A treatment formerly reserved for skin clinics and fancy facials has trickled its way into the mainstream, with an onslaught at-home LED light therapy devices promising a multitude of skincare benefits.
Simply put, LED light therapy works by exposing skin to different coloured wavelengths of light, each of which has a different effect on the skin – from reducing inflammation and acne, or banishing wrinkles and discolouration – at depths your topical products can’t reach on their own.
These futuristic-looking face masks have proven a hit with the Hollywood set, with everyone from Naomi Watts to Chrissy Teigen taking to Instagram to share a snap while donning one.
But are at-home LED face masks all they’re cracked up to be? Are they worth their designer price tags and do they actually help complement other treaments in your routine? Below, one expert weighs in.
What is LED light therapy?
LED (light emitting diode) therapy was originally developed by NASA in the 1990s to heal wounds and soothe inflammation during space missions. Soon after, the technology was quickly adopted by the skincare community after it was revealed the treatment also helped to stimulate collagen, fade age spots and combat acne.
As the founder and director of boutique skin clinic Mooi Skin Haley Asbridge explains, LED light therapy is like a workout for the skin.
“LEDs stimulate the mitochondria of the cell (powerhouse of the cell) so that your skin cells have more energy and work more effectively,” she says.
After a course of LED, Haley says skin cells function more effectively – and its ability to heal skin renders it as an excellent treatment for acne, rosacea and psoriasis, not to mention it supercharges collagen production to visibly reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
What colour LED do I need?
LED isn’t limited to one shade only – the term points to different wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum, each of which penetrate the skin and are absorbed by its receptors.
“The different coloured lights are at different depths in the skin and stimulate a different response,” Haley says.
Red is commonly found in at-home LED masks and deeply penetrates the skin to boost its cellular repair function and collagen stores, soothe inflammation and redness, to leave skin plump and youthful-looking.
Blue is best for breakouts, as its antibacterial properties kills off the bad bacteria that leads to acne. It’s also known for purifying pores and regulating sebum production, and plays nicely with red light when combined in at-home devices.
Yellow can be difficult to come by in at-home LED masks, but it works to bring down swelling and restore radiance to skin.
Infra-red light penetrates deeper than any other shade on the spectrum, working on a cellular level to address the signs of ageing by replenishing skin cells, supercharging collagen and elastin production and fast-tracking the skin’s wound healing response.
Do at-home LED face masks work?
While Haley says there are some LED face masks on the market that do work, not all LEDs are created equal.
“There are some brands on the market that are not powerful enough to create change in the skin and lack the clinic studies and FDA clearance,” Haley warns.
“Some of the ones that aren’t FDA cleared are just like putting a lightbulb next to your face. You need to make sure you do your research and find a good one. I wouldn’t bother with the ‘cheap and cheerfuls’ to be honest.”
Do at-home LED face masks replace the need for in-clinic LED treatments?
Short answer: no. There are benefits to both, but at-home LED masks don’t include as many bulbs as in-clinic LED machines and aren’t as powerful, meaning it may take longer to see visible results.
“No at home mask will be as powerful as some of the top LEDs (such as Healite) however they can really complement your at home routine and take it to the next level,” Haley says.
How often can they be used?
Consistency is key – use your at-home LED face mask every second day for 4-5 weeks and expect to see changes in your skin, before reducing your usage to once or twice a week to maintain results, Haley says.
“It's important to give 48 hours between treatments so that your cells can normalise before using it again. You may not see better results by doing it more frequently so we recommend every 48 hours,” Haley says.
What should I put on my face before my LED face mask?
For best results, Haley advises using your LED face mask on freshly cleansed skin, but if you feel the need to apply a product first, consider a water-soluble vitamin C such as the Aspect Dr Active C, $150.
Applying too many products before your LED treatment can prevent the wavelengths from penetrating into the skin as deeply. Afterwards, slather on your preferred serum and moisturiser.
Dr Dennis Gross Spectralite Faceware Pro, $711
The most recognisable of all the masks on this list, Dr Dennis Gross' LED device is fitted with a combination of 100 red and 62 blue LED lights to work three-fold to smooth the appearance of wrinkles, combat discolouration and clear acne. It's unique design fits snugly to facial contours, while a head strap ensures it stays in place for the full three-minute duration (apparently that's all the time that's needed to reap the full skin-caring benefits). Not to mention the pretty rose gold accents make it a little less "Freddy Kruger" and a little more gram-worthy.
Foreo UFO 2 Facial Treatment Device For All Skin Types, $453
If you require your facial device to have a few more features to justify its designer price tag, consider Foreo's spherical offering – which combines Swedish and Korean technologies. Four different functions allow you to tailor your treatment to your specific skin needs: cryotherapy to reduce puffiness, lift and firm skin; thermotherapy to help active skincare permeate deeply into skin; 8 full-spectrum LED lights in varying wavelengths to repair; and T-sonic pulsations to boost circulation and relieve facial tension.
CurrentBody Skin LED Light Therapy Mask, $547
Popular with celebrities like Carey Mulligan and Kristin Davis, this fully flexible mask delivers a double dose of LED light to the skin. It sees two different wavelengths combine (red and near infra-red light) which stimulates the skin's natural rejuvenation and wound healing processes, causing new, fresh skin to form.
OmniLux Contour Face, $899
Comfort is key, and this flexible face mask bends easily around facial contours and features two soft straps to sit across the back of your head for an ultra-snug fit during the 15-minute treatment. It harnesses the youth-giving powers of red and near infra-red light to help reverse the visible signs of ageing – including fine lines, wrinkles, pigmentation and redness.
MZ Skin Light Therapy Golden Facial Treatment Device, $986
This gold-standard skincare device features five different light settings to target myriad skin concerns including red light for collagen and elastin production, blue light to fight acne-causing bacteria, yellow light to reduce redness and boost circulation, green light to target discolouration and white light to soothe sensitive skin.
STOCKISTS: Currentbody.com; Dr Dennis Gross from Mecca or online at Meccabeauty.co.nz; Foreo from Sephora or online at Sephora.nz; MZ Skin from Revolve.com; OmniLux from Mooi Skin or online at Mooiskin.co.nz.