“Teen Vogue” is celebrating its annual Acne Awards this week with a series of stories on all things acne. From knowing when to pop a pimple to understanding why some people get breakouts and others don’t, we’ve got you covered. Read all of the stories here.
Looking at the Instagram hashtag #lighttherapy is… fascinating. The least bit is a true summary of the benefits of putting an LED light super close to your face.
You’ll see welding-mask-like contraptions, with light shining out of a long, horizontal eye hole. Videos of estheticians and influencers alike using all sorts of instruments, from handheld to masks, on themselves or their clients. Promo photos of women in robes, poking their heads out from behind an LED mask, looking pleased and surprised to be selling you the contraption responsible for a new step in their skin-care regimen.
Celebrities like Jessica Alba and Kelly Rowland have been seeing esthetician Shani Darden for years. Darden is usually on her Instagram page, posting photos with hard, white shells on her face, colored light peeking through. She’s been using LED light therapy for seven years. “For years, I have been getting treatments with LED light. Eventually I began incorporating it into my own facials and that's when I realized it was truly a game changer," says Darden
Chrissy Teigen, Kate Husdon, Kourtney Kardashian, and Jen Atkin also shared photos of themselves undergoing the treatment. Their flexes, intentional or unintentional as they may be, found a home on Instagram, where golden, textured, multicolored, animal-themed, glittery sheet masks already dominated — and shed light on a tool used by estheticians and dermatologists alike for years.
“The devices have become more popular as studies have shown new benefits and devices have become easier to use,” says Anne Chapas, M.D., of Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. Darden also says that as technology has advanced in the LED light-therapy space, it becomes more accessible and easier for people to use in the comfort of their own homes.
In the past two years, light therapy has become more of a buzzword as at-home LED light-therapy masks began to hit the market. Now, you can sit at home and give yourself an LED light “facial” the same way you would with a sheet mask.
I spoke with Christine Maroon, a 27-year-old script coordinator on Riverdale, who has struggled with acne most of her life. But last December, she started dealing with a particularly aggressive burst of hormonal acne. Although she was able to clear it with a strict skin-care routine, she credits LED light therapy, specifically blue light, with helping to fend off outbreaks.
Starting in January, she began getting a facial once a month where an LED light was used for about two minutes. It was this extra step, along with her skin-care routine and monthly spa treatment, that she credits for her clear-skin journey.
“I went to work for the first time in six years without concealer the other day,” says Maroon.
Touting benefits such as reducing acne and the appearance of sun damage and wrinkles (on her Instagram, Darden likens the process to “aging backwards”) begs the question: Does it even work?
How is it that LED lights, similar to the ones used in strobe lights at the club, LED light bulbs in the house, and fake candles at restaurants, have aesthetic benefits?
The short answer: There are several studies and articles that suggest the benefits of light therapy. And for dermatologists and estheticians, LED light therapy is nothing new.
But with the surge of at-home devices, it’s important to know what it actually takes to see the see the benefits of LED light therapy, if you decide to go that route.
I reached out to Chapas and esthetician Jillian Kibildis of Happy Skin in New York City about the benefits of consistent light-therapy treatments.
If you’re thinking of implementing light therapy (a painless treatment, btw!) into your skin-care journey, this is what you need to know.
## What is an LED light? LED (which stands for Light Emitting Diode) light therapy is the use of varying wavelengths as a skin-care treatment.
“The light is stimulating the cells to speed up activity to produce collagen (to lessen wrinkles and fine lines, smoothing out scars), calm inflammation, remove waste by increased lymph activity (so you'll see reduced edema [swelling]), and quicker healing of the skin,” Kibildis says.
Chapas also says different wavelengths can be used to reduce acne, grow hair, and reduce inflammation. How quickly you see results depends on the wavelength, which is the strength or measurement of the light being used.
## The colors and what they do:
Kibildis has been using light therapy for almost 10 years. “I have my own business now, but in several spas, before joining them, I made sure they had LED light therapy — that's how important I think it is for my treatments!” She breaks down the three main lights used and their purposes:
Blue light helps kill acne bacteria, calms irritation that can come with acne, and balances sebum production without drying the skin. Increased sebum production is one of the main causes of acne.
Green light is a newer light in the field, Kibildis says. It aids in lightening age spots, sun damage, and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation from blemishes caused by scars. It can also help in seeing a reduction in broken capillaries.
Red light is the “great for all skin” light. It can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, dark circles, and calm rosacea. It helps calm inflammation and stimulates collagen production, which declines as you get older, and makes you more vulnerable to damage from sunlight.
Why is it good for acne and how does it help heal and prevent breakouts?
Chapas says LED light therapy only works on inflammatory acne that show signs of inflamed red bumps and pustules. It doesn't help cystic acne or hormonal variants, and comedonal (clogged-pore) acne.
“Because it can both kill the bacteria that can cause acne and also calm the skin, you can use the light to not only heal the skin of acne, but also use it as part of the prevention of future breakouts,” Kibildis says. However, she points out that the effectiveness of light therapy varies, because acne is not just a skin issue. There are a variety of factors that play into the severity and how it shows up on skin.
## How often does a person need to use it to see results?
This depends on the dose of the light source. Chapas says LED lights used in the office have a higher dosage (and strength) than at-home tools, which typically don’t disclose the wavelength and energy output. “Weaker lights, like the TRIA home device, need to be used daily, while stronger in-office versions are twice a week,” she says.
LED light home treatments range in price (they can go into the thousands of dollars), so there may be an option out there to fit your budget. For example, Neutrogena has a Red & Blue Light Therapy Acne Mask for $29.99. Sephora also sells masks and handheld instruments: Lightstim for Acne ($169), Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare SpectraLite Faceware Pro ($435), and the Foreo ESPADA Blue Light Acne Treatment by FOREO ($149).
It’s important to remember that we all react to skin-care treatments differently. What may work for a friend may not be as effective on you. However, if you’re looking for a way to treat your acne, LED light therapy may be worth a shot.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue