Dr Zac Turner on whether LED masks really work to make you look younger

Welcome to Ask Doctor Zac, a weekly column from news.com.au. This week, Dr Zac Turner explains the ups and downs of LED skin therapy.

QUESTION: Hi Dr Zac, My sister is obsessed with her LED light therapy mask. She swears by it and is trying to get me to spend hundreds of dollars on one. Her skin care routine is, no joke, one hour long. Apparently the light mask is the best thing she does to her skin. She says all the big-name celebs do it – Victoria Beckham, the Kardashians – you name it. Do light therapy masks work or is it just another con job perpetrated by influencers? – Jo, 31

ANSWER: People will do almost anything if they think it’s one step closer to the Fountain of Youth. Light-emitting diode (LED) skin devices have been kicking around since the 1960s. They deliver a very appealing case as they claim to help with everything from wrinkles, redness, acne, scarring, dark spots and just about anything related to ageing.

I have to break this to you: you are ageing, you will age, and you will never stop ageing – same goes for Victoria Beckham. There are certainly things you can do to slow the process, but you will never be able to turn back the dial.

I commend you for having your bulls**t detector on when listening to your sister – remember there is a HUGE difference between getting treatment in the clinic and DIY at home.

The idea behind LED skin therapy is that different wavelengths of the visible light spectrum correspond to different colours of LED light and penetrate the skin to different depths. Depending on how deeply they penetrate, LED lights are thought to have different biological effects.

Red and blue are the common lights typically used in skin treatments. Some believe red LED light acts on cells in the skin known as fibroblasts, which play a role in the production of collagen. This is a protein that makes up a major part of connective tissues, which help the skin to recover when it’s harmed.

Blue LED light is used in treatment of acne. It’s thought to reduce the activity of sebaceous glands, which create the oil on your skin. If you reduce the oil production, you reduce the chance of oil clogging hair follicles and causing acne.

So, the idea is to shine some red and blue LED light on your face, and voila your skin looks a million bucks! But, does it actually work?

According to research there is much to learn about this type of treatment, however you will find on the internet a tonne of people providing rave reviews. Albeit a lot of these people are usually paid celebrities and influencers, there are everyday people who love their LED treatments.

Improvements shown by LED treatment are very incremental and will take time. Do not expect results overnight. It will take you four to six weeks before seeing a difference. Cosmetic injectables, peels and other treatments can often provide that quicker result of anti-ageing, but of course they come with their downsides as well.

Most of these treatments are TGA approved, so there can’t be any significant danger to using them. At home light masks have been recalled in the past due to risk of eye injury, so I wouldn’t recommend doing it at home unless you are very safe and wear eye-goggles. Remember many of the light rays are ‘ultra’ for a reason and as such we can’t perceive many of them. Research the quality of the product and follow the safety instructions and manufacturer guidelines before using any of these devices.

Over the counter topical medications have far more evidence of working than LED devices do, so I would recommend you start there before opting to blast yourself with light. There is nothing wrong with using an LED light. If you would want to, I’d recommend incorporating it into your skincare regime rather than making it your only skincare regime.

Speak to a dermatologist before making any major investments in your skincare, as they will be able to steer you in the right direction.

Got a question? Email askdrzac@conciergedoctors.com.au

Dr Zac Turner has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Sydney. He is both a medical practitioner and a co-owner of telehealth service, Concierge Doctors. He was also a registered nurse and is a qualified and experienced biomedical scientist along with being a PhD Candidate in Biomedical Engineering.

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