Is the secret to glowing, youthful skin zapping your face with red light?
Quite a few TikTokers think so, with videos tagged #redlighttherapy garnering over 96 million views on the app. In the videos, users expose their skin to red light in order to treat a wide range of cosmetic issues, including acne, signs of aging and hair loss.
Turns out, the TikTokers may be onto something − and red light has been on dermatologists‘ radars for a while.
“Red light is something dermatologists have been using for quite some time now,” Dr. Anthony Rossi, a New York-based dermatologist says. “I’m a big proponent of red light therapy, because I use it in a clinical setting.”
What is red light therapy?
Skincare enthusiasts might reflexively recoil at the idea of intentionally exposing one’s skin to a form of radiation. After all, ultraviolent rays from the sun cause a host of problems, including accelerating signs of aging and, at worst, skin cancer.
But red light − a spectrum of visible light around 600 nanometers in wave length − shows promise as a safe way of healing the skin of many issues, says Dr. Danilo Del Campo, a Chicago-based dermatologist, adding that scientists began researching the effects of red light on the body in the 1960s and found it helpful in healing wounds.
This is because red light, he says, stimulates the production of adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, an energy compound he describes as “the gasoline of our body.”
By boosting ATP, red light therapy can heal wounds and stimulate hair growth, he says. Though the largest and most robust studies have shown red light therapy’s effectiveness in these two areas, Dr. Del Campo adds smaller studies have shown potential for red light in regulating the skin’s oil production, and thereby reducing acne, as well as boosting the skin’s collagen production, and thereby reducing signs of aging.
“It’s still an exciting field that hasn’t been explored in large trials yet,” he says.
What do doctors say about red light therapy?
Still, dermatologists say current clinical evidence indicates red light therapy is safe to try, and it’s offered at many dermatologists’ offices. Here’s what to know if you’re interested:
- Consult your dermatologist first: It’s important to first meet with a board-certified dermatologist and let them know you’re interested in red light therapy. Most dermatologists can administer this treatment in their offices, which Dr. Rossi recommends over at-home devices. “Seeing a board certified dermatologist who does red light therapy … is probably your best bet, because the tools that they’re using are medical grade, they’re standardized, they know how to use them, they know how to properly place them,” he says.
- Not all at-home red light therapy devices are created equal: If you do seek out an at-home red light therapy device, such as a mask, Dr. Del Campo advises purchasing one from a reputable company or one that your dermatologist recommends. He also says to follow all directions that come with the device or that are given to you by your dermatologist, especially when it comes to frequency and duration of exposure, to avoid burning your skin.
- Protect your eyes: Keep in mind that what’s good for your skin may not be good for your eyes. “I do like to tell my patients that, if they’re going to use a red light panel at home, they should wear proper eye protection,” Dr. Rossi says. “They shouldn’t look directly at the light, because you don’t want to cause any eye issues.”
- Don’t throw out the rest of your skincare routine: Remember, red light therapy is a supportive, not primary therapy, so don’t use it in place of your skincare regimen, medication or regular sunscreen application, Dr. Del Campo says.
Most of all, remember red light therapy is something that can enhance your skincare, but it’s not a necessity for healthy skin − and it’s certainly no magic cure for every issue.
“There are things that you think you may be treating with red light that you probably would better be better off treating with topical prescriptions,” Dr. Rossi says. “Red light alone may not cure it, whereas using red light in conjunction with prescription-strength medicines is really helpful.”