What Can Red Light Therapy Do for Your Skin?

Middle-aged woman holding a red light therapy device to her face.

If you care about skin care, then you’ve likely heard about red light therapy. Red light therapy (RLT) is a therapeutic treatment that uses red LEDs to produce low-level wavelengths that penetrate the skin in a non-invasive way. Mitochondria in the body’s skin cells absorb the red light to create energy, which experts believe helps with cellular repair and health. Although red light therapy has a wide range of applications for both beauty and pain relief, much of the interest is in its applications for anti-aging

Today it is easier than ever to use red light therapy at home thanks to portable LED devices now available. Whether you own a device already, or you want to investigate the technology before you buy, here’s everything you need to know about red light therapy for beauty.

What is Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy uses LEDs (light-emitting diodes) that produce minimally invasive wavelengths of light to promote cellular growth and treat a range of skin conditions. LEDs use semiconductor chips composed of diodes on a reflective surface to produce light. How the semiconductor is composed determines the wavelengths and colors of the light, such as blue, yellow, red, and infrared. Different wavelengths (colors) of light penetrate different depths of the skin. Red light is in the 630-700nm spectrum, making it effective for treating signs of aging, such as wrinkles. (See this article in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology for a comprehensive clinical history of LEDs.)

LEDs generate less heat than standard light bulbs. Because of the lower temperature, LED light therapy devices can be used comfortably and regularly on the body. Red light devices often produce visible light you can see, as well as infrared wavelengths that are outside the visible spectrum. While LED technology dates back to the 1960s, NASA in the 1990s was the first to use a narrower wavelength of light for clinical applications.

Today, red light therapy has a variety of clinical and consumer uses. (You may also hear it called low-level laser therapy (LLLT), low-power laser therapy (LPLT), or photobiomodulation (PBM).) Most prominently, red LED devices are used for at-home anti-aging skin care treatments.

How Does Red Light Therapy Work Below the Skin’s Surface?

Although red LEDs do not feel hot to the touch, they create friction and heat below the skin’s surface. Energizing cells in this way increases their activity, causing them to reproduce faster. Cells take in energy through their mitochondria, which tells them it’s time to divide. Using red light therapy is like a boost to your skin cells’ metabolism. 

Each time a skin cell splits from the energy of red LEDs, it creates two new copies of itself. As new cells emerge, they displace old, damaged cells that contribute to signs of aging. The result of light therapy treatments is more healthy skin cells, which can help to contribute to a more youthful appearance. 

Red light therapy can also increase your blood circulation to bring more oxygen and nutrients to your skin’s surface. Increased blood flow also contributes to faster skin cell regeneration. Unlike laser therapy or abrasion, red light therapy doesn’t need to destroy your skin tissue in order to rebuild it. Instead, the minimally invasive light boosts your skin’s natural cellular regeneration.

Uses of Red Light Therapy for Anti-Aging Treatments

Many of the most popular benefits of red light therapy involve treating signs of age in the skin. Red light treatments have been shown to help reduce the appearance of:

  • wrinkles
  • crow’s feet
  • dark spots

Additionally, red light energy may also help with healing wounds and mitigating the appearance of scars. When used with blue lights, red light may also help reduce acne and blemishes. Other applications for red light therapy include regenerating muscle tissue, gum tissue, and other areas of the body.

What Evidence is There that Red Light Therapy Works?

It’s not only customers and influencers who appreciate red light therapy. Doctors and scientists also vouch for the treatment. The following scientific research studies support the efficacy of red light therapy for clinical skin treatments.

Improved Complexion

Researchers in Germany conducted a randomized, controlled study of 136 volunteers. After 30 treatment sessions of varying lengths, the subjects experienced “significantly improved skin complexion and skin feeling,” including less roughness and denser collagen.

Cell Regeneration

A study out of the Medical College of Wisconsin showed increases in growth of 155-171% of normal human skin cells in a lab. The same researchers that Navy SEALs experienced significantly faster healing of musculoskeletal training injuries by using LED light therapies.

Of course, the best evidence is your own. Many customers start with a small device and work up to larger devices as they become convinced of red light therapy’s potential for their skin.

Does Red Light Therapy Have Side Effects?

When using red light therapy in a dermatologist’s office or FDA-cleared home devices, the treatment is generally considered safe. Red and infrared LEDs contain no UV rays, so there’s no risk of skin cancer like from the sun. Too much LED exposure for too long could potentially cause burns or eye damage. Follow the manufacture’s instructions to avoid overdoing light therapy

*It is also advisable to consult with your dermatologist or medical provider before beginning a new skin care treatment to rule out any individual risk factors you may have.

How Long Does Red Light Therapy Take to Work?

Like most beauty products, the effects of red light therapy take time. Each device comes with its own recommended usage time, usually from three to 10 minutes per treatment area. You can choose to use it once or twice a day, or every other day, as your schedule allows. Consistency is key to seeing results. Even so, improvement to skin tone and appearance will happen gradually. You may see minor results quickly, but you will continue to see the full effects over three to six months. After that, you will want to use the device less frequently for maintenance. 

It’s best to track your results with “before” and “after” photos. Once you have your new device, take photos every day or week in the same position, and report the results over time. It’s also important to use your device correctly for the best results.

What Red Light Therapy Devices are Available for Skin Care?

Red light devices have come a long way from when NASA first used them for clinical purposes. Now anyone can buy them to perform red light treatments at home. Finding the right device depends on the size of the device and its range of applications.

Portable devices like Glō and the reVive® Clinical Wrinkle Reduction wand can be easily stored in a purse for on-the-go wrinkle treatments, while larger foldable panels like the dpl® II can treat large areas of the face, neck, or back in single treatments. Explore all reVive Light Therapy® anti-aging products today.

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