Here's How Red Light Therapy Works—Plus Why You Should Try It
For starters, red light therapy can boost collagen production and reduce wrinkles and fine lines.
Don't freak out: That is NOT a tanning bed pictured above. Rather, it's a red light therapy bed from New York City–based aesthetician Joanna Vargas. But while tanning beds are a never-ever, red light therapy-in bed form or just an at-home facial gadget-is proven to have a slew of health benefits for your skin and well-being.
"It really can do a host of things," says Vargas. "Red light therapy speeds the healing of the body, reduces inflammation, and helps hydration levels in the skin." Sounds like a lot, right? Let's break it down.
What is red light therapy and what can it treat?
Red light therapy is a therapeutic technique that uses red, low-level wavelengths of light. When exposed to red light therapy, the body produces a biochemical effect that boosts the amount of energy stored in cells, explains Z. Paul Lorenc, M.D., a board-certified plastic surgeon. This helps cells to function more efficiently and repair damage, which is why it's been used to treat scars and wounds. But red light therapy really took off in popularity for its efficacy in combating wrinkles, fine lines, sun spots, discoloration, and other signs of less-than-stellar skin health.
"Your complexion will be more lifted, toned, and improved-resulting in younger-looking, smoother skin by increasing healthy cellular activity," says Vargas. In addition to helping to hydrate and heal the skin, it's also great for anti-aging because it protects existing collagen and elastin, while also stimulating new collagen production, she says. (Related: Are Collagen Supplements Worth It?)
Dr. Lorenc backs up its anti-aging powers: "I've worked extensively with red light therapy and the skin and find it to be effective at both boosting collagen production and reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles," he says.
And since the wavelengths penetrate deeply, they're more efficacious than say, a wrinkle-reducing serum. Use the two in tandem, though, and you'll see results that are (unscientifically speaking) twice as nice.
Can red light help with recovery?
Red light therapy can also treat inflammation and pain-one study found it to aid in healing Achilles tendinitis, a common foot injury; another cited positive results when used on patients with osteoarthritis.
Dr. Lorenc also says red light therapy promotes quicker healing time for wounds and helps reduce post-workout inflammation. More on that here: The Benefits of Red, Green, and Blue Light Therapy
Are there any side effects of red light therapy?
"It's completely noninvasive and safe for everyone," says Vargas. Unlike many other lasers used on the skin (such as an IPL, or intense pulse light) that cause damage to induce tissue repair, red light therapy causes zero damage to the skin. "People often mistake light for laser, or think that red light therapy will cause sensitivity, but it does not."
What's more, Vargas sees red light therapy as an important form of therapy, not merely a beauty treatment. In 2014, the journal Photomedicine and Laser Surgery looked at both collagen production and subjective patient satisfaction. Despite a small sample size (approximately 200 subjects), most subjects experienced significantly improved skin complexion and skin feeling, along with an increase in ultrasonographically measured collagen density. Not only was facial skin looked at, but the entire body, with similarly improved skin complexion results.
Where can you try red light therapy?
If you're willing to shell out serious dollars, you can purchase a full-body red light therapy bed for your home-to the tune of about $3,000. You can also visit a spa. For example, Vargas' namesake spa offers, LED light therapy treatments for face and body starting at $150 for 30 minutes.
However, you can also safely try red light therapy without heading to your derm's office with cool facial gadgets and tools, the best of which come with an FDA stamp of approval. Dr. Lorenc actually helped develop the beloved Neutrogena Acne Light Mask, which uses both blue light therapy to kill bacteria and red light therapy to reduce inflammation-all from the comfort of your own home. "Not only has the mask proved to be very effective in the treatment of inflamed acne, but it's also gentle enough on skin to be used on a daily basis," he adds. (Related: Can At-Home Blue Light Devices Really Clear Acne?)
A few others worth looking into: The Amazon top-rated Pulsaderm Red ($75; amazon.com) is an excellent value, and the Dr. Dennis Gross SpectraLite Faceware Pro ($435; sephora.com) is a futuristic, Instagrammable splurge that busts acne while also stimulating collagen production and minimizing fine lines.