Red LED for Skin: What is Red Light Therapy for Skin & Its Benefits

5 min
November 10, 2021

Light-emitting diodes (or LEDs) are semiconductors that produce light when electric current runs through them. The energy level the LED emits correlates to its wavelength and the color it produces. LEDs are available across a spectrum of shades, from invisible infrared to red and blue. Red LEDs are particularly prized for their ability to reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation, making them an essential part of a comprehensive skincare routine.


How does red LED light therapy work?

Red LEDs have a wavelength of 630 to 700 nanometers. This enables them to travel two to three millimeters deep into skin, which corresponds to the very top of the dermis (known as the papillary dermis). This area is filled with papillary fibroblasts. When red LEDs hit the papillary dermis, they initiate a chain reaction that ultimately stimulates the fibroblasts to produce more collagen, as well as reduces the skin’s existing amount of MMP-1, an enzyme that breaks down existing collagen. As an added bonus, they also decrease inflammation.


What are the benefits of red LEDs?

As a result of its increased levels of collagen, skin that’s been treated with red LEDs will appear firmer and smoother with fewer fine lines and wrinkles. Skin will also become more even in tone and texture as sun spots, age spots, and other discoloration begin to fade. And since red LEDs also treat inflammation, they can bring down redness almost immediately.


In-office versus at-home—which red LED treatment is for you?

Due to red LEDs’ aforementioned ability to reduce redness and inflammation asap, dermatologists will often prescribe a red LED session immediately following an in-office peel or laser treatment so that the patient doesn’t leave the appointment resembling a tomato. However, it’s only in terms of inflammation that red LEDs’ effects are near instantaneous. The process of building collagen requires consistency and dedication to a red-light routine. For this reason, at-home red LEDs devices are often preferable for those looking to reduce wrinkles and the like as skin needs to be exposed to red LEDs daily in order to produce the best results. 


There’s also the cost factor to consider. Depending on where you live, a single in-office LED treatment can set you back anywhere from $25 to $85 or more. Compare that with the price of an at-home device (which can top out at $495+), and your skin goals will likely determine which treatment is right for you. If you just want to minimize redness every once in a while, you’re probably fine swinging by your dermatologist’s office on occasion. However, if it’s wrinkle reduction you’re after, a DIY device is usually a prudent investment.

But honestly, do red LEDs really work?

The short answer is yes! Multiple peer-reviewed, published clinical studies have demonstrated that red LEDs live up to the hype. As long as they are used consistently, red LEDs do deliver. However, it’s important that you take steps to ensure you’re treating skin with a device that is actually generating the correct energy level to stimulate positive change. While any red LED device being used in a doctor’s office is pretty much a safe bet (assuming you trust your doc), at-home devices can be a little trickier because they’re largely unregulated. To protect yourself (and your wallet), only purchase a device that’s been FDA cleared. (Important distinction: Unlike drugs, which get FDA approval, devices can only be FDA cleared.) FDA clearance confirms that the LED wavelengths, colors, and claims made on the package are accurate and have been corroborated, which should give you peace of mind.


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Written By

Kayla Kernel

Kayla is a Medical Esthetician with 10+ years of experience. Growing up, Kayla struggled with cystic acne and scarring. This experience drives her passion to help others on their skincare journey. Kayla specializes in all skin types, tones, and ages.

Read More from Kayla Kernel

Written By

Kayla Kernel

Kayla is a Medical Esthetician with 10+ years of experience. Growing up, Kayla struggled with cystic acne and scarring. This experience drives her passion to help others on their skincare journey. Kayla specializes in all skin types, tones, and ages.

Read More from Kayla Kernel