Daley Quinn
Updated February 13, 2020
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We all love to pop an ibuprofen when we’re in pain or take an antibiotic in the hopes of getting clearer skin, but what if the only treatment you needed was a little bit of light? Although light-emitting diode (LED) light therapy isn’t anything new, it’s seeing a major resurgence with more folks looking for alternative medicine.

From light facial treatments and light panels to lightbulbs to boost your mood, there are many ways LED light therapy can help benefit your skin, body, and brain. To get more clarity, we asked two doctors to explain how a little bit of light can benefit our lives.

How LED light therapy affects our skin

LED therapy is the latest exciting treatment in skincare. It has been shown to treat acne, aging of the skin, and even hair loss, with very few side effects. “LED light therapy uses non-coherent artificial light (blue or red light typically) to have effects on the skin at a cellular level,” explains NYC-based dermatologist at Spring Street Dermatology, Charlotte Birnbaum, M.D. “In a process called photo-biomodulation, LED light can stimulate our mitochondria in our cells and give our cells more energy, and the effect of LED depends on the type of light and the depth it goes.”

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When treating the skin, dermatologists use red or blue light to help boost collagen or combat acne. “Red light dives deep in the skin to stimulate our collagen-producing cells, otherwise known as fibroblasts, which can lead to an improvement in fine lines and wrinkles,” says Dr. Birnbaum. Blue light, on the other hand, penetrates more superficially and has more of an effect on acne. “The bacteria Cutibacterium acnes, commonly associated with acne, produces light-absorbing molecules called porphyrins. When exposed to blue light, the porphyrins produce a reactive molecule that ultimately kills the bacteria, improving acne.” Not only can blue light help zap away bacteria, but it also works to decrease oil production (further decreasing clogged pores and pimples).

At Spring Street Dermatology, Dr. Birnbaum offers several devices that take advantage of LED light. The BLU-U device treats acne with blue light, the HydraFacial system uses both blue and red light to better enhance the extracting and hydrating treatment, and the Vivace microneedling with radiofrequency device uses both red and blue light to help improve the texture of the skin and enhance collagen production.

How LED light therapy affects our body

LED light therapy has a host of benefits for your body, especially for professional athletes or fitness enthusiasts. Joovv, a company that is the first brand to make medical-grade red light therapy panels available to the consumer, uses red light therapy to help increase circulation and blood flow to damaged tissues and promote cellular regeneration—think less pain and faster recovery.

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LED therapy can also help with internal inflammation, helping to heal bone and tissue injuries while healing wounds like cuts, surgery incisions, and sports injuries.

Although these red-light devices haven’t been approved by the FDA specifically for hormone treatments, there are some early studies that might suggest red LED can help with hormone regulation. In a study done by Bristlecone Medical, initial results showed that red light therapy and a ketogenic diet can boost testosterone for men and sex hormones for women, including progesterone, estradiol, and DHEA.

How LED light therapy affects our brain

Ever heard of seasonal affective disorder? Coming down with a case of the “winter blues” is real, but LED lights can help. “LED light (under normal and therapeutic conditions) keeps our sleep/wake cycles normal and predictable, meaning we fall asleep quickly (within 15 minutes) and sleep more soundly while the body is repairing and restoring itself,” says Doug Steel, Ph.D., a Salt Lake City-based neuroscientist and translational scientist and advisor to Brilli. “This, in turn, results in being able to stay awake the following day, with a high level of alertness and attention span—we feel better about ourselves, are more productive, and this contributes to better life satisfaction.”

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According to Dr. Steel, LED light has been repeatedly shown to improve mood, which contributes to how we feel about ourselves as well as others. “It lowers our risk of developing depression, anxiety disorders, and more serious conditions such as bipolar disorder,” says Dr. Steel. “We are more emotionally resilient, which means we ‘bounce back’ from unpleasant thoughts or events more quickly and completely.”

Dr. Steel also asserts that incorporating LED lights to normalize your circadian sleep cycle might help prevent diseases later on in life. “In recent years it has been discovered that the likelihood of developing diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and risk of stroke later in life is established as a pattern early in life (childhood)—this is referred to as metabolic syndrome, and it is largely affected by having an improper Circadian rhythm,” he says. “So normalizing sleep/wake cycles early in life has lasting benefits that affect health decades later. As I have described, proper use of LED lighting can entrain and maintain proper sleep/wake cycles and circadian rhythms.”