Red Light Therapy for Skin: Uses, Benefits, Risks

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Today, people who love taking care of their skin are willing to try all sorts of things to get that perfect glowing skin. There are many interesting and sometimes unusual solutions out there, like trendy gua sha massages and quirky wrinkle patches.

But besides the usual serums and moisturizers, there’s a new treatment that’s gaining a lot of attention called red light therapy. You can use it with different devices like portable wands, lamps, and masks. Even dermatologists and famous people like Chrissy Teigen and Kate Hudson are giving it their approval.

So, what is red light therapy exactly? It’s a treatment that doesn’t involve any surgery or needles. Instead, it uses low-level red light to make your skin look and feel better. Some people call it photobiomodulation. This special light goes deep into your skin cells and helps make more collagen and elastin. These two things are really important for having healthy skin, as explained by Tyler Fish, who co-founded Sun Home Sauna.

What is Red Light Therapy (RLT)?

Red Light Therapy for Skin


Red Light Therapy, also known as RLT, is a treatment that uses low-wavelength red light to possibly make your skin look better. People say it can reduce wrinkles, scars, redness, and acne, and it might even help with some medical conditions.

Right now, there’s a lot of research and talk online about how well red light therapy works for different health reasons. Some small studies look promising, but we still need more research to be sure.

You might see different names for red light therapy, like:

  • Low-level laser light therapy
  • Low-power laser therapy
  • Non-thermal LED light
  • Soft laser therapy
  • Cold laser therapy
  • Biostimulation
  • Photonic stimulation
  • Photobiomodulation
  • Phototherapy

These names are often used interchangeably to talk about the same treatment.

How Red Light Therapy (RLT) Works

RLT is a process where your skin gets exposed to low levels of red and near-infrared light over a certain amount of time. Unlike high-wavelength light, red light doesn’t make things hot, and it can go about 1 to 2 millimeters deep into your skin, according to research from 2013.

When your skin gets this red light, it might start doing some good things inside your cells, especially in the mitochondria. Mitochondria are like tiny power stations inside your cells. RLT could help by making electrons move better, using oxygen more, and increasing ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is like a super important molecule for cell energy.

When the mitochondria get more energy, your cells can work better and even fix themselves.

Lately, Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) have become popular for RLT instead of lasers. LEDs don’t hurt your skin, and they don’t make it hot. According to the 2013 research, LEDs might:

  • Make your blood flow better.
  • Reduce swelling.
  • Boost the collagen in your skin.
  • Help your body make more fibroblasts, which are important for fixing tissues.

But remember, we need more research to be sure about all these benefits and understand RLT completely.

Learn more: Best At-Home Light Therapy Devices

What Can Red Light Therapy Help With for Your Skin?

Red light therapy is being studied as a way to treat different common skin problems, like:

  • Helping wounds heal better.
  • Making stretch marks look less noticeable.
  • Reducing wrinkles, fine lines, and age spots.
  • Making your skin look and feel better overall.
  • Easing symptoms of skin conditions like psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema.
  • Making scars look less obvious.
  • Fixing skin damaged by the sun.
  • Helping hair grow, especially for people with androgenic alopecia.
  • Managing acne.

These are some of the skin problems that red light therapy might be able to help with. But it’s really important to talk to a healthcare expert to get advice that’s right for your specific situation.

How to Use Red Light Therapy

Using red light therapy with LED lights can be a bit tricky because the strength and quality of the lights vary. So, there’s no one-size-fits-all rule for how often or how long to use them, according to Dr. Ilyas. Each device will come with its own safety guidelines, based on how strong and powerful the red light is.

If you want the best results from red light therapy, it’s a good idea to try it in a doctor’s office or clinic. Most of the research studies used high-quality devices in these settings, which gave precise control over the treatment. Dr. Ilyas says this can be more effective.

But doing red light therapy at home with a mask, lamp, or wand can also be safe and work well. Dr. Jaliman says that while the changes might not be huge, they can gradually make your skin better. Lots of people like using these devices at home instead of going to the doctor. Usually, you can use red light therapy at home three to five times a week, but be sure to follow the instructions that come with the device. And always protect your eyes with special goggles made for LED lights, as mentioned by Dr. Jaliman.

Remember, though, that the results you get with a personal device might not be as amazing as what you’d see with a super expensive medical laser system. Dr. Kung suggests sticking to the device’s instructions and not trying to use it for longer than recommended, thinking it will work better. In short, at-home red light devices are safe, but they won’t give you the same incredible results as a top-dollar medical laser system.

Benefits of Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy has the potential to offer various benefits, although there’s still some debate about its effectiveness. While more research is needed to be sure, studies conducted in the last 20 years suggest that RLT might have these advantages:

  • Helps wounds heal and tissues repair.
  • Reduces side effects from cancer treatments like mouth sores, skin problems from radiation, and swelling in the arms or legs.
  • Improves hair growth for people with androgenic alopecia.
  • Gives short-term relief from carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Slows down nearsightedness (myopia).
  • Reduces symptoms of skin conditions like psoriasis and burn scars.
  • Eases nerve pain.
  • Boosts brain function and protection, which might help with thinking and memory for people with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Makes your skin look better and encourages collagen production to reduce wrinkles.
  • Helps with pain and swelling in the Achilles tendon.

