Suppose you’ve gone through all the best face washes, face scrubs, anti-aging products, and acne spot treatments but aren’t ready for prescription-grade alternatives. In that case, there is one more tool you might want to consider before giving up hope: the LED face mask.
LED stands for light-emitting diodes. These LEDs put out particular wavelengths of light that have been shown to stimulate the skin to achieve desired results, most notably the reduction of acne or signs of aging. We’re going to be totally honest here: when LED therapy for acne first hit the beauty market, we were extremely skeptical. Usually, and this is especially true in the beauty and grooming world, if something sounds too good to be true, it’s definitely too good to be true. And the prospect of clearing up your acne simply by shining a light on it — too good to be true, right?
Not so. Some of SPY’s go-to experts and dermatologists recommend this treatment. For this article, we reached out to Dr. Michele Green, a board-certified cosmetic and medical dermatologist in New York City, to help us better understand the use cases, efficacy and science behind LED face masks.
Green tells SPY about light therapy, the nuts and bolts of the science behind it, how LED face masks work, and their benefits and potential risks. Plus, keep scrolling to find some of the best LED face masks for skin care.
How Do LED Face Masks Work?
LED face masks and other light therapy devices work by emitting light at your skin resulting in a beneficial reaction.
“Different skin receptors absorb the different wavelengths of light,” Green said, which results in improved skin texture over time. Light therapy has many uses depending on the color; both red light therapy and blue light therapy can benefit the skin.
- Red light — This is the wavelength of light between 650 and 700 nanometers, and it acts on the most common cell type of the connective tissues called fibroblasts, which play a role in collagen production. This process works by stimulating the production of collagen, which “can reverse some signs of aging related to sun damage and help restore a more youthful appearance,” Green explained. That makes red light LED therapy an excellent tool for anti-aging.
- Blue light — This is the wavelength of light between 380 and 500 nanometers. Blue light reduces Cutibacterium acnes, the bacterium that contributes to acne. “[These wavelengths] can penetrate deeper into the skin where [they] can directly target sebaceous glands and reduce sebum production.” That makes blue light LED valuable therapy for acne treatment.
Why Are the Best LED Light Therapy Devices so Expensive?
For the best chances of success from any light therapy treatment, you’ll want to go to a dermatologist for a proper procedure using medical-grade devices, and that means these products are going to cost a lot more than your favorite drugstore skin care hacks. These devices produce intense pulsed light therapy — effective at hair removal and treatment of vascular lesions — and photodynamic therapy — a light therapy used in conjunction with medication to treat cancer. Not only that, a dermatologist will help you get to a root cause. But if you’re specifically interested in an LED face mask, there are some ways to optimize the odds of getting the results you’re looking for and ensure you’re being safe.
- Make sure you buy a device certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to Green, that is the only way to ensure the LED face mask won’t be harmful.
- Following the directions of the device is essential because every product will be slightly different and require different application routines. That’s not just important for results; it’s important for safety too.
- You must use the LED face mask consistently. Results from light therapy take time — you won’t see results right away.
- Be on the lookout for anything that looks too good to be true or too cheap. The fact is that the right technology costs money to manufacture, so you’re likely not to get the real deal below a specific price.
“There are many sham products that tout the benefits of LED light but offer no real benefits,” Green warns. That’s why it’s best to seek a medical-grade device, even if it is a pricey one.
“Since every light therapy device is different, there is no scientific minimum or maximum amount of exposure,” says Green. Many LED face masks call for a 10- to 20-minute exposure three to four times a week, but you should always follow the individual LED face mask’s directions.
The Best LED Face Masks for Skin Care
When we first started writing about red and blue-light therapy for acne, we spoke to Dr. Dennis Gross, the dermatologist behind one of the most popular LED face masks.
In March 2020, Dr. Gross told SPY, “LED light treatment is truly a breakthrough because now professional technology is available at home… The truth is acne and anti-aging treatments are best approached by using multiple treatments. Until recently there has not been anything as technologically advanced or effective as LED technology available for home use.”
