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Red Light Therapy Mask: Benefits, Drawbacks, and Types

Red light therapy masks are the latest innovation in the world of skincare. With the potential to improve wrinkles, acne, skin redness, and many other cosmetic complaints, it’s no wonder these products are taking off. As a noninvasive treatment that can be conveniently used at home, red light therapy masks offer a promising solution for achieving healthier, more youthful-looking skin.

Here, we’ll explore red light therapy masks, their potential benefits, side effects, and alternative treatments. We’ll also examine the latest research to discover how effective these products really are.

What is a red light therapy mask?

A red light therapy mask is a skincare device that delivers specific wavelengths of red light to the skin on your face. Many of these masks combine red light with blue and near-infrared light, which may provide extra benefits.

Red light therapy aims to increase collagen production, boost circulation, and reduce inflammation. Initial research shows promising results, although further research is needed to confirm these possible effects.

Low wavelengths of red light are usually selected for use in a red light therapy mask. According to 2013 research, these wavelengths penetrate specific skin depths — between 1–2 millimeters. These wavelengths of red light don't create heat but may provide positive therapeutic effects for your skin.

Therapeutic red light is thought to enhance mitochondrial function, the part of your skin’s cells that provides energy. Mitochondria deliver energy through producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the energy carrier in cells, and red light therapy may boost this process. By improving mitochondrial function, cells may work more efficiently and repair themselves.

Types of red light therapy masks

There are several different types of red light therapy masks, each with their own unique benefits. Let’s explore each type in more detail.

Flexible silicone masks

Flexible silicone masks are designed for comfort. They mold to the contours of your face, distributing light evenly and ensuring maximum skin contact. They are often lightweight and easy to use, making them ideal for home treatment. Flexible silicone masks usually come with adjustable straps and can be easily cleaned after each use.

Rigid plastic masks

Rigid plastic masks provide a more structured fit and are generally more durable. However, they can cause discomfort over time, especially if they don’t fit well. The structure of rigid plastic masks ensures the LEDs are positioned at the right distance from your skin, providing consistent treatment across your entire face.

Combination light masks

Combination light masks contain LEDs that emit near-infrared or blue light in addition to red light. Some models even feature all three types.

These masks are designed to target both superficial and deeper skin layers. Combination light masks target a variety of skincare needs and may be a good option if you’re looking for multiple benefits from a single device.

Professional-grade masks

Professional-grade red light therapy masks are often used in clinical settings but are also available for home use. These masks usually offer a higher power output and advanced features, such as customizable light settings and treatment programs. They are designed for people who require more intensive treatment and are willing to invest in a higher-end product.

Choose the mask that feels best for you and offers the right features, number of LEDs, and types of light therapy for your needs. If you’re unsure what you need, speak to a healthcare professional before starting treatment.

Reviewing the benefits of red light therapy masks

Red light therapy may work in several different ways. Early research suggests it may have the following benefits for the skin, although more robust studies with larger numbers of participants are needed to confirm these.

Acne treatment

Red light therapy may reduce inflammation in areas affected by acne, which may improve symptoms. Research on the combination of red and blue light suggests it may improve both inflammatory and non-inflammatory acne lesions. However, most studies on this topic have a relatively small number of participants.

Wrinkle and fine line improvement

Red light therapy may also stimulate collagen production, reducing the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. However, much of the research on this topic focuses on red light therapy combined with other forms of light therapy (such as near-infrared light). A small 2017 study published in Dermatologic Surgery investigated the effects of red vs. white light on wrinkles in 52 women. For 12 weeks, the participants' faces were treated daily with either red or white LEDs. The group treated with red light showed improvement, but not significantly high enough to indicate any definitive outcomes.

Improved skin texture and color

A 2023 study on men found that red light therapy improved skin texture, as well as fine lines, wrinkles, and youthful appearance. This makes it a promising anti-aging treatment for skin health.

