Are LED Light Masks Bad for Your Eyes?

fascinadora/Adobe Stock

Upon a glance in the mirror as you use an LED mask, it might appear that you’re wearing a serial-killer costume. While obviously it makes sense to laugh about the fact that, yes, you look a little ridiculous with a fancy skin care hockey mask strapped to your head: In order to protect your eyes, you maybe shouldn’t peek while you’ve got one on, unless your mask’s manufacturer specifically says it’s safe to use with your eyes open.

LED—or light-emitting diode—masks aim to address a host of skin-related issues, including acne and wrinkles. By using them, people are hoping to reap skin care treatment benefits they could previously only seek out at a dermatologist’s office, by way of procedures like red light therapy—these masks use similar technology, just at home. But being your own practitioner also means accounting for the potential ophthalmological risks involved in using LED light masks.

When LED masks are used as directed—which can include wearing protective goggles, keeping your eyes shut, and affixing the mask to your face correctly—the devices shouldn’t pose a high risk for eye health, Michele Green, MD, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist in New York City, tells SELF. “However, incorrect usage of LED light masks can lead to eye damage due to cumulative light exposure or overload,” she adds. Basically, the key is just making sure you’re not accidentally frying your peepers by using the mask wrong or for too long of a time.

What research says about the risks of using LED light near your eyes

Unfortunately, we’re largely lacking large-scale, randomized clinical trials or peer-reviewed, rigorous research to offer clear takeaways on whether at-home LED masks pose an eye health risk (and if so, to what degree). One 2020 case report—i.e., a scientific exploration of a single person’s experience—connected “prolonged” blue light LED mask exposure with retinal damage, and it drew the conclusion that people should cover their eyes when they use LED masks. (FYI: Some masks use this type of light, which research says can be helpful for treating acne.) That said…another small report connected red light LED therapy with potential ocular benefits, like treating macular degeneration. So the risks versus rewards here truly aren’t clear.

From what we know so far, it seems like it depends on a person’s preexisting risk of light-related eye issues. In 2019, Neutrogena voluntarily recalled its Light Therapy Mask and Activator “out of an abundance of caution” in light of “a theoretical risk of eye injury” for people with some eye conditions or ocular photosensitivity, according to a statement from the company. It noted the products are safe for the general population when they’re used correctly.

Similarly, some masks that are currently on the market discourage using them if you know you have sensitive eyes. Ocular photosensitivity, or photophobia, is associated with a number of conditions, including certain allergies, albinism, and migraine, to name a few, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Mitigating photophobia symptoms includes avoiding non-natural light, so if you have sensitive eyes or a condition that might lead to them, it’s best to talk with an optometrist or ophthalmologist about whether strapping on an LED mask is a good idea for you.

How to protect your eyes while using an LED light mask

Dr. Green points out that you can choose a device that’s specifically been cleared for use by the FDA, which is information you’ll be able to find on the package or the manufacturer’s website—this means the agency has decided the technology a given product uses offers benefits that outweigh its potential risks, and plenty of popular masks on the market are FDA-cleared, like the TheraFace Mask and the DRx SpectraLite FaceWear Pro.

User manuals and instructions for LED light masks often include cautionary language about potential risks, including ones pertaining to your vision. But bear in mind that so many products warn against incorrect use—like blow dryers, garbage bags, and laundry detergent, to name a quick few. If you’re using your mask as directed, then, is there reason to worry about your eyes?

Just as your blow-dryer is probably safe for you to use if you follow the precautions on its warning label, based on what we know, the same is likely true for LED light masks and your eye health. That said, without reliable clinical trials, there’s a non-zero risk for your eyes, no matter how safely you use the mask in question. With both eyes open about that reality, go ahead and follow these safety tips. (But…probably wear the mask with both eyes literally shut, if you want to be extra-cautious.)

1. Don’t wear your mask for too long.

“You should always use an LED light mask as directed and not exceed the recommended duration and frequency of treatment,” Dr. Green says. Don’t go longer than the instructions tell you to—this is usually between 10 and 20 minutes per session, but check what the directions for your device say.

2. Be careful about placement, close your eyes, or use protective goggles.

“Some devices sit flush with the skin to decrease the likelihood of light shining directly into the eyes,” Dr. Green says. If yours doesn’t, you can close your eyes if the light feels strong or, even better: “To maximize eye protection while using LED light masks, you can purchase blackout eye goggles online to ensure that no light can penetrate through during treatment,” Dr. Green recommends. Alternatively, as Arjan Hura, MD, an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon with the Maloney-Shamie Vision Institute in Los Angeles, tells SELF: “Many of these products come with their own blackout or opaque goggles or some sort of variation of covering of the eyes to prevent light exposure.”

3. Look out for anything unusual, vision-wise, during or after use.

If you have any visual symptoms that arise after using a mask, like blurry vision or other sight distortions, stop using the mask immediately and see an eye doctor.

From there? Feel free to freak out your loved ones by sneaking up on them in one of these bad boys. Just maybe make sure your LED mask is turned off first.


Originally Appeared on SELF