In the annals of popular beauty Instagram posts, selfies with LED light therapy masks have become as time-honored as swatch-loaded arms and pigment-mixing videos. But aside from providing Freddy Krueger-from-the-future photo ops, LED light therapy masks promise a more lasting impression: glowy skin with less acne.
The technology has been around for decades, and is commonly used by dermatologists and estheticians as an in-office treatment to help reduce inflammation after facials, minimize breakouts, and give an overall boost. “LED light is one of my absolute favorite treatments because it boosts collagen in the skin, minimizes fine lines and wrinkles, speeds up healing, and increases circulation to give you an amazing glow,” says celebrity esthetician Shani Darden. “Blue LED light kills acne-causing bacteria to clear up existing breakouts and prevent new ones from forming.”
But ever since stars like Jessica Alba (who happens to be Darden’s longtime client) started posting LED mask selfies from their own facial appointments back in 2016, the drive for at-home light therapy treatment has picked up steam, with countless devices of widely-varying price points and quality popping up for sale on Amazon, Sephora, and other retailers. Plastic LED masks made for home use may now be readily available, but how do they compare with heavy-duty machines used in the offices of the pros?
“Models in medi spas, which cover the whole face, are effective, and usually the treatment takes half an hour, making them good add-ons with a facial,” says Gabriel Chiu, M.D., a Beverly Hills-based plastic and reconstructive surgeon. That said, even light therapy treatments administered by pros don’t offer instant results, notes New York-based dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D. “It takes several weeks of continuous use to achieve skin improvements with light-based treatments,” he says.
Both doctors stress that LED masks for at-home use are typically less powerful, and therefore less effective than what you might get in office. “For LED light therapy to work, it has to applied for at least half an hour over any area,” says Dr. Chiu. The catch? Many of the at-home devices are made to be used just 10 minutes at a time. “Realistically, at-home devices are not being used for the proper amount of time to be effective,” Dr. Chiu confirms.
While LED masks may not kill the degree of acne-causing bacteria or stimulate collagen at the rate an in-office treatment might, Dr. Zeichner says there may still be benefits to lighting up at home. “At-home devices can give modest improvements and are most beneficial for people with modest or mild skin challenges,” he says. “They're also useful as maintenance between professional lasers treatments done in office and can typically be used alongside traditional topical creams.” Still, the derm warns LED light therapy isn't for everyone, as people with sensitive skin or rosacea are often not advised to undergo the treatment, as well as those who are prone to hyperpigmentation or melasma. He advises people to chat with their derm before making a DIY light therapy treatment plan at home.
If you're ready to take the LED plunge, selecting the right device is crucial. “Unfortunately, many of the devices on the market do not have adequate data to prove their effectiveness. My best recommendation is to stick to trusted brands who have published data,” Dr. Zeichner says. “The good news is that the energy level of most of the at-home devices is relatively low and they have almost no side effects — so the only harm to using them is to your pocketbook.”
For her part, Darden relies on the Deesse Pro mask, which uses a robust 770 LED lights and will be available in May for upwards of $2,000. “The more affordable LED masks on the market do not contain this many lights,” she says. “The strength of the lights, as well as the quantity, has a huge impact on how effective the mask is.” Of course, few of us are working with a Jessica Alba-sized bankroll to try light therapy at home. For the rest of us, read on for a few more budget-friendly options, ahead.
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