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If you're a beauty junkie, you've probably seen anti-acne LED light masks all over Instagram recently. You know the ones — they’re huge, white, made by Neutrogena, and make you look a little like a Daft Punk reject. And since just about every ~cool girl~ on IG has raved about this unusual acne treatment, we decided to ask a dermatologist for some answers about what these masks can really do for our beleaguered, world-weary faces.
Dr. David Lortscher, MD, is a leading board-certified dermatologist and founder of Curology, a skincare company that offers virtual acne consultations with expert dermatologists. He’s intimately familiar with the research on red and blue LED treatment for acne, and he helped us understand the difference between those futuristic Neutrogena masks and the LED skin treatment you might receive in a dermatologist’s office.
The Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Mask, which retails for about $35, uses blue light to kill acne-causing bacteria, and red light to reduce inflammation. The same is true for the LED treatments dermatologists use, and all of the treatments available are similar in strength.
However, while several studies have been conducted on the use of professional LED treatments for acne, no independent research has been done on these at-home masks; the only study of that kind is industry-sponsored.
According to Dr. Lortscher’s review of the research on light therapy for common acne, the use of combined blue and red LED lights has proven broadly effective for people battling breakouts. In fact, the two large-scale studies Lortscher cited — one published by Lasers in Surgery and Medicine in 2007, and another published by the British Journal of Dermatology in 2013 — found that both clogged pores (blackheads and whiteheads) and inflammatory acne improved dramatically with red and blue light LED treatment over four weeks.
In the first study, noninflammatory acne improved by 34% and inflammatory lesions improved by 78% with LED treatment. And the industry-sponsored study on at-home masks found that inflammatory lesions improved by 24.4% with daily use for 12 weeks, and noninflammatory acne improved by 19.5%.
Dr. Lortscher says that while the research on light therapy for acne treatment is promising, the lack of controlled, trial-based research on at-home treatments is somewhat disconcerting.
“In addition to some uncertainty regarding cost versus benefit,” he said, “I would want to see further studies on long-term use, particularly excessive use — which will happen, as there is always someone who does not follow instructions!”