Are LED Masks Dangerous? Dermatologists Weigh in on Instagram’s Favorite Face Mask
The safety of the face mask that launched a thousand selfies is now coming into question. Earlier this month, Neutrogena issued a recall of its popular Light Therapy Acne Mask following reports of “theoretical risk of eye injury.”
“Our decision to recall this product is being made out of an abundance of caution,” reads a statement from the brand. “Reports of visual effects associated with [its] use are rare, generally mild, and transient.”
Light Emitting Diode (LED) masks emit varying wavelengths of light that treat different skin concerns. Amber light, for example, helps stimulate collagen and firm skin’s elastin. Red light reduces inflammation and promotes blood circulation. Blue light kills acne-causing bacteria.
“LED light is essentially acting like the sun to a plant,” says dermatologist Marnie Nussbaum, MD. “It is penetrating the skin to a cellular level and subsequently causing different intra- and intercellular reactions.”
Before these masks and other at-home devices hit the beauty market, LED treatments were primarily available at dermatologist’s offices. These in-office procedures are more powerful, can be tailored to each individual skin concern, and last longer, at about 30 minutes. Nussbaum stresses that for any LED treatment to be effective, there needs to be adequate time spent under the light for continuous periods over several weeks.
“One part of LED therapy is just sitting under a light, but the more effective way to use it is to first apply a chemical in the form of a serum or a photosensitizer, and then go under the lights,” says dermatologist and founder of Mariwalla Dermatology Kavita Mariwalla, MD. “As a result, physician offices sometimes have more to offer than at-home treatments.”
But in-office treatments can be pricey, ranging anywhere from $150 to $300. These LED masks are cheaper by comparison (Neutrogena’s mask cost $34.99, for instance, although Mariwalla notes that these types of devices are sold with a maximum number of uses per device), require less time commitment at six to 20 minutes for moderate results, and can be used while binge-watching Netflix in the comfort of your own home.
Despite the recent recall, experts agree that at-home LED devices are safe for the most part—as long as you pick the right one and protect your eyes. Nussbaum says to choose masks that are labeled as FDA-cleared, and to wear blackout or opaque goggles. You can even find masks that come with the appropriate eyewear, such as the Korean Led Therapy Mask devices.
Without proper eye protection, Mariwalla says prolonged exposure to blue or red light can damage the eyes. Nussbaum says certain people with eye-related disorders (like ocular albinism or congenital retinal disorders) or people who take medications that make them more sensitive to light may experience blurry vision, eye pain, eye irritation, or changes in vision. More serious problems include irreversible peripheral vision loss or complete impairment.