How Does LED Therapy Work on the Skin?

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The world of beauty never disappoints when it comes to innovations to keep old age at bay and to deal with skin issues. Since time immemorial, people have always come up with strategies and practices to keep their skin youthful and beautiful. From homemade concoctions to topical creams, non-invasive techniques to invasive procedures, there is no limit to the numerous options you have at your disposal. 

Some of these have been developed and improved over time to give better and faster results. One such option is LED skin therapy; since its invention in the late 20thCentury, it has been used in varied wavelengths to cater for various skin care needs. So, how does LED therapy work for your skin? Here is everything you need to know.

What is LED Therapy?

LED stands for light -emitting diode, meaning that light production is involved. LED skin therapy is a non-invasive procedure that involves the use of LED devices to send light waves deeper into the skin to trigger natural intracellular responses. The responses help in dealing with skin issues such as acne, rosacea, photo aging, wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. Your skin responds depending on the type and the wavelength of light used.

How Does LED Therapy Work?

The LED technology works when electricity passes through a semi-conductor chip situated upon a reflective surface. The wavelength or spectrums of the light produced determines the depth of tissue penetration and the kind of effect it produces in your skin.

Here are the different types of LED and how each works:


This LED therapy gives the deepest tissue penetration. It targets dermal structures such as fibroblasts and comes loaded with healing and therapeutic properties. This helps your skin to heal and repair faster and fight inflammation. Red LED triggers collagen production which helps to make your skin firmer and smoother.

Yellow LED

Yellow LEDs penetrate between 0.5-2mm of skin. The light helps to prevent or deal with the effects of photo aging, specifically wrinkles and fine lines. This it does by enhancing circulation and stimulating skin rejuvenation.

Blue LED

It penetrates up to 1mm of skin. This light helps to deal with the superficial skin issues like acne. Blue LED destroys P.acnesthe bacteria that is responsible for infecting pimples when one suffers from acne vulgaris. The light leaves the good bacteria intact. It works even better when combined with red LED which hastens the healing process.

Green LED

The light targets melanin producing cells which are found at the bottom layer of the skin’s epidermis. It helps in inhibiting the excess production of melanin which may lead to cases of hyperpigmentation such as spots or freckles.

Woman undergoing LED green light therapy in medical spa

Green LED helps to slightly fade them to give your skin a more even tone and a brighter look. It is also associated with calming and anti-inflammatory properties on damaged skin.

Purple LED

Purple LED is used for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties which help in treating acne. For better results, it is used in combination with red LED to enhance healing and rejuvenation through the production of collagen. This leaves your skin feeling healthy, smooth and firm.

Pro Tip: A combination treatment lets you enjoy the benefits that each of the constituent colors has to offer. Depending on the condition of your skin, your dermatologist can help you pick the best combination for your skin.

The Rise of LED Therapy

LED was invented in 1962. Red LED was discovered first, followed by pale yellow and green. These LEDs however lacked stable energy and narrow wavelengths that could trigger biologically relevant reactions in tissue.

In 1998, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under the leadership of Prof Harry Whelan developed LEDs that produced less divergent wavelengths and more stable energy. The application of LED therapy in the treatment of minor wounds and injuries has produced satisfactory results. 

Ever since then, manyclinical trialsthat have been done to test whether LED therapy works. The conclusion made was that when the correct wavelength and appropriate power density are used, then LED phototherapy is effective. 

In the recent past, the efficient yet minimally invasive procedure has gained a lot of popularity. Various LED devices have also been developed to satisfy the growing demand.

Which Conditions Does LED Therapy Treat?

LED therapy helps to treat or prevent skin issues such as acne, photo aging, hyperpigmentation, rosacea, facial rhytides, and sun burns among others. It does this by healing, soothing and rejuvenating your skin as highlighted in the different colors section.  

Clinical Trials on LED Therapy

Nobody wants to experiment with their body; and especially not with the skin! It is only normal that you would want to find out if there are any tests that prove the efficacy of LED skin therapy before trying it. In light of this, here are a few clinical trials that you can have a look at:

Subjects with mild-to-moderate facial acne were treated with narrow band blue light for sessions of 10-20 minutes over a period of 4 weeks. The patients kept off oral, topical and systemic medication for 2 weeks and oral retinoids for 6 months before starting on the treatments. Baseline lesions were counted and recorded according to type.

When lesion counts were done at week 5, 8 and 12, notable improved was recorded at week 5 with even better results at week 8 and 12. Overall, the mean percentage reduction of lesions during the various assessments was 25%, 53% and 60% respectively. Non-inflammatory lesions were unaffected.

People with facial wrinkles received nine LED treatments using the Omnilux LED system, one of the devices that use a combination of different wavelengths and colors.

Results were evaluated through profilemetry and assessment of clinical photography and patient satisfaction scores at week 9 and 12. By week 12, a 25-50% improvement in photo aging scores was reported in 52% subjects while 81% of the subjects reported notable improvement.

Another test involved the combination of red and blue LED.  People with mild-to-moderate acne were treatedtwice weekly using alternating blue and red LED for four weeks. Each session took 20 minutes. 

