Ever since those fancy LED light masks started appearing in beauty stores and online ads, there’s been a lot of buzz about “red light therapy” and its supposed benefits for clearing acne. But does it really work? And is it all it’s cracked up to be? Let’s take a deeper look at how this treatment works and what the scientific evidence says.
Red light therapy, also known as photobiomodulation therapy, involves exposure to specific wavelengths of red or near-infrared light. The light is non-thermal, meaning it doesn’t generate heat like tanning beds. Instead, it’s thought to stimulate key cellular processes that promote healing and reduce inflammation.
The light is typically administered using handheld devices or facial masks with built-in LEDs that emit wavelengths around 600-700 nm, in the red/near-infrared range of the spectrum. Treatment times usually range from 2-15 minutes, 2-3 times per week. The light penetrates the skin up to about 1 cm deep.
The proposed mechanisms behind how red light therapy may help clear acne involve:
Reducing inflammation: Red and near-infrared light is thought to inhibit the release of pro-inflammatory chemicals like nitric oxide, TNF-alpha, IL-1beta and more that contribute to acne lesions. This calms redness and swelling.
Boosting collagen production: The light stimulation triggers an upregulation of collagen synthesis, which may help repair pores damaged by acne and prevent future clogged pores and breakouts.
Killing bacteria: Certain wavelengths in the red/NIR range have been shown to destroy common acne-causing bacteria like P. acnes when delivered at sufficient dose and intensity.
Speeding wound healing: The light promotes fibroblast and keratinocyte proliferation, accelerating the healing process for existing pimples, whiteheads and lesions. Faster healing means clearer skin.
So in theory, regular red light therapy sessions should lead to less frequent breakouts, smaller and fewer pimples, and reduced redness and scarring over time as the skin heals.
There have been several clinical studies investigating red light therapy for acne:
So overall, the existing research does provide support that red light therapy can noticeably diminish acne severity when used consistently over multiple weeks. The effect sizes vary but most people see a reduction of 30-70% depending on acne severity.
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With so many red light masks and wands on the market claiming acne-fighting powers, it’s important to consider a few factors when choosing a device:
Stick with well-regarded brands like Neutrogena, Foreo, LightStim and others to maximize your chances of success. Generic no-name masks of dubious quality may not deliver the promised results.
Most dermatologists agree red light works best when paired with a consistent daily skincare routine. Consider also:
Used together with red light therapy 1-2 times per week, a multi-pronged approach can help you get clear, smooth skin much faster than any single treatment alone. Consistency is still key.
While more high-quality research is still needed, the current science does indicate red light therapy provides real, noticeable benefits for many people struggling with acne when:
For mild-moderate inflammatory acne especially, red light offers a non-invasive, drug-free solution with minimal risk of side effects. Just be wary of inflated claims from shady brands and influence real, peer-reviewed studies in your expectations. With the right device and regimen, red light could be your new secret weapon against breakouts.
So in summary – yes, the evidence does support red light therapy as an effective acne treatment option worth trying. Just be sure to do your research first on devices and how to optimize your protocol for the best chance of clear skin success.