LED face masks: how effective is this latest at-home beauty must-have?

Three experts reveal what this type of mask can do and how it helps a number of skin conditions

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The pandemic led to a dramatic increase in at-home beauty treatments. With salons and clinics closed, those wishing to maintain their beauty routines turned to DIY options with manicures, haircuts, facials and hair colourings all carried out with varying degrees of success, as any scroll through social media will attest.

When it comes to skincare, for a long time the sheet mask has been the at-home beauty product of choice for those looking to tighten and even out their complexion between clinic visits. But, as with all things in the fast-moving beauty industry, products that are initially only to be found in clinics soon make their way into the home.

The LED face mask is the latest non-invasive beauty must-have that allows for a weekly complexion boost without booking an appointment.

While wearing one may make you look a little like Michael Myers from Halloween, or, slightly less menacingly, a stormtrooper from Star Wars, facialists and celebrities, including actress January Jones, have been raving about their effects, from smaller pores to less visible acne scars.

Scroll through the gallery above for five LED face masks you can use at home.

What is an LED face mask?

Edwige Gandin, a beautician at Pastels Salon, says LED face masks are a popular treatment for acne. Courtesy Pastels
Edwige Gandin, a beautician at Pastels Salon, says LED face masks are a popular treatment for acne. Courtesy Pastels

An LED face mask emits different coloured lights on the skin. LED stands for light-emitting diode, and each spectrum of light produces a different colour for various skin issues. Sessions typically last from 20 to 30 minutes, although they can last longer to achieve different effects depending on the treatment.

“LED therapy is a skincare treatment that uses varying wavelengths of light, including red and blue,” says Edwige Gandin, a beautician at Pastels Salon. “It is used to help regenerate the skin and increase the healing process. It is also a popular choice as an acne treatment due to its calming and antibacterial properties.”

Sharin Shafer of London aesthetics clinic, Skinfluencer, explains where it originated. “Nasa developed it for plant growth experiments on shuttle missions and later found it to have promise for wound treatment.

"LED light therapy is now used by aestheticians to help regenerate the skin and improve its appearance. Unlike other types of light therapy, LEDs do not contain ultraviolet rays, therefore they’re safe for regular use.”

From collagen production to anti-scarring: What do the different colours in an LED mask do?

An LED face mask emits different colours to be used on the skin depending on the results you want to achieve. Red is the best colour for anti-ageing, blue for acne control, green for evening out pigmentation and yellow for sun damage.

Red LED light may improve scarring and signs of ageing, such as wrinkles

“Experts believe that blue LED light reduces activity in the sebaceous glands, which are small oil-producing glands in the skin,” says Shafer. “Blue light triggers photochemical oxidation in order to kill bacteria on the skin, which is excellent for people with acne, eczema or rosacea.

"Red LED light may improve scarring and signs of ageing, such as wrinkles," she says. "It does this by stimulating fibroblasts, skin cells that are responsible for collagen production. The body produces less collagen as a person ages, which causes the skin to show signs of ageing. Red light also reduces skin inflammation.

“Near-infrared is the most deeply absorbed wavelength. It has no colour but reduces inflammation and redness in the skin. It also speeds up wound healing and reduces pigmentation.”

How do LED face masks work?

Sharin Shafer of London aesthetics clinic Skinfluencer.
Sharin Shafer of London aesthetics clinic Skinfluencer.

LED light is absorbed by different components of skin cells, which then changes how they function. Light can stimulate cells to produce collagen and can also inhibit cells, such as reducing the appearance of scars. Some colours penetrate deeper into the skin at a molecular level than others, with red light going deeper because of its longer wavelength.

“LED light therapy uses photon energy in order to regenerate cells, reduce inflammation, heal wounds, scatter melanocyte clusters, reduce acne and increase skin rejuvenation,” says Shafer. “Different wavelengths of light penetrate the skin at different depths. This penetration may trigger biological processes that help the skin rejuvenate and heal.”

Gandin says: "All skin types can benefit as it is believed to treat everything from wrinkles, redness and signs of ageing to acne, scarring and dark spots."

Firmer, tighter and plumper skin: What are the benefits of using an LED face mask?

Sonya Cross, owner of The You Clinic.
Sonya Cross, owner of The You Clinic.

Consistency is key when embarking on an at-home beauty routine with an LED face mask.

"I use the FaceLite device from Omnilux three times a week for 20 minutes at a time," says Sonya Cross, owner of London's The You Clinic. "I've experienced firmer and tighter skin. My skin is plumper and the redness in my complexion has been much reduced."

The main difference between using an at-home device and visiting a clinic for a treatment is you will likely require fewer treatments at a clinic because of the higher intensity of their devices.

“Home devices are usually less effective than professional treatments,” says Shafer. “It is necessary to have several treatment sessions before noticing an improvement in skin appearance. People usually see the best results several weeks after their last treatment.”

Cross adds: “Salon machines may have more LED lights in them and have mains power, but the home devices will have all the same benefits. It may just take a more regular use to achieve the same results as one salon treatment.”

What to look for when choosing an LED face mask: ‘You only really need red and blue colours’

Cross explains exactly what to look for when buying your own LED face mask. "The mask needs to sit directly on top of your face. Having a device that is even one inch away from your skin dramatically reduces its effectiveness.

"You want to have both 633nm red and 830nm near infrared wavelength in the device to have all the benefits. The mask needs to be light and not bulky to ensure it is easy to use, so that you will use it. They work best on clean skin with no products on.

“Some devices sell hydration masks to use underneath, but actually the light will penetrate better when used alone. Use a sheet mask afterwards for skin hydration.”

While there are very few drawbacks to using an LED mask, Gandin advises you don’t use one if you’re using anything on your skin that makes you sensitive to sunlight, or if you have an active rash or condition such as psoriasis.

"Check that it has the correct coloured lights for the condition you want to treat," says Rebecca Treston, a beauty and laser therapist at Dubai London Clinic. "Also that it spans the area that needs to be treated.

"In-house treatments are generally more effective, but home devices are more convenient. They will need more sessions, but will work in the long term if the use is consistent."