow and green light is sometimes used for other therapeutic purposes or in combination with the red and blue lights.

How is LED different from a laser?



The beams of light emitted from lasers are highly dense and concentrated and highly focused beams that are designed to target small areas at a time. They work by heating the underlying tissue enough to cause enough inflammation to force the skin into survival mode to heal itself with “new” and younger looking skin. Others “zap” blood vessels, basically killing them so we no longer see them (the ones on the surface anyway…new ones will appear). Laser treatments often require the use of some kind of anesthesia, and result in enough inflammation to require a significant recovery period, or downtime. If done improperly, they can cause injury and scarring to the skin. If post-treatment orders are not followed, infection can occur.


LED therapy poses none of these risks because LED light is nowhere as dense or concentrated as laser. It targets a much wider area than lasers, and while it does penetrate into the tissues, it does not heat or inflame them.


Like lasers, LED requires several treatments to see results. However, unlike lasers, LED can be safely administered in low concentrations as often as daily; and does not require a medical environment or doctor’s supervision. In fact, there are many at-home LED units on the market that lay people can use on themselves for a few minutes every day.

If it is available for home use why should I have LED done at a spa?



Like many “professional” products that are marketed for home use, you have to be very careful that you are purchasing a quality product. There are a lot of gimmicks out there and LED is a very big trend right now that a lot of cosmetic companies are capitalizing on. These units come in different strengths and different price ranges, and it is very hard to know exactly what you are buying.


A licensed aesthetician who is trained in LED therapy will be able to properly analyze your skin to determine which LED lights are most appropriate for your current skin condition and can often adjust the strength and dosage (time) of the lights as you start seeing results and your goals progress. Many spas that offer light therapy do sell lower strength at-home LED units for clients to use as part of their daily home care regimen. These lights will typically be high quality and safe, and your aesthetician will educate you on their proper use as appropriate to your current treatment plan. Although LED light is very safe and has very few known side effects, like anything else, bad things can happen if it is misused.


Can anyone have LED treatments?



LED is non-invasive, painless, very safe, and does not cause any downtime if administered appropriately. However there are some contraindications that. Tell your aesthetician if your skin’s photosensitivity is compromised due to use of prescription strength retinoids like Retin-A or Accutane. Before starting LED, your aesthetician will take a brief history and will ask questions about specific conditions, like hypothyroidism or bipolar disorder that may contraindicate the treatment.


LED has been shown to be quite effective on most people who use it regularly and as directed, and there have been very few reported side effects. However, like most treatments, it won’t necessarily work the same for everyone. It may sound too good to be true, but as of now, there has not been evidence showing adverse effects.


If you are considering an invasive or aggressive aesthetic or cosmetic procedure, like microdermabrasion, chemical peels, or laser resurfacing; it may be worth your while to give LED a try. It is much safer, has no downtime or pain, and can be used regularly to maintain results.

*First image from BeautySmith, Light spectrum image from The Modern Green, Red, blue, yellow LED light image from ProLight Aesthetics International.

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