We are reader-supported and sometimes earn a commission if you buy through a link on our site.

Red Light Therapy For Wrinkles: The Best Way To Reverse Skin Aging?

Last Updated on February 1, 2023

Red light therapy has been shown to reduce wrinkles and fine lines. This article will explain how and why these anti-aging benefits occur.

It’s no secret that the aging process can take a toll on your skin, making it look dull, dry, and wrinkled.

While wrinkles are a natural part of aging, that doesn’t mean you have to accept them. And, if you thought your only options for fighting wrinkles were injectables and invasive procedures, think again.

Red light therapy (RLT) is a non-invasive treatment that can reduce wrinkles, tighten loose skin, and boost collagen production, all while giving your face a natural, healthy glow.

Also known as low-level laser therapy (LLLT), RLT has been growing in popularity over the past few years as practitioners have learned how to harness its anti-aging powers.

RLT works by stimulating the production of collagen and elastin, two vital skin proteins that help ward off wrinkles, fine lines, and sagging.

More on this later…

As the body ages, deficiencies in collagen and elastin become increasingly problematic. Your skin is less able to protect itself from things like sun damage and repeated facial expressions. This can eventually lead to age spots and smile lines, especially if you spend a lot of time in the sun and smiling, respectively.

Diagram comparing the differences between young skin and aged skin

Before we can explain how exactly RLT works to combat aging, you’ll need to understand why wrinkles form.

What Causes Wrinkles?

Wrinkles are caused by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors. While wrinkles are an unavoidable part of aging, you can influence how fast your skin ages and how “old” it looks.

The natural aging process happens to everyone, but overexposure to things like the sun and pollution is what causes early wrinkling.

What Is Intrinsic Aging?

Intrinsic aging refers to the natural aging process. After the age of 20, your body produces around one percent less collagen each year [1]. Combined with decreased elastin and glycosaminoglycan (GAG) production, your skin slowly loses its tautness and resilience, making it thinner and less elastic.

Collagen keeps your skin looking firm. Elastin is what gives your skin its elasticity. GAGs keep your skin hydrated. All three work together to keep your skin texture soft and smooth.

What does that mean? It means your skin is:

  • More susceptible to extrinsic aging, leading to accelerated aging especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors
  • Less able to retain moisture, so you’re more at risk of developing rough, flaky, and scaly skin
  • Less able to “bounce back in place”, which is why some people have very noticeable smile lines if they smile or laugh a lot

While wrinkles from intrinsic aging are inevitable, they are always minimal compared to those caused by extrinsic aging (especially if you’re blessed with great genes).

What Is Extrinsic Aging?

Extrinsic aging refers to any external factors that prematurely age your skin over time. Examples include sun exposure, smoking, and air pollution.

These extrinsic aging factors, if left untreated, can lead to actinic keratosis, skin cancer, sun spots, and accelerated loss of collagen, elastin, and GAGs.

Experiencing any one of these can leave your skin feeling rough and your skin tone looking uneven – not even including the extra wrinkles that’ll have formed as a result!

Most people that have “aged ungracefully” are those who were exposed to a lot of extrinsic aging factors when they were younger.

Anti-Aging Prevention

Prevention is key in minimizing the formation of wrinkles, fine lines, and other signs of aging.

  • Wear sunscreen to minimize UV and sun damage
  • Use LED therapy to boost collagen and elastin production
  • Include moisturizers in your skin care routine to counteract decreasing GAG production

Does Red Light Therapy Work on Wrinkles?

Yes, red light therapy works on wrinkles.

In 2014, researchers used RLT on people between the ages of 27 and 79 to investigate its anti-aging effects. They found that the red light treatment significantly improved “skin complexion, skin feeling, collagen intensity score, skin roughness, and wrinkle status.” [2]

In plain English? LED red light therapy worked.

Woman with wrinkles before and after red light therapy

People reported smoother skin. Ultrasounds showed an increase in collagen density. A panel of independent physicians concluded there was a reduction in wrinkles and fine lines [2].

Their scoring was based on the Modified Fitzpatrick Wrinkle Scale.

Another study showed that, after 12 LED treatments, 87% of people reported fewer wrinkles and 90% of people reported smoother skin [3].

And best of all?

Both studies reported zero adverse side effects, so there are essentially no risks to using RLT for anti-aging.

How Does It Work?

Red light therapy stimulates blood circulation, collagen and elastin production, and lymphatic activity. These all work together to turn back the clock and restore your youthful skin.

Improve Blood Circulation

Have you ever used a face roller before?

They’re used by beauty experts and celebrities alike to give your skin that sought-after glow. Face massage rollers work because they widen your blood vessels to improve blood flow.

