When it comes to acne and acne scarring, you might have looked into the benefits of treatments like laser and microneedling. But LED light (sometimes referred to as phototherapy by dermatologists) is gaining traction among those on a quest for clearer, more even-textured skin.
Not long ago, New York-based dermatologist, Dr Dennis Gross launched his targeted LED spot tool, which promises to "target and treat acne at all stages, even before it surfaces," using blue light, which "penetrates just beneath skin’s surface to fight acne-causing bacteria," and red light to "heal skin, reduce inflammation and redness." Since then, LED skincare has become even bigger, with Neutrogena launching an entire mask – the Visibly Clear Light Therapy Acne Mask – which harnesses both red and blue light to do virtually the same on a much larger scale. But are LED home devices like these effective at treating acne?
"Home devices are gaining popularity as they are non-invasive and can be fitted much more conveniently into people's skincare routines," explains Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and author of The Skincare Bible: Your No-Nonsense Guide To Great Skin. "There is some evidence that both blue and red light combined might be anti-inflammatory and reduce the number of inflammatory lesions (essentially inflamed, red spots) in mild acne sufferers. But what we don't yet know from rigorous scientific trials is variables such as the best light source, duration and frequency of use."
So are home devices worth it? "Home devices are likely to be far less powerful than clinic-based LEDs for safety reasons," adds Dr Mahto, "so the benefits might not be comparable." That said, not all of us have the time or money to book in for regular, professional skin treatments in clinic, and so look to home devices such as Neutrogena's acne mask for this reason. Having written about her acne on R29 before, social media assistant, Sadhbh O'Sullivan tested the mask every evening, on top of her acne skincare routine (which includes prescription strength Differin, prescribed by a GP) for a week to see if it could work as a quick fix and make any difference at all to her skin. Here's what she thought...
"I desperately wanted to try this mask, if for no other reason than it looks like what people in the '60s thought the future would look like. Retro-futurism that will allegedly cure my acne while making me look like a neon thumbnail is quite hard to argue against. In reality, though, I couldn't tell you if it actually worked. After cleansing (using the DHC pore cleanser (blue bottle), highly recommend) I'd settle in on my bed for 10 minutes of calming beautifying. What actually happened was either I was wearing my contact lenses and would endeavour to watch Derry Girls through the eye slots or I was wearing my glasses and therefore was temporarily blind and raging I couldn't watch Derry Girls.
"After 10 minutes there was no immediate noticeable difference except that my skin felt tighter and dryer and after a week there was no big change. Maybe on a couple of spots that have stopped being spots (if that makes sense), but my skin staining is really bad at the moment, so even if inflammation was reduced, the hyperpigmentation meant the redness was still there. Though, that's because of my type of skin not the product. I currently have more spots – the deep, painful cystic kind that stain your skin. Fun! However, I'd take that with a pinch of salt. My period was late so I had PMS skin for way longer than normal and I'm mid Differin purge. I might give it another crack once my skin has settled again. Or at least save it for Hallowe'en this year..."
If you're still intrigued about how LED can help with acne long term, Dr Justine Hextall, dermatologist at the Tarrant Street Clinic previously told R29 that LED light works better with an acne-specific skincare routine, rather than on its own. "LED is most effective as an adjunctive therapy in acne, so it is beneficial to combine it with topical treatment such as benzoyl peroxide and retinoid cream. A light peel prior to LED treatment may also help." Nurse Alice Jenkins at Harley Injectables hits home the importance of looking after your skin when using retinoids. "Retinol is a form of vitamin A, so keep in mind that it increases photosensitivity within the skin. It’s really important that if you are using it to also apply a daily SPF."
And like all skincare routines, consistency is key. In fact, most experts argue that it could take up to 12 weeks for a new routine to show the desired results, including new acne skincare routines, which could include LED treatments. Interestingly, the trials online allude to four months, with 98% of 52 Neutrogena mask users seeing improvements, according to the brand.
And finally, if you aren't seeing any improvements after 12 weeks of starting a new acne skincare routine, or if your skin is taking its toll on your mental health, it's worth visiting your GP or a qualified dermatologist (always check if they are on the General Medical Council register) for further help.