Blue, amber, purple, green—find the wavelength that leaves you glowing.
By: Hannah Baxter
While masks might be the most in-demand accessory outside the house (seriously, wear one), you might be surprised to learn that beauty obsessives everywhere are partial to wearing masks indoors, as well. More specifically, LED masks. You know the ones—celebrities love to post a photo sporting some light-up contraption before a red carpet (or a 100+ person Zoom event, these days). For as sci-fi as they may look, the use of light to treat conditions ranging from skin inflammation to hair growth has been around for thousands of years, beginning with ancient Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian societies. So why all the interest in the last decade? Well, like most things that have stood the test of time for a few millennia, the results are substantial enough to warrant the hype.
But first—what exactly is an LED light, anyway? Scientist Nick Holonyak Jr. invented the first visible light-emitting diode (that’s where the “LED” acronym comes from) in 1962 while he was working at Texas Instruments—yes, like the calculator you used in high school. He was trying to make a laser but instead successfully found a way to make an electrical current pass through a microchip, which then illuminates the tiny sources (the diodes) to create visible light.
Cool. But you’re just trying to get rid of your chin pimples. Why does it all matter?
Well, in the last two decades, scientists have developed a range of different LED light colors, like red, blue, yellow, and more, which have demonstrated skin benefits in clinical testing and are safe to use on every skin tone. That’s why dermatologists and brands have adapted this technology to create treatments and stand-alone devices for various skin conditions. LED therapy is even approved by the FDA as a cosmetic procedure, which is impressive, given how little oversight they provide for beauty products overall—just compare the list of banned ingredients in the US (11) to Europe (1,328).
Nowadays, there’s a wide range of LED devices to choose from, but unlike your favorite drugstore moisturizer, they can cost a pretty penny. And to make things a little more complicated, newer models also offer different color settings to treat everything from acne to photoaging. Confusing? Perhaps, but as a bonus, this array of colors not only offers skin benefits, but psychological ones too, like lowering anxiety and helping you fall asleep.
So how do you wield your new LED mask or ring to maximize the benefits (and see a return on your investment)? We spoke to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ellen Marmur (whose own LED device, the MMSphere 2.0, is beloved by the beauty community) to learn how to select from blue, green, red, amber, and purple lights, plus a few best practices to know.
Blue is one of the most well-known lights available to beauty consumers, and for good reason—its antimicrobial benefits are backed up by years of research. That’s why it’s your best LED option for fighting breakouts. Blue light wavelength can’t penetrate as far into the skin as some of its cousins, but it can reach the dermis—significantly deeper than most topical products. Dr. Marmur explains that it can also stimulate the brain (which is why you should turn off your phone at night before bed), calm inflammation, improve your memory, and reduce redness in scars and rosacea.
If your bathroom shelf is already stocked with anti-aging products, it might be time to explore supplementing your routine with green light. Dr. Marmur recommends this color for wrinkles, large pores, and dark spots. It “stimulates collagen renewal for smoother skin,” in addition to fading unwanted pigmentation, and can also improve positive energy—something we could all use a bit more of these days.
Red light has become nearly synonymous with LED treatments both at home and at your doctor’s office. There are even NASA studies regarding its wound-healing effects, which makes it an ideal option for anyone battling redness, rosacea, or sensitive skin. Dr. Marmur also reveals that this color of LED light has a calming effect (since it releases dopamine), inspires sleep, reduces anxiety, stimulates collagen production, and generally rejuvenates your skin. If you’re in the market for a slightly cheaper at-home device, this is likely the color it will come with preprogrammed.
Simple color theory here—the combination of red and blue light can give you the anti-acne and anti-inflammation benefits that you’re looking for without the risk of irritation from stronger topical ingredients. The color can also increase cell regeneration to help fade dark spots and even out your complexion. Consider it the premier option for maximum LED effectiveness. Dr. Marmur also says that the traditional color of royalty (remember all the women at the inauguration rocking purple, burgundy, and lavender coats?) promotes courage and a sense of belonging.
Amber light might be the most beneficial in the winter, since Dr. Marmur says that it can improve symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. It also “improves skin circulation by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system.” More circulation means more oxygen and improved radiance and glow. She also explains that this light can inspire euphoria, making it our new go-to regimen after a long day of meetings and endless emails.
So now you’re armed with your new LED light—how exactly should you incorporate it into your established skin-care routine? Dr. Marmur recommends starting with 20-minute sessions three times a week. “Many people use it up to twice a day because it is so easy,” she says. If you have a ring device like hers, you can set it up on your desk, or if you’re a fan of a mask, just strap it to your face while you’re lounging on the couch and listening to your favorite podcast.
And like everything in the skin-care world, you’ll see the best results if you use LED devices frequently. Says Dr. Marmur, “For example, if you use the blue light for acne treatment, you may see results after one use, but in order to fully heal the acne and continue to kill the bacteria, it works best when it’s used regularly.” Stick with it and you’re guaranteed to see the results you’re seeking for your skin.
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