What if you could point something at your skin — in the comfort of your own home, no less — and decrease skin problems like wrinkles and acne? That’s the promise of light wands.
Light therapy wands feature LED (light emitting diode) lights in various colors. “LED devices are commonly used in skin care for their anti-inflammatory and anti-aging benefits. These treatments are available both in the office and at home with the development of individually used devices,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology and an associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
When you’re looking to use one of these devices at home, you can purchase one over the counter. Wands are in the same category as LED masks, but they differ in that they cover a smaller surface area than a mask that is applied over the entire face.
Are Light Therapy Wands Safe to Use?
Most of these LED devices use red light. “Red light therapy has been shown in clinical trials to calm the skin and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. The benefits are thought to be due to collagen stimulation,” explains Dr. Zeichner.
In addition, red light is also very safe, says Lauren Fine, MD, a dermatologist based in Chicago. Of the at-home devices one can use, such as a microneedling device, LED wands tend to be safe because they don’t break or manipulate the skin, which can cause a reaction. If you’re looking for an at-home device, an LED device can be a good choice. There is also no downtime associated with using them.
Indeed, research published in the April 2020 Journal of Drugs in Dermatology found that, overall, “light emitting diode (LED) phototherapy is a promising treatment modality for photorejuvenation, as it is safe, noninvasive, accessible, and can be easily combined with other treatment options,” the authors conclude.
“In general, LED light has been around for a long time to treat atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, acne, and vitiligo, and it’s been newly found to help reduce some of the signs of aging,” says Gretchen Frieling, MD, a triple board-certified dermatopathologist in Wellesley, Massachusetts. While your dermatologist’s office may also use light treatment, these at-home handheld devices are a lower strength, she says.
Also important to note is that light therapy wands are FDA-cleared, which is a lesser designation than FDA-approved. “‘Cleared’ means that the device is useful and shown to produce results similar to other products on the market. It does not mean it’s FDA-approved like a prescription medication,” explains Dr. Frieling. That is okay in terms of safety, but it’s helpful to understand the difference.
One exception to safety is blue light. “There’s a big red flag around blue light because it can stimulate melanin production, particularly in people who have darker skin types, increasing the risk of hyperpigmentation. If treating yourself at home, I recommend sticking with red,” says Frieling.
How Do Light Therapy Wands Work?
There are different types of light: ultraviolet light, such as UVA and UVB rays from sunlight, and visible light, which is where red and blue light come in. (These are the two main light colors used in dermatology, says Frieling.)
Different colors of light have different wavelengths, and penetrate skin to different depths. This is why various LED devices may have different effects. Compared with red light, blue light has a shorter wavelength (420 to 440 nanometers) that penetrates skin on a superficial level, which is why it’s been used for acne, as it can kill bacteria, one cause of acne.
Most often, though, you’ll find red lights in LED light wands, which have a longer wavelength (630 to 680 nanometers). Red light reaches deeper layers of the skin to stimulate collagen production. “With more collagen production, you get more volume in the skin and less wrinkling,” says Frieling.
What Are the Potential Benefits of Light Therapy Wands?
A systematic review and meta-analysis published in July 2023 in Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine of 31 studies concluded that both red and blue LEDs are effective in treating acne, and red can be used to rejuvenate skin by stimulating collagen and decreasing inflammation.
“I believe in the technology, and I think it works,” says Dr. Fine. But it’s important to maintain realistic expectations. “You can expect mild to moderate improvement in overall skin quality, and perhaps acne if used consistently,” she explains. Another catch is the wand must be used consistently for the amount of time recommended (by the device manufacturer) to create results.
To make the most of your treatment, Frieling recommends exfoliating skin before using an LED device (to get rid of dead skin cells, allowing the light to penetrate more effectively) and moisturizing after.
Frieling adds that if you’re going to use a light wand device, do so as part of a well-rounded skin-care routine, such as including a retinoid (which works on both acne and collagen stimulation). This is a good time to talk to your dermatologist about where this can fit in and, depending on your skin conditions or goals, what else — topicals, injectables, in-office lasers, you should be using. “Using a red LED light for the rest of your life won’t prevent skin aging,” she says.
One light therapy wand to consider, says Zeichner, is the Solawave 4-in-1 Facial Wand ($110, Amazon.com). This device looks like a razor, and utilizes red light therapy, microcurrent therapy, facial massage, and warmth for a more full-package treatment than other light therapy wands on the market. “Microcurrents are low-level electrical pulses thought to strengthen the foundation of the skin. Vibrations offer massaging benefits to depuff,” he explains. In addition, Zeichner notes that the small size of the device makes it easily portable. Plus, it costs less than other products in this category.
Are There Any Downsides to Light Therapy Wands?
“Just because you can get one of these tools without a prescription or doctor’s visit doesn’t mean that it’s the best or safest choice for your skin,” says Fine. Here are a few considerations.
May Interact With Medications
Certain medications can make your skin photosensitive, says Fine. This means it will be more sensitive or have an unusual reaction to sources of light, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Some medications that can increase your sensitivity to the sun include certain antibiotics, antifungals, antihistamines, and diuretics, among others, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is a reason to talk to a dermatologist before using an LED light wand.
May Be Time-Consuming
A handheld wand covers a very small surface area, and if you have to spend minutes on each section of the face, using one can become onerous and take a lot of time. “If I invest in a home light device, I think it makes more sense to do the full face with a mask. These can be pricey, and you’d get more of a benefit with something that has more coverage,” says Fine.
Could Trigger Irritation
If your skin is excessively dry or sensitive or you have open sores on your face from acne, Fine cautions that an LED light device could trigger more irritation. In addition, though red light can be used to ease skin redness, it can also cause skin redness in particularly sensitive people that “sticks around for hours.” “For people who get red easily, I’d be cautious,” she says.
A Final Word on Using Light Therapy Wands
Handheld LED devices use different wavelengths of light to penetrate skin to target acne, lines, and wrinkles, as well as uneven tone and texture. Experts recommend using red light only, as blue light could cause discoloration. Ask your dermatologist if your skin could benefit from one of these devices and how it fits into your overall skin-care routine.