In skin care as in life, there's often a line drawn into the sand between the things you truly need (shoes on your feet, a roof over your head) and things that are more a form of pleasant diversion than they are useful (Gucci loafers, a brownstone with an out-of-use but still very chic fireplace on which to arrange your collection of vintage perfume bottles). But why separate everything into boxes of novelty versus necessity when you can have both? Go to the intersection of the frivolous and the functional, and that's where you'll find LED light masks.
LED stands for Light-Emitting Diode, a kind of electronic device that emits light when an electric current passes through it. These masks, then, harness the power of those light emissions and use them to treat skin in various ways, depending on which type of light — and what sort of results — you're going for. "Red and blue light are the most commonly used wavelengths in treating skin," says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. Red is anti-inflammatory, and can help to encourage collagen production for plumper, more youthful skin; blue kills acne-causing bacteria, and helps to curtail the inflammation known to cause breakouts. (There's also green and yellow, both of which may be helpful in treating redness and pigmentation.)
At one time, anything involving red light or LED may have sounded like something best left to a licensed electrician — but any skin-care savant with their ear to the ground is probably already aware of not only the role light can play in a treatment, but also the fact that you can administer them safely and easily at home with one of the several options available on the market. "The Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Mask really brought light-based technology to the masses, as it was never previously available at that price point," Dr. Zeichner says. At $35 for the Jason-style mask itself and the included activator (good for 10 uses, after which you'll need to replace it for $15), there's little downside to giving the drugstore gadget a try.
The same cannot be said for the other buzzy model, the one that celebrities can't get enough of: the Deesse Pro LED Mask, a favorite of facialist-to-the-stars Shani Darden, which you can add to your at-home arsenal for a cool $2,300. With a price difference that staggering, it's hard not to wonder what, exactly, could warrant a roughly 6,570% increase in cost from one LED mask to the next. In this case, it turns out that there is some veracity to the old adage of "you get what you pay for." More than just a matter of marketing strategy, the varying prices are dependent not just on the type of technology used, but also what the mask is actually made of.
"The light may be similar, but the materials used to make the mask itself, and the ability to specify different light wavelengths, strengths, and treatment times results in a significant increase in cost," Dr. Zeichner explains. The more advanced the technology, and the higher the quality of the material, the more expensive the mask — which seems fair enough. And if you found yourself falling in love with LED treatments after having them performed by a professional and want the same effects at home, or if you've just got (a lot of) cash to burn, the higher-end models may be worth it: Their strength, Dr. Zeichner says, is comparable to what you can get from some in-office procedures.
But nobody should go broke trying to chase the light-therapy dragon, nor should you assume that just because Jessica Alba swears by a fancy LED mask, it'll give you glowing A-lister skin, too. "I always think it's important to have a dermatologist on board to make sure that light therapy is really the best option for whatever your skin issue is," Dr. Zeichner says. "In some cases, LED light is not ideal and other lasers may be better; in other cases, a topical treatment is ideal." So unless you're absolutely certain you want to put your money where your LED mask is, give the $35 one a whirl and pocket the rest. $2,300 is a hell of a lot of money... and, come to think of it, might just cover the security deposit on that pre-war two-bedroom with the ornamental fireplace.