Also, RLT can be used along with certain medications to treat specific types of cancer using something called photodynamic therapy. In this treatment, the light makes the medication work better. But remember, even though these benefits look promising, we need more research to be sure about how well RLT works for these things.

Is Red Light Therapy Safe?

In general, red light therapy seems safe when you use it the right way for a short time. It’s not toxic, it doesn’t involve needles or surgery, and it’s gentler on your skin than some other treatments you put on your skin. Importantly, it doesn’t use the kind of light that can cause cancer (UV light), like what you get from the sun or tanning beds.

But if you don’t use red light therapy products correctly—for example, using them too much or not following the instructions—you could hurt your skin or eyes, especially if you don’t use the right eye protection. We still don’t know for sure if using red light therapy devices for a long time is completely safe.

To be sure you’re using it safely, it’s best to talk to a dermatologist or a skincare expert who knows what they’re doing. They can check your skin, talk about how red light therapy might help you, and suggest other treatments if needed. Getting this kind of expert advice helps you make smart choices for your skin and your health.

Are At-Home Red Light Therapy Devices Safe and Effective?

You can easily find red light therapy devices for home use online. But it’s important to know that these home devices often have less powerful light compared to what dermatologists or skincare experts use. So, the results might not be as good as you expect.

If you decide to get a red light therapy device for home use, here are some important things to remember:

  1. Protect Your Eyes: Always use the right eye protection during treatment to keep your eyes safe.

  2. Follow the Instructions: Make sure you follow all the instructions that come with the device to use it safely and effectively.

  3. Take Care of Your Device: Keep your device in good shape so it lasts longer and works well.

For a good at-home LED light therapy mask, I recommend Cleopatra LED Mask. You might also find red light therapy offered in places like beauty spas, salons, saunas, tanning salons, gyms, and wellness centers. But before you get treatment in these places, be careful and do some research about the provider and the setting. It’s a good idea to talk to a medical expert to figure out the best way to treat your specific skin issue. That way, you can make smart choices for your skin health.

Possible Risks of Red Light Therapy

Red light therapy (RLT) is usually seen as safe and painless. However, there are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Cancer Treatment Uncertainty: Experts don’t all agree on whether RLT is good for treating cancer. Some studies, like one from 2018, say it might help with cancer treatment side effects, but we need more research to be sure.

  2. Reports of Burns and Skin Problems: Some people have had burns, sores, and blisters from RLT devices. This usually happened when they:

  • Used the device for a really long time, like 30 minutes.
  • Fell asleep with it on.
  • Had problems like broken wires or a device that wasn’t in good shape.
  1. Eye Damage Risk: Even though the LEDs used in RLT are usually safer for your eyes than regular lasers, there’s still a small chance of eye damage. So, always wear the right eye protection when you do RLT to keep your eyes safe.

Who Shouldn’t Use Red Light Therapy?

If you’ve had cancer or have cancer now, it’s a good idea to think twice about red light therapy. A study from 2019 suggests that it might make cancer cells more aggressive.

But remember, we need more research to be sure, and there might also be some benefits. The best thing to do is talk to a healthcare expert before trying red light therapy, especially if you’re concerned about cancer. They can help you make the right decision.

Costs and Insurance for Red Light Therapy

The price of red light therapy sessions can vary a lot, usually from $25 to $200 or more for each session. How much it costs depends on where you go for treatment and what kind of service you get.

Remember, red light therapy often needs sessions every three weeks and might go on for a few months. So, it can become a significant expense over time.

If you’re thinking about using an at-home red light therapy device, the prices can range from $149 to several thousand dollars, depending on how good the device is.

Most insurance plans usually don’t cover the cost of red light therapy. Even if you get it from a healthcare provider like a dermatologist, your health insurance might not pay for it. You might have to pay for it yourself, kind of like how you’d pay for a spa or wellness center service.

If you want to know exactly how much it’ll cost you and whether your insurance can help, it’s a good idea to get in touch with your insurance provider. They can tell you what your plan covers and give you advice about red light therapy expenses.

Where Can You Get Red Light Therapy?

You can find red light therapy in different places, such as:

  1. Doctor’s Office: Many people get red light therapy at a healthcare provider’s office, like a dermatologist or a medical spa.

  2. Salons and Dental Offices: Some salons and dental offices also offer red light therapy.

  3. At-Home Devices: You can buy your own red light therapy device to use at home.

But it’s important to know that getting red light therapy at salons or using home devices might have more risks of side effects or injuries. If you’re thinking about red light therapy, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor first. They can give you advice and make sure it’s safe and right for your specific needs.

Looking for professional skincare advice? Schedule an online consultation with dermatologist Dr. Ava Patel to address your concerns.

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