If you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you know I’ve always been obsessed with using the whole “meditation, skin care, etc.” thing to help get my life into a routine. Once I discovered the powers of red light therapy—a skin treatment that allegedly removes scars, acne, and dark spots—I knew I had to try it. And I mean I had to try it like a year ago because I actually didn’t get my spot treated for another year. When the opportunity finally came around, I knew I’d be at a total loss without expert help. So naturally, I went straight to Dermalogica, which recently released their new Red Light Therapy line. They have several different products that are now available at a partnership with Differin, the company that made Differin Gel and its zit cream, Differin Clear.
Confused? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. These red light-based skin treatments usually have to be prescribed by a dermatologist, so it’s no wonder that most of us aren’t aware of them. But if you’re looking to get your spot treated and also get some acne-fighting benefits, read on to find out exactly what red light therapy is, how to use it, and what it could do for you.
What is Red Light Therapy?
The first time I heard about red light therapy, it was more of a joke. In the days of the app store, it’s pretty common for a joke to have some sort of truth behind it. But the truth is, it’s actually a legit treatment, and it works to clear up your skin in a number of different ways.
“Red light therapy is a method of treating skin with light,” Dr. Alicia Howay, a dermatologist in New York City, tells Allure. “It helps to strengthen the skin’s own collagen and elastin production and help to lighten darker spots caused by acne, the sun, or genetics.”
Your skin is actually very sensitive to certain wavelengths of light, explains Dr. Howay, and the red light therapy treatments give you a nice balance of those wavelengths. “These treatments are very gentle on the skin, and the side effects are very rare,” she says.
In the same way that you’d use a basic digital photo darkening filter on your camera to soften the image, red light therapy can be used to provide a more radiant complexion. It’s more likely to lighten discoloration and dark spots than brighten up the skin, though. That’s because the light that’s used is actually very specific and doesn’t pass through to the skin at normal day light. “You use a red light camera to actually penetrate through the skin to hit the darkened pigment underneath,” Dr. Adam Friedman, director of clinical research and education at New York University Langone Medical Center’s department of dermatology, tells Allure . “You don’t want it to directly hit your skin.”
Before and after pictures show how red light therapy can work to treat acne and dark spots.
According to Dr. Howay, this is the treatment that, in some cases, will actually improve a person’s skin. “This is a gentle technique that is generally used in conjunction with other treatment methods such as acne or hyperpigmentation treatments,” she says. “It can help to lighten some areas of skin and even improve hyperpigmentation.”
How to use it
Dr. Howay recommends getting treatments done at a dermatologist’s office so you can get advice and to make sure you’re doing the right thing with the red light therapy. “A lot of the time we do scar treatment for acne, so using [red light therapy] as a spot treatment can actually burn and damage the treated area,” she says.
Like any other treatment, though, there are caveats. Dr. Howay says that getting a red light therapy treatment done can improve the way your skin looks, but only if it’s used properly. “We use it to increase skin firmness and refine the skin texture,” she says. “But you should not lighten the skin to a lighter tone. I would say I see it mostly for treating darker spots, as it can change a very dark dark pigment into a more fairer tone.”
The treatment typically lasts about two to three minutes, and you’ll need to do it a few times a week to see results, says Dr. Howay. The light itself can last for a few hours. “Depending on what type of device you use, the light can actually stay on for three to four days,” she says.
Red light therapy is only offered at dermatology offices or dermatology clinics, and is usually an in-office treatment, rather than in-office lasers, which tend to be more efficient.
If your doctor does recommend you try red light therapy, take it seriously. The treatment could even involve topical products or medications, so make sure you’re seeing a board-certified dermatologist, recommends Dr. Friedman.