Side effects of red light therapy masks

In general, red light therapy masks appear safe to use, and there is no evidence of serious side effects. However, as a relatively new treatment still under research, the long-term safety of these masks is unknown. Mild side effects may include skin redness, skin darkening, and blistering if the dosage of red light is too high.

Research suggests that people with darker skin should exercise caution when using red light therapy. Darker skin is more photosensitive and may require lower doses than paler skin to avoid skin damage. The same is true for people taking medications that make their skin more light-sensitive.

While no clear guidelines around dosage for red light therapy have been established, you can greatly reduce your risk of side effects by following product guidelines and consulting a healthcare professional for advice before starting treatment.

Some people worry about the risk of eye damage from red light therapy masks. However, there is no research to support this. There have been no studies specifically on eye safety and red light therapy masks. Further studies on the long-term effects of red light on eye health are needed before any firm conclusions can be made.

The effectiveness of red light therapy masks: do they work?

Research is still emerging on the effectiveness of red light therapy masks, but early results are promising. There are limited studies specifically on the use of masks, and most of those focus on red light combined with other forms of light therapy, such as infrared and blue light.

Most trials also have relatively small numbers of participants, so larger-scale studies are needed before any definitive conclusions can be made.

Alternatives to red light therapy masks

In the quest for perfect skin, many other treatments have been developed that can be used alongside or instead of red light therapy. Not all types of treatment are suitable to be used together, and you should consult a healthcare professional before starting any new type of skin treatment. Here are some of the alternatives:

Red light therapy panels

Red light therapy panels are similar to masks but offer broader coverage and are used for full-body treatments. These panels emit red light to address various skin concerns, such as acne, inflammation, and aging.

Red light panels can be used at home, though they often require more space and investment. You can also purchase panels that emit different wavelengths of light, including blue and near-infrared, for a range of potential benefits.

Laser skin resurfacing

These lasers are beams of light that remove the outer layer of your skin and promote collagen growth. Laser skin resurfacing aims to reduce wrinkles and scars, even out skin coloring, and remove lesions.

While this therapy can effectively treat wrinkles and acne scars, it comes with a recovery period that lasts up to two weeks. If you prefer a gentler treatment, red light therapy masks may be a better option.

Chemical peels

Chemical peels involve applying a chemical solution to your skin, causing the outer layer to peel off and revealing smoother, younger-looking skin. They can treat wrinkles, acne, and uneven skin tone. Chemical peels range from mild (superficial peels) to deep (phenol peels), with varying recovery times and potential side effects.

Microdermabrasion

Microdermabrasion is a non-invasive procedure that uses fine crystals or a diamond-tipped wand to exfoliate the skin. It helps to remove dead skin cells, reduce fine lines, and improve skin texture. This treatment is suitable for all skin types and requires no downtime.

Microneedling

Microneedling involves using fine needles to create tiny punctures in the skin. The goal is to stimulate the body's natural healing process and collagen production, reduce wrinkles and acne scars, and improve skin texture. Microneedling can be performed by professionals or with at-home devices, though professional treatments tend to give better results.

Topical retinoids

Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives used to increase cell regeneration and collagen production. Topical retinoids can help reduce wrinkles, improve skin texture, and treat acne. While they can be highly effective, retinoids can also cause skin irritation, especially if you’re using them for the first time.

Both red and white light treatments significantly reduced wrinkles after 12 weeks, and the red LED group showed slightly better results, but the difference was not statistically significant. The red light group also reported higher satisfaction with their wrinkle improvement.

How to choose the best red light therapy mask?

Below, we discuss several factors that can help you choose a product best suited to your goals and preferences.