Red blood cells flowing through capillaries and veins

The only downside is that massaging your cheek for five minutes takes effort, and the benefits only last around ten minutes [4].

RLT, on the other hand, requires no effort (just put on a mask and go about your day!) and has lasting effects. It’s been shown to improve blood flow in both your capillaries and skin [5].

Why does this matter?

Because red blood cells (~45%) and plasma (~55%) make up most of your blood, increased blood flow directly translates into more oxygen and nutrients being delivered to your skin cells. This leads to faster cell repair (in case your skin is damaged by the sun, for example) and waste removal.

Plus, it’ll also give you that healthy, natural glow!

Red blood cells transport oxygen to your cells and carry away carbon dioxide. Plasma carries nutrients to your cells and helps remove waste from your body.

All these benefits become increasingly important as you age. Your blood vessels start to wither, leading to lower oxygen levels and a higher build-up of toxins in our organs and tissues.

This is why seniors tend to be weaker and more fragile: their muscles aren’t getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to sustain their size.

Boost Collagen and Elastin Production

Commonly referred to as the “anti-aging protein”, collagen is responsible for giving your skin its strength and rigidity.

Skin ages over time because of decreasing collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid levels

In particular, collagen contains the amino acid hydroxyproline that helps our skin cells produce more hyaluronic acid [6] – this keeps your skin feeling smooth and hydrated.

But that’s not all collagen can do…

As you probably know, your skin is continually rebuilding itself by getting rid of old cells and making new ones. New skin cells are created via replication, so you’ll get more of what you currently have.

So, if you’ve been exposed to a lot of skin stressors like the sun or smoking, most of your current skin cells are probably thinner and frailer. This means, when your skin cells replicate, you’ll produce more skin that’s thinner and frailer.

While having “weak” skin cells is a natural part of aging, we can influence how fast our skin ages.

COL17A1 is a collagen protein that helps your skin cells stay “young.” It promotes the replication of stronger skin cells instead of weaker ones, so you can curb the effects of aging for longer [7].

Elastin, on the other hand, is responsible for giving your skin that famous “bounce”. Elastin fibers are around a thousand times more flexible than collagen fibers and are what allows your skin to bounce back after you make a facial expression.

Unfortunately, as you age, your body produces less of these vital proteins. And, when there’s not enough collagen or elastin, your skin’s unable to stay firm and elastic, leading to wrinkles and fine lines.

Fortunately, researchers noted a significant increase in collagen and elastin after using RLT eight times in just four weeks [8]! They also saw a 36% reduction in wrinkles and a 19% increase in skin elasticity, giving your skin the ability to stay wrinkle-free.

“830 and 633nm LED phototherapy is an effective approach for skin rejuvenation.” – Seung Yoon Lee, MD

If you’re someone who experiences adverse side effects when using retinol, RLT may be a great natural alternative.

Stimulate Lymphatic Activity

First, let’s define what the lymphatic system is and what it does.

Your lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs connected by lymph vessels and lymph nodes. It’s like your circulatory system, but it carries lymph (a colorless fluid that contains your white blood cells) instead of blood. This is what makes your lymphatic system an important part of your immune system.

Your lymphatic system is also responsible for fluid drainage, which includes removing waste from your cells.

As you age, your lymphatic system becomes less effective as the lymph vessels become leakier. Skin issues like cancer and psoriasis are often worse in the elderly because of these aged lymph vessels [9].

Shiseido, a beauty company, also found a link between impaired lymphatic function and “sagging” skin, caused by the accumulation of subcutaneous fat from leaky lymph vessels [10].

While the research is still preliminary, RLT has been shown to promote the growth of new lymph vessels and increase lymph flow [11]. And, according to Dr. Len Saputo, “[RLT] increases the activity of white cells so they clean up debris faster.”

Combined with its anti-inflammation and photoprotection effects, RLT can help protect your skin against internal and external stressors.

Find out more about other benefits of RLT here: www.therapeuticbeams.com/red-light-therapy/benefits

How Often Should You Use Red Light Therapy on Your Face?

You should use red light therapy on your face two to three times a week, with each session lasting 15-20 minutes. This is not only a great starting place for people who’ve never used RLT before but also the procedure followed by participants in this 2014 study.

It’s recommended to use RLT consistently for at least four weeks because many of the anti-aging benefits take time to occur.

How Do You Prepare Your Skin For Red Light Therapy?

The first and most important thing you need to do before using RLT is to prepare your skin.

  1. Wash your face using warm water and a gentle, non-drying cleanser like L’Occitane’s Immortelle Precious Cleansing Foam (what I personally use!)
  2. Be sure to wash off any skin care products like sunscreen because they can potentially block the red light, making your RLT session way less effective
  3. OPTIONAL: Exfoliate once or twice a week before your RLT session. This will help remove any dead skin cells that could clog your pores.
  4. OPTIONAL: Apply green tea extract for faster results, especially if your goal is skin rejuvenation [12].