The patients had not used oral or topical acne treatment 6 weeks before the trial or retinoids in the previous 9 months. They all received mild microdermabrasion before the treatment.

When assessment was done at week 2, 4, 8 and 12, there was a 46% mean reduction in lesions at week 4 and an 86% reduction at week 12.

The above are just a few samples of the numerous clinical trials that have been done to prove the benefits of LED therapy to your skin.

What Happens During LED Therapy?

You can have the treatment when seated or lying down comfortably in a dermatologist’s clinic. If you are having a medication enhanced LED treatment, your doctor may apply it sometime before the procedure.

You are provided with protective goggles for your eyes after which you receive treatment that can last somewhere between 10 and 90 minutes depending on your skincare goals, the condition of your skin, or recommendation by your beauty therapist.

Unknown woman with facial LED device

The devices used range from a free standing light array, face mask or handheld lamp. The light is bright but it should not cause any discomfort on your skin.

What Are the Side Effects?

LED therapy has no known adverse effects. You might experience some mild redness or a faint tingling similar to a mild sun burn. This should subside within 4-8 hours. Minor swelling that lasts a few hours is also possible though rare. 

For people with photosensitive skin, underlying medical conditions or those using other form of medication, you are advised to check with your doctor before undergoing therapy. 

The brightness of the light can lead to migraines, eye irritations and increased risk of developing cataracts if exposed to eyes for long but again, that is why protective goggles are provided.

What’s the Recovery Time?

The procedure does not require any downtime or time off work. Should you experience the above side effects, give them at least 24 and consult your doctor should you have more serious reactions.

Follow your doctor’s advice on the best way to moisturize and take care of the treated area for speedy recovery. Also, it is advisable to keep off make-up for 24 hours or until the redness clears.

How Long Does It Take to See Results?

Based on the above and other clinical trials, LED is not an overnight fix for your skin conditions. While people have reported an instant calming and relaxing effect after treatment, cell regeneration, healing and other processes that your skin needs for good results will definitely take some time.

Other factors that may slow down or hasten onset of results include number of sessions, the condition of your skin and your general skin care routine among others. On average, you should be able to note significant results from about 4-8 weeks with at least four treatments and above.

Once you follow through with the treatments, here’s the best part; the results are cumulative and you just need a yearly treatment to maintain them.

At-Home LED Therapy Options

LED skin therapy can be done at the comfort of your home using DIY LED devices and yes, they deliver. However, it requires consistency and the discipline of a soldier because the devices are not as powerful as the ones your dermatologist uses. You might have to include it in your daily skin regimen to get desired results.

At-home LED devices may range from simple portable models to large home models that require space and set up. Whether you choose an at home device as a sole source of therapeutic benefits or to complement dermatologist provided treatment, scout the market for a device that will best suit your unique needs. 

Be on the lookout for features like color, ease of use, portability, light wavelength, and hands-free use among others that make certain devices stand out from others. Some products also focus on specific areas of the skin, like the neck and décolleté, or the eye area

Also, shop for the best device within your budget and cash in on other benefits like warranties, money back guarantees, and extra accessories to ensure that you get value for your money.

How Much Does LED Therapy Cost?

The cost of an LED therapy session varies depending on where you are getting it, the part of the body being treated, other treatments that come with it and pricing by different service providers among other factors. That said, a session of about 20 minutes can cost you somewhere between $50 to $300 and beyond.

At home devices also vary in cost depending on size, specific features and manufacturers. These may range from $50 to as much as $2000 and beyond. If you land on a great device, the cost of buying the device may be worth your while compared to the cumulative cost of paying for individual sessions.

Tips and Precautions

Getting an LED treatment would serve no purpose if you do not take the necessary measures to ensure that in addition to getting the best results, you maintain them fora longer time. Here are a few tips and precautions for both at home and dermatologist provided treatments.

  • Avoid exposure to sunlight and use sunscreen any time you venture out
  • Do not use DIY devices on irritated, broken or infected skin without consulting your dermatologist
  • After getting the desired results, follow through with a once a year maintenance session
  • Carefully read and follow all user instructions on at home LED devices
  • Try DIY devices for a shorter amount of time before using it for longer and more regularly
  • Consistency is of utmost importance whether you do your therapy at home or elsewhere, followed by patience since the treatment doesn’t work overnight.
  • Always ensure that you wear the protective goggles during every session
  • If you can, get clinic sessions of LED and use at home devices to compliment the results.
  • If your only choice is to get one device, choose one with color combination, preferably red and blue LED as many dermatologist would recommend. 

LED therapy works by penetrating layer of your skin and triggering intracellular processes that can help your skin to regenerate, heal and repair. It comes in different wavelengths and colors that are responsible for various functions. LED therapy has been successfully used to treat skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, hyperpigmentation, photo aging, etc. 

There are numerous clinical trials that have proven its effectiveness. Whether you choose to do it at home or in a dermatologist’s office, you will be on your way to beautiful skin with some patience and a little effort.

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