Red Light Therapy: Here's What an Expert Has to Say

Red light therapy is currently all the rage, with many touting its skin benefits — but experts say it’s important to use legitimate, FDA-approved devices to get the desired effects.

Red light therapy has quickly become a staple step in many people’s morning routines. In fact, a quick scroll on TikTok will likely reveal several videos of people sitting at home, basking under a red light therapy mask as a part of their self-care regimen.

But when any kind of wellness trend becomes ultra popular overnight, there are bound to be those who want to take advantage of the fad by selling faulty or unapproved versions. This is something to watch out for when it comes to red light therapy, according to Ed Robinson, M.D., a cosmetic aesthetics doctor and associate member of the British College of Aesthetic Medicine who focuses on non-surgical approaches.

In general, LED Therapy is a skin treatment that uses specific wavelengths of light to penetrate the skin, promoting various therapeutic benefits, Robinson tells Healthnews.

Red light therapy is a specific wavelength of LED (633 nm) that stimulates collagen production, accelerates cell renewal, and boosts circulation — resulting in smoother and firmer skin, he explains, though it requires regular and consistent use to maintain the effects.

“It's a pain-free, relaxing experience with no downtime, making it an ideal choice for those seeking effective skin solutions without invasive procedures,” Robinson tells Healthnews. “It's not going to have the same effect as, say, injectables, but its fantastic safety profile makes it a great adjunct to an anti-ageing regime.”

Some research has demonstrated that the treatment is effective at improving skin complexion and skin texture, though most studies done to date have been relatively small or animal-focused. More research is therefore needed on the treatment, but many consumers and clinicians swear by the method for improving their skin health.

Is red light therapy FDA-approved?

Many red light therapy devices have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — but not all of them have.

Robinson says red light therapy is a researched, effective treatment, but only when you’re using the right devices and using them properly.

Home devices are particularly tricky, he says, as many of them have not received FDA approval. While these devices likely aren’t dangerous in any way, they may be a total waste of your time and money.

“Some cheap devices will literally just produce light that is red, which will do nothing for your skin,” he says.

Choosing the right red light therapy device

Red light therapy involves expensive technology, so Robinson says a cheap device is very unlikely to provide any kind of benefit for your skin. Specifically, if a device costs roughly $300 or less, he says chances are good it’s not going to do much for you.

LED therapy works increasingly well with closer proximity, he adds, so devices that come into close contact with the skin will work best. The device should specify that it emits the particular wavelength of LED — 633 nm — necessary to provide the desired benefits.

Red light LED therapy is not just the same as any old red light, but in fact is a specific wavelength of light generated by a medical-grade device. It is always important to check which device your practitioner is using or, in the case of home devices, ensure it has FDA approval.

Robinson

What are the risks of red light therapy?

Fortunately, Robinson says red light therapy presents little to no risks when used correctly.

A minority of patients may experience localized itching, dryness, swelling, or redness, but he says this is unusual. The brightness of the lights can be damaging to the eyes if proper eye protection is not worn, he adds, so this is important to do while undergoing treatment.

Who should not use red light therapy?

Though red light therapy is generally very well tolerated, Robinson says there are a few groups of people who should be cautioned against using LED devices.

This includes patients taking medications that increase sensitivity to light, such as isotretinoin, patients taking certain immune suppressing drugs, and those taking antibiotics like doxycycline.

What are the benefits of red light therapy?

When used correctly, red light therapy can stimulate anti-aging processes by producing collagen, improving cell renewal, and increasing blood flow, gradually improving the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

“It's a very versatile treatment and can be used both in clinic and at home to help treat a number of aesthetic concerns,” Robinson says.

Beyond the face, red light therapy can also be used on other parts of the body, including the scalp, to improve circulation and help combat hair loss. It can also stimulate collagen production and encourage the healing process of wounds and scars.

Robinson says there is also increasing evidence for its use as an adjunct in improving inflammation in painful joints. Certain skin conditions, such as psoriasis, can also improve with regular use of red light therapy, he says.

And due to the enhanced healing response it triggers and the reduction in tissue inflammation, he says it may sometimes be offered in anti-aging clinics after injectable treatments to help improve swelling.


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