After preparing your skin, you’re now ready to begin your RLT session.

Excluding green tea extract, it’s best to get in the habit of only using your light therapy device on a bare, freshly-cleaned face.

What To Do After Your Red Light Therapy Session?

While not necessary, I recommend applying moisturizer after RLT. This is helpful if you have any redness or tightness, which is more common in people with sensitive skin (but also totally harmless – they will disappear on their own).

For best results, you can apply some Vitamin C serum or retinol after RLT but before you apply your moisturizer.

More on this in a bit…

While there are RLT or LLLT lotions available, I’ve personally not noticed any differences when using them. I just follow the steps outlined above and have gotten great results!

What About Anti-Aging Creams and Serums?

It’s easy to get sucked into the hype around anti-aging creams and serums. Many of these products are expensive (and not always effective!). In some cases, they can be downright dangerous, too.

According to the FBI, there’s been a rise in fraudulent “ant-aging” products in recent years, with many of them containing cancer-causing toxins and high levels of bacteria. After unknowingly using these treatments, people have reported acne, psoriasis, rashes, and eye infections.

Can you imagine that? Spending a fortune buying an anti-aging cream online, only for it to give you psoriasis or an eye infection? I know I’d be distraught.

I also wasn’t a fan of how I had to keep buying new creams and serums to maintain my appearance (which is why I was so happy I found RLT!).

Instead of being locked into a never-ending cycle of getting product after product, I could buy a LED light therapy mask once and use it over and over again.

Do Collagen Supplements Work?

Long answer, short? Collagen supplements probably don’t work.

Unlike RLT, collagen supplements are ingested, and there’s still not enough evidence suggesting if collagen can even survive digestion, let alone make it into your skin.

“Evidence for the effectiveness of eating collagen on human skin outside of a lab is scarce, with little solid proof it will survive digestion, travel into the blood stream and make it to your skin. ” – Anjali Mahto, MD

Most of the studies out there claiming that collagen supplements do have anti-aging benefits are backed by supplement companies themselves (so maybe they’re a little biased?). Additionally, very few of these studies have placebo control groups, so we don’t know for sure if the skin-firming benefits are because of the collagen supplements themselves or other factors like participants getting better sleep.

Can You Use Vitamin C Serum With Red Light Therapy?

Yes, you can use Vitamin C serum with red light therapy.

Vitamin C, when used after RLT, can boost your results because it not only increases your collagen production but also protects your skin cells from free radicals.

Woman in water surrounded by oranges

With this anti-aging combo, you can rest assured that your skin’s in the best hands possible.

Final Thoughts

With consistent use, red light therapy can be your secret weapon in the war against aging. It’ll boost your collagen production, reclaiming your skin’s firmness. It’ll also help your aging skin get the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and strong.

So, while you won’t see results overnight, red light therapy has been scientifically proven to give you younger-looking skin and is probably the closest thing there is to a fountain of youth.

For those looking for an at-home LED light treatment, a red light therapy facial wand or mask might be your best bet.

References

  1. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-does-skin-wrinkle-wit/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc3926176/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc4126803/
  4. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181109101446.htm
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22220935/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20507402/
  7. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1085-7
  8. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/s1011134407000632
  9. https://www.karger.com/article/fulltext/508459
  10. https://corp.shiseido.com/en/releimg/2455-e.pdf
  11. https://www.annalsofoncology.org/article/s0923-7534(19)37859-7/fulltext#bb0070
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19817517/
Anne, Founder of Therapeutic Beams

Anne Linde

Since using it to clear up her acne in college, Anne has been an avid user and fan of all things light therapy. She now primarily uses red light therapy for its anti-aging benefits. Anne's mission is to make the science behind red light therapy easy to understand and accessible, so anyone can use it to take control of their health and wellbeing.

2 thoughts on “Red Light Therapy For Wrinkles: The Best Way To Reverse Skin Aging?”

    • Yes, red light therapy can help with sun spots! Because RLT has been shown to increase collagen production and decrease melanin synthesis (via inhibiting the production of tyrosinase), it’s able to, at the very least, fade those spots significantly since sun spots are caused by excessive melanin buildup. However, a small caveat: to our knowledge, there haven’t been many clinical trials on RLT’s effectiveness in treating sun spots specifically – mostly anecdotal experiences.

      And, sorry to hear about your PlatinumLED 900 experience – that must be frustrating having to wait two months for it to not work properly! We recommend reaching out to their support and seeing if they’re able to resolve the issue. They do have a 5-year warranty, so they should hopefully honor that.

      Reply

Leave a Comment