  • Mask type. There are a few different mask types available. As mentioned above, flexible silicone masks are the most comfortable, while rigid plastic masks are more durable and help ensure the right distance. Combination light masks may be able to target deeper skin layers, and if you want to target serious skin issues, seek professional advice.
  • Price. Red light therapy masks can differ vastly in price depending on the type, size, and manufacturer; hence, you should carefully consider your budget.
  • Number and type of LEDs. Additionally to red light, masks can also include near-infrared and/or blue light. Each light type targets different skin layers and skincare needs. The number of LEDs per area of the mask may also vary.
  • Wavelengths. LEDs vary in wavelength, which determines the skin layers targeted.
  • Coverage area. Devices can vary in size and the area they cover. Some cover the whole face and the neck, while others may only be applied in patches.

📝Healthnews editor's top picks

We have also conducted an in-depth review of the best red light therapy device for the face. Below is a summarized shortlist.

Infraredi LED Light Therapy Mask
  • Red and blue light therapy
  • Full-face device
  • 630 nm red light and 465 nm blue light wavelengths
  • Marketed for reducing acne and blemishes, increasing collagen production, and improving skin appearance

We liked that Infraredi has both blue and red lights, allowing it to target various skin concerns. We also enjoyed the fact that the mask covers the whole face and is made from durable material. It is easy to use and suitable for home use; however, the price may be too high for some.

Nushape Red Light Therapy Mask
  • Blue, red, and near-infrared lights
  • Full-face flexible device
  • 6 adjustable modes for individual or combined wavelengths
  • Different wavelengths target various skin layers
  • Marketed to target acne, wrinkles, blemishes, and overall skin vitality

We liked that Nushape is made from a flexible material that molds to the face shape. We also greatly appreciate the 6 different modes that allow you to target various skincare needs and boost the appearance of the skin. However, the device is not as portable as its competitors and is on the more expensive side.

Omnilux Contour Face
  • Red and near-infrared therapy
  • Dual wavelength: 633 nm red and 830 nm near-infrared
  • Supports 10 sessions when fully changed
  • Molds to the face

We liked this device's flexibility, comfort, and ease, making it a great at-home option. We also enjoyed the 2-year mask and 1-year controller warranty. However, the device takes around 56 hours to fully charge.

AtaPa red light travel Apollo
  • 660 nm red and 850 nm near-infrared wavelengths
  • Travel-friendly size
  • 2-year warranty
  • Can be used on other areas of the body

Although not a mask, we included the ATaPa red light therapy panel. We liked that the device is travel-size friendly but still packs a punch. We also liked the option to use red, near-infrared light, or both at the same time. The device can be used not only on the face but also on other areas. That said, it is quite pricey.

Solawave 4-in-1 Advanced Skincare Wand in use
  • 630 nm red light
  • Galvanic current tool for better serum absorption
  • Vibration function for facial massage
  • Compact
  • Cheaper than competitors

While this gadget is not a red light therapy mask, it may be worth considering because of how compact it is, making it easy to take when traveling. We particularly liked the vibration function and the shape, making the device perfect for facial massages and potentially offering some face-depuffing benefits. However, the small size also means that the coverage area is limited, and the device is weaker than its competitors, meaning it may take longer to see results.

Diving into the latest research of red light therapy mask

Early research indicates that light therapy masks may be helpful in treating mild to moderate cases of acne. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology investigated this claim.

Unfortunately, no research is available on red light therapy masks alone, but this study used masks that emitted both red and blue light to treat acne. 105 men and women aged 12-35 with mild to moderate facial acne used the masks regularly for 12 weeks.

Participants who used the light therapy masks alone showed a greater improvement than those who used benzoyl peroxide or the light therapy mask with salicylic acid and retinol. Those in the light therapy mask group showed a 24.4% improvement in inflammatory acne lesions and a 19.5% improvement in noninflammatory acne lesions. The improvement in the Investigator Global Acne Assessment was 19%.

A small 2017 study published in Dermatologic Surgery investigated the effects of red vs. white light on wrinkles in 52 women. For 12 weeks, the participants' faces were treated daily with either red or white LEDs.

Both red and white light treatments significantly reduced wrinkles after 12 weeks, and the red LED group showed slightly better results, but the difference was not statistically significant. The red light group also reported higher satisfaction with their wrinkle improvement.

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