LED Light Therapy

LED (light-emitting diode) light therapy treats various skin conditions and concerns, such as acne, fine lines and psoriasis. It comes in different types, including red light LED therapy and blue light LED therapy, which are sometimes used in combination.

Overview

What is LED light therapy?

LED (light-emitting diode) light therapy is a non-invasive treatment that enters the skin’s layers to improve the skin.

In the 1990s, NASA began studying LED’s effects in promoting wound healing in astronauts by helping cells and tissues grow.

Today, dermatologists and estheticians commonly use LED light therapy to treat a range of skin issues. Skin specialists often use LED light therapy together with other treatments, such as creams, ointments and facials, to give you the best results.

You can also buy an array of at-home devices that use LED light therapy, including LED masks.

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What does LED light therapy do?

LED light therapy helps treat a variety of skin concerns and conditions, including:

In some cases, LED light therapy may treat small and superficial basal cell carcinoma (BCC). BCC, a skin cancer, is the most common type of cancer, affecting about 3.6 million Americans each year.

Are there different kinds of LED light therapy?

LED light therapy uses various wavelengths that correspond to different visible colors. Each color penetrates the skin at different depths.

  • Blue light affects the uppermost layer of your skin.
  • Yellow light penetrates deeper.
  • Red light travels further into your skin.
  • Near-infrared light penetrates deepest.

Different LED colors do different things. For example, experts believe:

  • Red LED light therapy may reduce inflammation and stimulate the production of collagen, a protein responsible for younger-looking skin that diminishes with age.
  • Blue LED light therapy may destroy acne-causing bacteria (P. acnes).

During treatment, skin specialists may use a combination of lights to treat your specific issue. At-home devices may also combine colors.

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Does LED light therapy actually work?

Research suggests that LED light therapy can help reduce and improve some skin conditions and issues. To see improvement in your skin, though, you need to have regular treatments.

In-office LED light therapy uses more powerful strengths than at-home devices, which makes it more effective. With LED masks and other portable devices, you likely won’t see dramatic anti-aging or acne-reducing results. You might experience subtle improvements in your skin’s appearance, though.

What doesn’t LED light therapy treat?

LED light therapy doesn’t help with:

  • Acne cysts.
  • Blackheads.
  • Whiteheads.

Also, some research has found that blue light therapy may contribute to aging by causing free radical damage to the skin.

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How long does it take for LED light therapy to work?

To see significant benefits, you typically need to have a series of in-office treatments. You may need a treatment each week for about a month. Then you might need maintenance treatments every month or every few months.

Some at-home devices may also require a substantial time commitment. You might need to use your device twice a day for 30 to 60 minutes for four to five weeks. Other devices take just a few minutes a day.

Who should not have LED light therapy?

LED light therapy isn’t appropriate for everyone, including people who:

  • Take certain medications that increase their sensitivity to sunlight, such as isotretinoin and lithium.
  • Have a history of certain conditions, including skin cancer and inherited eye diseases.

Procedure Details

What happens before LED light therapy?

Before an in-office or at-home treatment, you need to have a clean, makeup-free face. At a spa or dermatologist’s office, you might receive additional treatments before LED light therapy, such as a facial. Wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from the bright lights.

What happens during in-office LED light therapy?

After putting on your goggles, lie on your back as your healthcare provider places the LED light therapy device above your face. Lie still during the entire treatment as the device works. The treatment usually lasts about 20 minutes.

LED light therapy is a non-invasive, painless treatment. During treatment, you might feel some warmth but no discomfort.

How do you use an at-home device?

There are several at-home devices — from masks to wands to other hand-held products. Instructions vary based on the device you buy.

For example, you might wear some LED masks on your face for a few minutes each day. You can sit upright or lie down with these. With hand-held devices, you might hold the tool 6 to 12 inches from your face for 10 minutes.

Whatever device you choose, be sure to follow the directions carefully.

What happens after LED light therapy?

After in-office or at-home LED light therapy, you can return to your regular activities with one exception: Stay out of the sun for several days and apply extra sunscreen.

Risks / Benefits

What are the benefits of LED light therapy?

LED light therapy might:

  • Treat acne.
  • Reduce fine lines.
  • Help with wound healing.

People with any skin type and color can use LED light therapy. LED light therapy doesn’t use ultraviolet (UV) light, so it doesn’t cause damage or burns to your skin.

What are the risks of LED light therapy?

LED light therapy is a safe, relatively risk-free treatment. If you’re thinking about buying an at-home mask or device, be sure it’s marked “FDA cleared” or “FDA approved.” Also, wear eye protection, such as sunglasses or goggles, and carefully follow instructions to confirm you’re using the device correctly.

It’s rare to experience side effects from LED light therapy. If side effects do occur, they may include:

  • Increased inflammation.
  • Rash.
  • Redness.
  • Pain.

Experts do caution that while LED light therapy seems to be safe in the short term, there’s less information about its long-term safety.

How can I make sure LED light therapy is right for me?

Before going to a spa for LED light therapy or buying an at-home device, consider consulting a dermatologist. This way, you can receive the correct diagnosis and treatment for your skin issue. What looks like aging, blemished skin, for example, may really be skin cancer.

Consulting a dermatologist can also confirm whether in-office or at-home LED light therapy is a good treatment option for your needs.

Recovery and Outlook

What is the recovery time after LED light therapy?

There isn’t a recovery time for LED light therapy. Besides being careful about sun exposure in the 48 hours after treatment, you can return to your normal routine. Unlike other skin treatments, such as a chemical peel, there isn’t any damage to the skin.

When to Call the Doctor

When should I see my healthcare provider?

If you notice these signs after LED light therapy, contact your healthcare provider:

  • Hives.
  • Inflammation.
  • Pain.
  • Rash or redness.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

LED light therapy is a non-invasive, pain-free treatment for multiple skin concerns and conditions. You can have this treatment at a spa, your dermatologist’s office or buy an at-home device. While LED light therapy is generally safe, consult your dermatologist before trying this treatment. LED light therapy isn’t appropriate for everyone, and experts don’t know much about its long-term effects. A healthcare provider can help determine if it’s the right treatment for you, though.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/02/2021.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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