Keep in mind that not all light therapy devices do what they claim to do (especially too-good-to-true cheaper devices). FDA certification only means the device is not harmful, and success is typically contingent on a consistent months-long routine. However, if you can bypass those fail points, light therapy, and by extension, the best LED face masks can be an effective skin care tool for many people.
Keeping all the facts in mind, check the best doctor-approved LED face masks below. They’re all expensive but legit if you’re ready to really brighten up your skin care routine.
1. Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare DRx SpectraLite FaceWare Pro
BEST LED FACE MASK OVERALL
The proven LED face mask of choice for editors, experts and patients alike is Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare DRx SpectraLite FaceWare Pro. It offers red light, blue light and combined light therapy for comprehensive skin treatment. It gets bonus points because it was developed by board-certified dermatologist and dermatological surgeon Dr. Dennis Gross. Add to that, it also has Dr. Green’s endorsement: “This product is FDA-cleared and was created by Dr. Dennis Gross to reduce wrinkles and fight acne. This product has 100 red light diodes to penetrate deep within the skin’s dermis to boost collagen production and 62 blue light diodes that destroy [Cutibacterium acnes].”
2. Omnilux Contour LED Face Mask
BEST FOR AGING
If you want to use a light therapy mask specifically for anti-aging, then we recommend trying the Omnilux LED Light Therapy Contour Mask. “This product is FDA-cleared, so it is safe to use. It is also a medical-grade LED light therapy device that has clinical studies to back up its efficacy… and can help reduce sagging and age spots,” said Green.
3. Omnilux Clear LED Face Mask
BEST FOR ACNE
The Omnilux Clear Face Mask is a blue and red light mask designed to treat acne. “This face mask specifically targets acne while being gentle on your skin. It kills acne-causing bacteria, reduces oil production and decreases the inflammation and redness that accompanies acne. Users of this product have noticed acne breakouts that clear faster and improvements in skin texture,” Green said.
4. Aphrona LED Light Therapy Mask
Looking for a more affordable option? The Aphrona LED face mask is also FDA-cleared for use at home, and it’s one of the most affordable products in this category. The Aphrona mask uses red, blue and green light and comes with a 1-year warranty. Best of all, it’s often on sale at Amazon.
5. CurrentBody Skin LED Mask
Nobody is more concerned about their skin than public-facing celebrities. If you want to use the same mask that many in Hollywood rely on to keep their skin tip-top shape, we suggest the CurrentBody Skin LED Mask. This LED face mask is a favorite of actresses Kristin Davis, Kaley Cuoco, Carey Mulligan, Kate Hudson and more.
6. Lightstim for Acne
Though we recommend going for one of the above LED face masks, price is a valid concern, and more budget-friendly light therapy tools are available. It’s not an LED face mask, but the Lightstim for Acne wand is FDA-certified and clinically proven to alleviate acne and redness with a combination of blue light and red light. It also comes with a pair of goggles for extra protection.
Are LED Face Masks Safe?
Though an FDA-certified device is likely safe, that certification only means the device is safe when used as directed. There are risks with using light therapy devices, especially around the eyes.
“Continuous LED exposure can increase the risk of cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration and even short-term exposure to LED lights can cause retinal changes,” Green said, citing the American Medical Association (AMA). If possible, donning a pair of LED-blocking goggles underneath the LED face mask can help minimize the limited but real risks to the eyes. In fact, Neutrogena recalled its light therapy mask in 2019 amid complaints of eye issues.
Beyond eyes, regular use of LED face masks can also cause headaches, redness and rashes. According to Green, people taking lithium or isotretinoin (formerly known as Accutane) or those with a history of skin cancer or eye disease should also exercise “extreme caution.”
FDA-approved LED face masks are safe when used correctly, with or without goggles. But if you experience any issues during or after your treatment, you should stop using the LED face mask and speak with your doctor.