Facial LED devices—Are They Effective and Safe?

In July 2019, The New York Times reported that Neutrogena, a skincare giant that works with dermatologist, had announced a worldwide recall of its light therapy masks, citing risk of eye injury.

In the last 5 years, colourful LED masks touted to treat acne flooded the feeds on Instagram, with Neutrogena announcing its prototype which inhibits acne bacteria Propionebacterium acnes and counteracts skin inflammation. The recall by Neutrogena was alongside an announcement that there was a “theoretical risk of eye injury” to certain individuals with underlying eye conditions, particularly those who had photosensitivity, due to either oral medications or underlying autoimmune diseases such as lupus.

Its statement in the July 5 recall included “reports of mild, transient visual adverse events, combined with a growing scientific discussion around the safety of blue light.”

These adverse events were directly caused by the Neutrogena masks.

Since the announcement of Neutrogena’s recall, I have had several media and patient enquiries about the safety of LED devices in general.

What’s certain is that a small number of people with eye disorders may develop retinal damage or vision loss from repeated exposure to LED light. However, what does this mean for the rest of the population—  how safe or effective are these devices?

Medical LED Light Therapy

Medical LED Light Therapy devices have been used in dermatologists’ offices for years, specifically blue light for acne and red/yellow light for hair regrowth. These are powerful, fairly bulky machines which deliver sufficient amounts for therapeutic effect, as evidenced by medical studies. These are delivered safely with approved wattage and settings, under a medically trained staff’s supervision with a dermatologist’s order and with proper certified eye protection(fully opaque black rubber goggles), provided by the vendor for safety reasons.

Home-use, Beauty Salon LED Treatments

Photo credit to Pinterest

There are plenty of other brands selling LED devices for a variety of skin rejuvenation concerns, with the most popular ones in the mask format which confers zero eye protection. Here is my take on this—salon and home use devices cannot compare to office treatments, or at least no evidence based studies have been done to show efficiency of home care devices and it definitely is not equivalent.

Should I use a home LED device?

I am not for the use of such home devices primarily because there is insufficient safety data on these, especially since the design is such that it is literally on the eye area, it is not possible to protect it. Besides, there is likely zero to very minimal positive benefits to the skin given the small wattages of home devices.

The recall by neutrogena  speaks for itself. They likely have their own medical expert who reviewed the data, and in this case the potential risks were sufficient for a recall. Medically speaking, people who have eye conditions, photosensitive/light conditions like lupus, definitely should not use these devices at all.

Does the colour of the light matter?

Are there certain colours that are more likely to cause problems or injuries? This is another question that I frequently encounter. Unfortunately, this is largely unknown to date for these home devices.  What’s most important is that the data supporting the use  of LED light therapy is in dermatologist office set ups, with proper settings and eye protection— this is safe as no light reaches the retina.

Check the design of the device

If you find yourself still desiring to blast your skin with light therapy masks, use eye protection. The design of the device matters. One needs to be more careful with those masks that cover the whole face than those that are only placed over a targeted area, and also to choose LED masks with inbuilt eye protection. Such LED light devices over or near the eye area present the same if not heightened risk that led to the neutrogena recall.

Safety Issues Concerning Home

LED Devices

The therapeutic devices used in dermatologist offices are by accredited medical device vendors with appropriate certification for safety and is not for home use. No or insufficient data exists for home devices. The same goes for in-salon LED devices—  safety checks have to be in place, such as opaque goggles to protect the eyes area and if the light still feels too bright with the glasses, inform the therapist to stop the treatment.

In terms of home use devices, I advocate the use of microdermabrasion and radiofrequency technologies, which are safe and clinically proven effective facial devices to increase the penetration of cosmeceutical skincare, treat oily skin, improve scars and also anti-age the skin. These technologies will be covered in my subsequent articles.

Dr.TWL Biomaterials is the material science research and development arm of Dr.TWL Dermaceuticals launched in July 2019, focusing on novel biomaterials for skin applications as well as smart skin and hair devices. In conjunction with leading engineers, Dr.TWL Biomaterials develops a range of US FDA-approved home-based skincare/hair care devices for the skin savvy millennial. Each one of our products is dermatologist approved and its claims are supported by rigorous strict laboratory and clinical testing. Dr. Teo Wan Lin, a Ministry of Health accredited dermatologist in Singapore, is a founding member of Dr.TWL Biomaterials and is consulted as a key opinion leader for the development of skin technology, materials research as well as product testing.